Sunday, 11 January 2015

The Slow Approach

Plan like a turtle; paint like a rabbit.
Edgar A. Whitney

Sometimes starting a painting can be so daunting because there are so many aspects to think about. So I’ve become a bit of a plodder. Rather than dive in, I’ll take the slow approach and happily spend a few days just getting to know my subject first.

Flowers get pulled apart and painted petal by petal.  

Leaves are placed on the page and painted over and over again until I’ve found that perfect green mix. Just the simple pleasure of painting little squares of colour can make me feel like I’m accomplishing things.

It’s not just botanical work that is given this treatment. This week I have a dead snipe on my desk. 

A friend called me to say that she had found the poor dead creature and had kindly popped it into her freezer for me! Some of the snipes here in Ireland are winter visitors from Faroe Islands and Iceland. Never having seen a snipe in real life, I was both intrigued and excited. 
Curiosity overcame any squeamishness.

So Gallinago gallinago (common snipe) arrived with it’s very impressive beak, which is used for poking around in the mud for food. The bill has special nerve endings which allows it to feel what it finds beneath the surface. Under a magnifying glass I could just see the honeycomb pitting on the surface near the end. 

They are sometimes called Bog Bleaters or Sky Goats because of the strange sound that the males make during courtship using their tail feathers. Have a listen to this- Snipe bird sounds

The snipe is also known for it’s ability to thwart hunters. As well as being superbly camouflaged, it flies in a very fast and erratic zig zag pattern. In fact, the word ‘sniper’ came from the ability to shoot a snipe, something that needed skill, patience and precision.  For me, the task of capturing those wonderfully patterned feathers on paper was going to be just as challenging.

One of the beautiful tail feathers and a colour chart

I measured and I painted. I made a colour chart of those lovely earth colours. I pulled a few feathers from the damaged side and did small studies of those. I messed up the size of the bill which should be thinner, but this is a study. This is where the mistakes should be made!

By the time that I had finished this page, I felt that I knew the little snipe Gallinago gallinago, and I'm ready to paint him.
Sometimes the slow approach is best.

Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished.
Lao Tzu


  1. This is so tranquil, I would love to be in your shoes.
    Thank you for taking your time to write this posting and take the photos.

    I often wondered, how someone actually uses those colourcharts, where you mix colours in different balances.

    Did you try various mixes before creating the mix-chart on the "sample"-sheet?
    I am asking because it seems as if you already knew how the mixed colours would turn out.

    I see you with a (probably huge) mix-chart which shows all colours as reference for your sample sheets.
    Looking forward to find out more about those "references"

    kind regards,

    PS: I am glad I found your blog
    PPS: poor bird, I have a hard time dealing with dead birds. :-(

    1. Paula, I started doing colour charts because I really have too many paints. So I began to make colour charts of the pure colours that I have, otherwise I would never remember them. For example, the colour chart that is beside the dead bird's head has all the earth colours that I own. Looking at that, I can see what colours to pull out of my paint box.
      The colour chart on the study sheet is of all the possible mixes. I write down the possible combinations first. Some work, some don't, but unless I try it, I won't know. Making a colour chart can be tedious, but it's so useful. I'm often surprised at what I discover.
      I'm glad that you found my blog too. If you want to ask me any questions, please do. However it might be easier to ask on the facebook page because I can then put up a photo to explain.
      I can't help with the squeamishness. I was a bit like that at first, but it's such a treat to be able to observe it up close. Keeping it overnight in the freezer helps with the mites and bacteria (I hope).

  2. Your blog is so intriguing to me, I have always admired people that can draw! Snipes are neat little birds.
    Can't wait to see what your finally painting will look like :)

    1. Thanks Erika. I'm delighted that you have found the blog intriguing!

  3. Intriguing, lovely and informative. As always, Shevaun! xx

  4. Lovely to see the sketchbook pages of the Snipe studies Shevaun. Gorgeous as always, and your little boxes of colour are full of promising new opportunities. x

  5. You are the complete opposite to me! I dive straight in :) therefore I really do admire all of your preliminary work. You take so much time and care, I'm left feeling like a bull in a China shop! Gorgeous brush work on those feathers Shevaun, you must be pleased. You lend yourself to birds well.

    1. Jess, you have been producing some amazing work, so obviously the bull in the china shop approach works! Thanks for the lovely wordsxx


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