Recent Work: “In the Shadows (Western Tanager)”

Sep 19, 2019

If you’ve been following me a while, you might remember that last fall, I was an Artist-in-Residence at The Arts Center in Corvallis. This year, I was invited to contribute a painting to their annual fundraiser, Art for the Heart. Artists were asked to create works that were 8 inches by 8 inches in size.

To begin, I considered what bird species would be sort of iconic to our area and settled on Western Tanager. These birds are brilliantly colored and common within the city during the summer months.

In looking into the natural history of Western Tanager, I learned that they often keep to the shadows. This helped me to start imagining the story of my painting and I wrote lots of sentences that might form the narrative of the painting like:

His friends thought of him as shy and unassuming.

– He wished he had more confidence.

– He liked to sit quietly and daydream.

Eventually, I settled on “Even though he was the brightest bird in the forest, he kept to the shadows.” My goal in drafting a narrative was to give myself a sense of the deeper meaning of the painting and to personify the bird as an individual.

Next, I tried out different compositions for the 8” x 8” square using thumbnails.

As I played around with values, I suddenly remembered a painting that I saw in the Joslyn Art Museum in Omaha, Nebraska. This piece, an illustration for Fisk Cord Tires by N. C. Wyeth set me on an exploration of Wyeth’s other work.

Wyeth often depicted the foreground subject in shadow with bright sunlit backgrounds as in the work below (I don’t have a title or any other info for this piece). This approach fit my idea of the bird keeping to the shadows on a bright Oregon summer day.

I did some studies and worked on my color recipes using Acryla Gouache.

This piece also gave me the opportunity to experiment with using underpainting to get the texture of the feathers.

Here is the finished work! I varnished the piece with Gamvar Varnish in matte. This work will be for sale on Saturday, October 5, 2019. Tickets to the event are available online here.

Photo credit for Western Tanager:, CC BY-SA 3.0,

1 Comment

  1. Cynthia Spencer
    October 14, 2019

    Thank you so much for this great tutorial. Wished I’d subscribed and known about it prior to our event to share all this great info.
    This is exactly the creative marketing more artists need to be doing!
    Thank you for your beautiful donation…oh to have many more walls and more $$, too.


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