Watercolor and Graphite Sketches as Compositional Studies | by Chris Bacon

Working in transparent watercolor, Chris Bacon directs his attention to birds and their habitats. His work is featured in the November 2011 issue of The Artist’s Magazine. The following is a free excerpt from the article “Reflection Takes Wing,” by Meredith E. Lewis. Read on to learn about Bacon’s watercolor and graphite sketches as compositional studies.

Origin of the Concept by Chris Bacon

What is the evolution of an idea, the most important element and the very essence of the final piece that must be kept alive throughout its development at all costs? It begins with a thumbnail drawing, which is usually based on field sketches and supported with references relevant to my original thought. Then I produce color and compositional studies to help me establish a foundation upon which I can build a solid painting. In some cases, these final “studies” develop legs and can stand well enough on their own. They manage to convey the very thing I mean to instill in the viewer. Generally, though, compositional studies clarify my vision to the point where I can tackle the final painting, as I did with Moon Lights (Least Tern and Royal Terns) (bottom of page).

composition sketch, bird sketch, graphite, Chris Bacon art

Composition Sketch in graphite
Capturing fleeting moments in the field, as I did in these sketches of the least tern (graphite, 6×10), is a challenging exercise of recognizing essential elements quickly.


watercolor compositional study, Chris Bacon art

Watercolor Compositional Study
This is my original watercolor compositional study of the least tern and royal terns, which I cropped from 9×16 to 6.375×16. The study didn’t amount to much, but I thought there were parts worth preserving.


watercolor compositional study, Chris Bacon art

Conceptual Sketch in Watercolor
This proved to be a pivotal conceptual sketch (watercolor, 5.5×7.5), which I made while exploring possibilities and radical changes. I kept the elements that were working in the first compositional study (No. 2), but I established a new direction by changing my light, contrast and palette. This ended up literally making my finished painting as different from my original study as night and day.


clay bird model, Chris Bacon art

Using a Model
While painting Moon Lights, I created this 2×7.5 bird from modeling clay. I could then simulate the correct bounced and direct lights on the model and, thus, establish the correct ground shadow.


Moon Lights, Least Tern and Royal Tern by Chris Bacon, acrylic art, bird landscape painting

Moon Lights, Complete
Moon Lights (Least Tern and Royal Terns) (above; acrylic, 6½x15¾) is a long way from its original concept! This painting took on a life of its own, evolving from a scene on a windblown, sun-baked spit of sand to an evening scene filled with moonlight and wavelets.


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One thought on “Watercolor and Graphite Sketches as Compositional Studies | by Chris Bacon

  1. montana.garnet

    Really interested in the changes this piece went thru to the finish. Can you give me more insight on the ‘circles’ in the wave part? Glistening water, or stylized waves, or……. ? Thanks.