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Process: How to Paint an Egret

One of my readers asked if I could share my process in creating a painting, so I decided to take photos and discuss how it is done, from start to finish. While the process starts with field studies, sitting out in marshes and swatting mosquitoes and black flies, I will focus on the painting aspect here. First, I take a photo that I have taken during one of my bird watching times. The one below is a bit unusual, because I caught this egret flying past a local warehouse in the small town in north Michigan where they hang out.

Great egret flying

I like the pic, just not the background; so I then make some thumbnail sketches of what the painting will look like, and think about my background. I tossed around using a marsh (I have tons of reference photos I took last summer), or another. I finally decide I want a dramatic look, so I go for a simple, dark background to highlight the egret.

I start laying on acrylic paints: ultramarine blue, Payne’s grey, sap green and burnt umber, with a bit of titanium white for lighter grays. Here’s what it looks like:

Now, I start blocking in my bird (I sketch it in, don’t trace; I probably should), with major darks and lights, using titanium white.

Heron painting lights and dark values

Next, I start adding some mid-tones, using the colors noted above, with a hint of burnt sienna. I also add yellow and orange to the beak, and add a few highlights to the water:

Great Egret painting with mid-tones added

I will post part 2, to show the finishing process for the painting.

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