Why did I restart the Flamingo painting?

Posted by Jenny Pond on

Things my end have been quiet for a little while here on the blog, so I thought I'd sit down and explain why; I think it will provide useful insight to other inspiring artists and creatives alike!

For 5-6 months I had been painting a commission with the simple request of 'flamingo' and all other decisions left in my hands. I've always tried to feature the whole animal in my work, and this one included 2 flamingos scaled down to fit on to A4.

A piece of this nature wouldn't normally take me as long as it had been, and while I was thankful for the flexible 'there's no rush' attitude of the commissioners, a part of me was continuously questioning why I couldn't bring myself to focus on it properly.

It took a few months to find my answers, but 6 weeks ago it hit me: this piece was a reflection of my exhausted, uninspired, unmotivated, deflated self. I started it with very little mojo and I never felt any excitement toward it, the piece didn't resonate with me and I realised it never would. I'd almost accepted I 'should' finish it and move on but it dawned on me I wouldn't want to put my name on the painting at the end. It wasn't my best work and I refused to associate with it; it was boring, and this revelation led me to think 'what could I do instead?'

5.5 weeks ago I searched for a collection of images portraying a close-up of a flamingo, I didn't mind which species but I wanted to be able to see lots of detail - I adore painting the details but wasn't able to achieve much with 2 small scale flamingos on a page! Looking back I can't even work out why I chose the layout I did, or what made me decide not to experiment with a close-up for a change, but if it's one thing I've learnt these past few months, it's to leap out of my comfort zone every one once in a while!

I pulled about 9 images up onto my screen and asked my Dad which were his favourite composition wise and funnily enough, he didn't take long to work out why I was asking! After much discussion decisions were made (composition of one, colour palette of another) and I went to bed knowing the next day I would be creating something I could get - and already was - excited about.

I didn't sleep very well that night and something tells me excitement played it's part as I was up bright and early (7am) and cracked on with the background. I used tape to create wave effects in the background - something I love doing but have only used on two other pieces (the Monkey & Tiger, and the Small Tortoiseshell Butterfly) so far. By the evening I'd started painted the flamingo itself.

 

Flamingo acrylic painting progress of the beak close-up

 

The commissioner on this occasion is my Gran's partner (John) and fortunately I am trusted with all the important decisions for this piece and others i've done for him. With that in mind it was only after changing ideas, restarting, and deciding I was never going to touch the other piece again, that I emailed to explain things. As it's an intended gift from John to his son (and son's family) I messaged them first, and what surprised me was how confident I was talking about the new piece and explaining the situation. It's too easy as a creative to be critical of your own work, but I realised when I love what I'm working on it allows me to fall in love with the piece, and to speak about it with nothing but adoration for it - something I couldn't do with the first painting. 

My artist instinct told me to change, it allowed me to feel confident with my decision, and it showed me how to be excited and fall in love with my work all over again; it essentially felt like a rebirth, and led to me sitting down to paint for 5-6 hours or more every single day for 2 weeks solid.

3 weeks ago my Gran and John visited the UK and I'd had it in my mind to finish the painting for their arrival - giving me 2 weeks to do the entire thing. It was a realistic timeframe but didn't allow for too many mistakes, and expecting zero errors would have been a bit idealistic!

My biggest challenge turned out to be the body feathers in the bottom left corner, and the palaver they caused was something I hadn't envisioned at the start!

 

Flamingo painting progress in acrylic paints

 

Initially I began with a base coat and outlines of feathers in a downwards vertical direction, which was true to the reference image and looked accurate. An opinion was put forward that they looked a little odd, so with new doubt ensuing I spent 6 hours experimenting with a horizontal layout; not my wisest idea! They looked awful and I knew I needed to revert everything back to the original positioning - another 6 hours later and despite now being vertical, the feathers didn't look right at all.

That night I researched how to remove paint layers because having now built up so many it had a 'thick' look about it (hard to explain), and I discovered the wonders of rubbing alcohol (aka isopropyl). The following day I asked my Dad if he had any (he did) and I spent 3-4 hours removing all the layers I'd painted. I realised when I covered each mistake I had inadvertently spread the shape of the body bigger - beyond the guide lines, and so I rubbed away these areas to bring the shape back to it's proper form.

Once this stage was done (I removed almost all layers except the background and a now patchy looked base coat) I started again, only to find 4 hours later I was making all the same mistakes I had done every other time! I stopped and took 2 hours to rub away the fresh layers before taking a time out to watch video tutorials of people painting flamingos. In doing so I worked out what I was doing wrong; I had been painting the feathers by starting with block colours and adding details in afterwards, even though I never paint feathers in that way. My usual technique is to paint the details bit by bit, line by line, with only the simple base coat underneath and no block colour layers. I couldn't (and still can't) work out why I randomly changed technique without realising, but I'm glad I noticed eventually! Looking at the section by this point it was clear I needed a fresh base coat; the patchy result from rubbing down layers gave me an uneven mismatch of colours to paint over - and if you've ever painted before you'll know underlying colours usually effect layers painted on top!

The next day I went looking in town for a spray paint to give me a clean, and even base layer I could work on. In my mind I needed a light grey base, as the feathers had a lot of white detailing I assumed would be easier to achieve if not on a white base. My experiments proved otherwise, and in the end I resorted to borrowing a thin acrylic paint from my brother - in white - and layered it up a few times until I had a solid white base (I chose a thin acrylic over watered down acrylic, because it has a more even spread and helps prevent inconsistent thickness and brush marks). Allowing for drying time between each layer this process took 2 hours, but once it was done I had a fresh white base to work on and my did it help!

10-12 hours later I was making good progress on the body feathers - it was finally coming together and although I had a tight time frame, I had (and still have) no regrets on the time spent making and correcting mistakes.

 

Flamingo acrylic painting process and progress image

 

I see mistakes as lessons and they're as valuable as any other part of the process, without them I wouldn't be able to develop on my skills or improve techniques.

The rest of the painting was a labour of love without any further large mistakes (minor ones with small corrections happened, but nothing time consuming), and as I finished the feathers I knew the end was in sight!

I finished by highlighting light and dark areas once more, touched up some edges and details, then painted the eye (eyes are a favourite of mine to do, and I purposely left it until the end so I could finish on a high note).

 

Flamingo Acrylic Painting - the final finished piece

 

 85 hours later I met my deadline and I am able to look back at it this piece with pride in my heart, and a smile on my face!

I hope by explaining the highs and lows of this piece it may be helpful to other artists who are struggling or become disheartened by mistakes (lessons!!!) and to show how much work goes into every painting I have the pleasure of doing! I'm now in the process of taking it from painting to print, and print to product, so you'll be seeing him online in the near future!

Please let me know what you think, and if you've any questions - ask away!


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  • Hi Jenny – my Dad (John) commissioned this work for us and we were blown away when we received the painting. The detail is incredible and the journey that it took you on was even more amazing. You have such a special talent and the dedication you put into your work is astonishing. Thank you so much for this flamingo painting – it is beautiful and we will send you a photo when it is pride of place on our living room wall. Ashley P.S My 4 boys love it as well!!!

    Ashley Brooks on

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