I was asked in August to do the commission of a blue peacock on a wall by the client, she wasn’t sure what background she wanted so I suggested an elegant garden and she agreed that was a good idea. She knew I was going on holiday to France in September so I wouldn’t be able to start work on it until I got back home.
I did as much as I could before hand, looking for suitable source photos so that I had as much information as I would need to do the picture.
I ordered the canvas a day after I got back from my holiday, it was 60 inches x 40 inches, the largest canvas I’ve worked on, and it arrived 2 days later, so hardly any time wasted in waiting for it to come, as I was raring to go to do this painting…
I know how difficult peacocks are to paint, so I was looking forward to the challenge but I had also suggested to the client that I use metallic acrylic paints in the feathers to make the picture gleam and shine in different light conditions, from natural daylight, to artificial electric light, but also secondary lighting coming from other sources, and she had agreed. I had also assured her that the picture wouldn’t look naff with the metallic paint in it. This picture was going to look elegant.
I drew out the image – the wall cutting horizontally through the picture a third of the way down, the bird taking up most of the wall, with his tail falling on a diagonal down to the bottom left hand side, and didn’t need to draw out the garden as I knew it would be hazy and indistinct in the backgound. This painting was three simple subjects, the bird, the wall, the garden, and also three different tones, the hazy garden the palest, the wall the mid tone, and the peacock the darkest, but obviously with some light parts in the tail as well.
The whole painting was done in acrylics, so the first coat to cover the whole image was the basic tones, duck egg blue for the garden, pale beige for the stone wall, and blue, green, black, beige, and one bit of orange on the underbelly for the bird.
The joy of acrylics is that they dry very quickly which meant i could get on quickly with the next coat.
And I had to paint around the edges of the canvas too, as it won’t be framed, its complete as a painting without. But I had to paint the edges and wait for them to dry before I could do the rest of the painting.
The second coat was building up more hazy detail in the garden, and also on the wall, and some more blocks of colour in the bird itself, as I didn’t want to wall to look just boring one colour, it had to have differences in the tones to make it interesting too.
When that was dry then I painted the garden properly using a large brush and hinting at the two large conifers, and different trees, and hints of shrubbery in a hazy ethereal way. I used pale turquoise, and lemon yellow, and white, mixed with a little ochre to make it more muted..and loved the effect of it!
When that was dry, I painted the wall in detail, the top of it in a creamy grey ochre with think black lines to show the gapes between the stones. The wall below it was created with a mix of ochre, burnt sienna, white, black, ultramarine blue, and I made sure that some of the turquoise was also in it to add harmony to the garden behind it. I had to paint the wall another coat after that too to hint at mortar, and bricks, but I certainly didn’t want to draw every brick or line of mortar, it would have detracted from the main focal point of the peacock. I was really pleased the wall looked good too, considering it was just a plain blank wall…. I used a large brush and dryish paint to get more muted look to it.
Then it was time to paint the main focal point – the peacock. I did his head first. Fine detail for the eye, and beak, and his plume of head feathers with the fine lines joining them to the head. Then I worked down his body, using ultramarine blue, turquoise, black. Then the bit of orange on his underbelly just as one colour. Then the speckled feathers behind, I used variations of creamy, black, ochre, pinks, and when I was happy with it, also added the first of the metallic paint, mostly bronze, and some copper.
When I was happy with all of that, it was time to do the greens and blues of his tail feathers. I didn’t want to mess it up by being over enthusiastic with the metallic paint, so mixed a wet mix of greens, and teals, and lime greens, and turquoise and some gold metallic paint too, to give it sheen in parts, and more shine in others, and no metallics at all in others. I did use copper metallic paint on the next layers only on the tail “eyes” and specifically painted the rest of the “eyes” with the pale lime, ochre, deep turquoise, and cobalt blue that make up the eye, I also went over the lime green of the eyes with metallic silver to make them glimmer more too. I was also using teal, and deep greens, black, to hint at the shadowy arts of the tail, to give it form. I kept standing back to make sure it looked right, and was finding that in natural light it looked different to night time when the light shone on it from the hallway…..it gleamed differently..and fascinated me that it looked so different that way.
I carried on, until I was happy that the “eyes” looked natural, that the tail looked like it had form and shape to it, fine lines, crossing light over dark, dark over light, and then did the hints of feathery bits coming out from the tail over the wall, it was then that it looked like feathers, and hinting at the pale shadow below the tail also was a challenge, to not make it overpowering and detract from the bird.
I was happy..it had taken 33 hours to paint.
It looked harmonious as the same turquoise paint was in the background of the garden, the stones of the wall, the birds chest plumage, and in the “eyes” in the tail, as well as through the tail as a general colour.
And what fascinates me is the metallic golds, silver, bronze, and copper add to the tail in a way I couldn’t have imagined..I’ve not used metallic acrylic paints before like this, and I really love the effect!
When I sent the image to the client her reaction was “Amazing!”. I’m more than happy with that reaction….I think its amazing too! I love it…I can’t take my eyes off it!
The painting is in acrylics on canvas (60 x 40 inches) and is called “Peacock of Askew Hill”.