At an art group meeting, when a member (a keen falconer) brought in a few birds for the group to sketch, study and photograph, I was able to take some study images and get up-close and personal to some magnificent falcons and owls. One image in particular was the inspiration for this work. Despite the rather un-natural lighting and background clutter of the art room, plus a burst of fill-in flash from my compact camera, I captured this Eagle Owl fly from the back of a chair, across the length of the room and onto the gloved hand of the falconer.
With some imagination and a bit of experimental adjustments of the image in photoshop, I managed to get the reference I needed to create this painting. I wanted the bird to be emerging from a very black background, so started to layer black and ultramarine onto the canvas, creating a deep, inky blackness with a hint of night sky blue. I then proceeded to build up the owls highlights, blocking in the feathers and working in the detailing with white paint only. This allowed me to concentrate on the tones and high contrast I wanted without the distraction of colour. Despite the monochrome approach I decided to use oils to achieve a strong depth of tone and allow me essential carefull blending to achieve a small depth of field, evident mostly on the back of the birds left wing.
I was then told that this painting had won the Presidents Cup!
It took many sessions and layers of paint and glaze to create, over a period of about 8 months! There were some long periods of non-activity between sessions when mortgage paying work took over my time. Not until I was eventually happy with the bird did I carefully paint in the colour in the eye, bringing the bird to life. And that was it for a while. I was happy with the whiteness of the bird as if lit by moon light, and so there it hung on my wall for several months. However, there was always a niggle at the back of my mind that it needed more. So, after nearly 2½ years from starting the work I brought it down from my wall and placed it on my easel a final time. I carefully mixed up some very subtle glazes of burnt umber and raw sienna and gently applied a hint of colour to the the birds body and head. After a little replacement of dark areas that had been slightly dulled from the glaze I stood back and finally decided the job was complete... so had a beer.
I handed the work in to the Painswick Centre on 26th August, glaze still tacky, for the Gloucestershire Society of Artists annual exhibition, along with two other works. At the open evening on the Friday before the exhibition started, I received a warm welcome from the associations chairwoman who congratulated me! I politely thanked her and then asked "why?" I was then told that this painting had won the Presidents Cup! To say I was surprised and delighted would be an understatement. Thank you chaps.