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Painting Reflections and Water Birds in Still Waters

There are many species of water birds gathering at Denmark’s Prawn Rock Channel at this time of year. When the inlet breaks its bank the still waters and beautiful reflections will become a huge torrent and connect with the sea. The area provides many different subjects for an artist to paint as the channel meanders through dense thickets of twisted paperbark trees. The network of sandy tracks offers many possible vantage points, so I chose my subject and set up the easel.

I was intrigued by the reflected light on the water surface contrasting with dark shadows of paperbark trees. Transparent wispy clouds caused the late afternoon sun to display an orange cast over everything. To capture this orange glow, I underpainted the whole canvas with a thin wash of cadmium orange. I went for the shadows next before they changed, then applied lights followed by reflections in the still water. Two dominant paperbark trees in the foreground and on either side of the subject were brushed on. This provided an important lead into the picture, helped along with the reedy banks on both sides. The far away headland was included, partially misted by rising seaspray from distant breakers.

There are always distractions when painting outdoors. The wind, annoying insects or inquisitive people asking the same old questions. On this occasion I was interrupted by a family of squabbling crows, a species which seemed out of place here. Nevertheless the fracas continued. With practice, however, the Plein Air painter is able to ignore distractions, as when the mind is still, concentration becomes focused.

My orange underpainting was beginning to show through as specs of glowing light throughout the painting. White twisted trunks of paperbark trees were painted along with their mirror-like reflection in still waters. What’s important now is HOW the paint is applied. Dark areas will be brushed on thin and transparent as opposed to the application of lights which will be thick and opaque.

As afternoon turned into dusk, the misty seaspray descended over the glassy water. All that remained was the inclusion of a water bird for a focal point. A clumsy pelican perhaps? Certainly not a crow!  In fact I could not resist but choose the beautiful white egret. This elegant bird stalking its prey in the distant shallows contrasted well against the dark reflections of paperbark trees.


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