Morning Calm

People sometimes ask me about my creative process and how I paint. I have included below, a painting in progress, showing different stages of the piece as it develops.

Every painting first starts with an idea. I decide before I begin what I am going to say with the painting and what mood I want to invoke. One of the things that I most love about being a wildlife painter is getting to know my subjects. I want to know everything I can about them before I begin. This involves quite a lot of observation in the field, reading and sketching. When I feel that my understanding is complete enough to portray the animal, then I begin.

With this painting of a Pintail drake entitled “Morning Calm”, I wanted to invoke that “Zen” feeling you get when you sit on the shore of a calm lake or pond in early morning. There is not a sound to be heard except for maybe the rhythm of your own beating heart. To capture this feeling I decided to include only the bird and the soft ripples he leaves behind him. I’ve positioned the bird far to the left, almost like he is swimming out of the painting. This painting is as much about the subtle ripples as it is about the bird itself.

I start with a sketch. It is in this phase that the painting layout is decided. I transfer my sketch down on masonite. I’ve primed this board with an ivory color. This is an experiment. I like to “play” with my foundation colors.

In this first photo, I’ve blocked in some color, almost like a paint by number. At this point I’m making many decisions on color and value. I’m deciding what areas I want to “pop” and what areas are to remain subtle. There is no form or dimension in the painting at this point. Here the ivory base color is still showing on most of the duck.


Next, I begin to add more detail. I’m still blocking in color in the empty areas at this point too. I like to work an entire painting together. I build up detail gradually over the whole painting, making constant decisions as I go. My paintings are really ugly at this phase…


This next photo shows more detail still. I’m starting to lay washes of color into the water to show different plains as the water ripples. Detailing in the duck’s feathers is still moving along. Again, a really ugly phase of the painting…


The water is becoming more dimensional as darks are added behind the duck. I have started to give the duck itself more dimension by adding darker and lighter washes where they are needed.


This is the finished painting. I used purples and pinks throughout, as those are the magical colors of morning when the sun has recently risen. “Morning Calm” is complete….