Black Woodpecker

While on a short vacation between christmas and new years we visited a small bookshop where I happened to pick up a guide book to birds. Despite having done a few artworks on birds I still don’t really know much about birds, not really at least. I still struggle to recognize even those birds I’ve created artworks about for example, but I also don’t or didn’t have any idea about how many different birds exist. How the different birds are actually different from each other and so on because when looking at pictures of birds on the internet, you don’t really get that kind of information. You get a picture and that’s it. Hopefully I will learn more about birds using this book though right now I’m mostly using it as an artbook because damn the illustrations in there are gorgous.

This wan’t the first bird to spark my interest, more like the third, however it was the first for which I had a clear idea for an artwork right after seeing it. Most of the time I simply start doodling because I like a certain feature about a bird and then construct an image around it, not so with this Schwarzspecht – Black Woodpecker.

Given it’s name and overall black feathering I thought it fitting to create an image which overall would largely be black or very dark, and use the red accent on the birds head to make the bird pop off the background and possibly give it something mysterious or even menacing. So that’s what I blocked out next:

I didn’t quite like the mood in this sketch though. Still too friendly and quite boring. Trough changing the lighting just a little bit though I was able to change it without having to alter anything else about the image.

This was closer to what I had intended and from this point onwards it was an almost linear process to finish the artwork.

You might have noticed the rough patches of color beneath/behind the bird’s body. From the start I knew I wanted to have the woodpecker sitting on the bark of the tree, however I didn’t want to do the classic profile-view and I didn’t want to give the tree any dimensionality. I wanted the bark to be an abstract patchwork of flat colors, though you can see that for some time I was considering to give the bark some lid edges to make the image appear more vertical than it really is and to have just a little bit of volume definition on the bark. That idea didn’t make it through the next steps.

This was my first pass to get all the important parts into the image. The simple value and color scheme, the flatness overall, a slight directionality, the color-accents, the simple base shapes, the almost ornamental inner details.

After that I started to adjust colors and to bring back the colored patches of bark. To abstract the idea of the bark on which the woodpecker is sitting even further than in my early blockouts I decided to offset the colored patches in rows instead of painting individual patches.

I let the image rest for a few hours before looking at it again and when I did, I noticed that while I liked the idea of the directionality of the light, I didn’t quite like my execution at this point. It created a diagonal light spot which didn’t interact or add anything to the mood of the bird.
So I brought in a strong directional cast shadow. And while this helped the mood I noticed that now I had too much of the image was undefined and without detailling. So I adjusted the lighting a little bit and brought back some of the inner details to balance the image out overall a bit better.

I let the image sit for another day on my hardrive and then decided that that’s it. I quite like how this one turned out.

I put the few steps I had saved into a gif so you can easily follow the process of the image.

And here’s a closeup at almost 100% zoom so you can see how the noise effect looks at full size (the blog resizes the image a little bit but not much though).

2 responses to “Black Woodpecker”

  1. I was just reading your Black Woodpecker post and am curious about the book you found. What is the name of it?

    Love the artwork so much!

  2. Hey Kathleen,

    the book I mentioned in the Black Woodpecker post is called “Der Kosmos – Vogelführer”. Texts and Maps by Lars Svensson, illustrated by Killian Mullarney and Dan Zetterström, translated to german by Peter H. Barthel. The copy I purchased is the updated 2nd edition from 2018. ISBN 978-3-440-15635-3.
    By now I own multiple books on birds, some illustrated, some with photographs, but this is the one I purchased back then.

    Glad you like the artwork. Sorry for taking so long to reply.

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