Eurasian curlew

Of this new series of bird-inspired artworks this was the second one I started and while I had very little trouble drawing the bird itself – a Großer Brachvogel – Eurasian curlew – the overall image wasn’t so straightforward. It went from painterly to Charley Harper flat to what it is now. You’ll see exactly what I mean in the following steps.

based on this initial sketch next I blocked out base shapes and painted in the background. Initially I thought to contrast the graphic shapes of the bird with a dry brush-like look for the background. The curlew was to stand in shallow water and a streak of sunlight was to hit both the bird and the seagrass behind him.

Since I rarely ever am happy with my first attempt of simplification, I sketched over the blockout next in an attempt to reduce the amount of subtle directional changes and subdivided shapes. Also after looking up some additional reference images I noticed that my first blockout did not capture the right amount of slenderness of the birds physique, so I adjusted that as well.

This sketchover was better but I still felt like I could tweak it further by using basic geometric shapes more strongly on the head and neck. Also I decided to reintroduce some angle-changes to the beak since I felt a connected line from head to beak-tip went too far away from the actual look of the bird.

With these alterations made I moved forward and blocked in the flat basic shapes. But as you can see at this point, I doubted my earlier idea of having a painterly background. I had looked at Charley Harper’s work for a bit when trying to come up with a solution for the pattern in the bird’s feathering, and his work surely had a strong influence on me – which is why the image looked like this at this point.

I moved around blobs of flat color for a while without making any significant progress. I looked at Charley Harper’s work some more, but the more I did so, the more I felt like my design was lacking. None of the decisions I had made until this point to me seemed half as confident as what Harper had been doing. I realized that this wasn’t going to go anywhere right then, so I put it away and let the image rest for a day thinking that I would be able to finish it quickly. It didn’t quite go that way.

The next day I figured out a way to make the pattern work which made me think that the rest would be easy even though I still had no clear vision for what the rest was going to look like. So I pushed forward starting to add the shading, thinking that the closer I get to finishing the image the more likely it would be that I could see the final image before my inner eyes.

I let the image rest another night and when I came back to it, I immediately threw out the graphic fore- and background elements since they seemed to alien and were drawing too much attention. I also decided to change the mood and thus the colors because on the one hand the color-theme looked a bit 80ies retro to me at this point, and on the other hand I got a bit too much of a “everything is on fire – but it’s ok”-impression out of this.

So I changed the colors, added a bit of mist and highlights to hint at the water surface and then called it done.

Looking at it now I’m again thinking that maybe I should have gone with the painterly background. Or maybe I should add a bit more shading to establish the volumes a bit better. Or maybe “done” is better than “perfect”.

The following image is a crop of the illustration at 100% zoom so you can see how the noise effect looks at the size at which I create these artworks.

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