When A Bird Is More Than a Bird: Avian Acrylic Paintings

Today’s blog post comes from The Artist’s Magazine‘s recent breathtaking article on birds in art by Holly Davis. Because the following excerpt is so striking and interesting, I’ll let it speak for itself. Read the full article in the November issue, and subscribe today for inspiration and techniques delivered to your door or inbox. ~Cherie

Acrylic bird painting by Kevin Sloan

The blue-and-white china pattern on the macaw in Chimera (acrylic on canvas, 36×32) suggests that the work is an allegory. This venerable species of a “collectible” bird is now living in a fragile relationship with the natural world. The house of cards on which the bird perches extends the story. The background, painted in many transparent layers of colors and shapes, creates an ethereal, soft-focus world that deepens the illusion of space and provides a theater-like backdrop and framing for the sharply focused bird.

From “In Fine Feather” by Holly Davis

“We see birds all the time,” says Kevin Sloan, “and we feel we understand what they look like and how they move, but birds take on all sorts of quirky poses and gestures, and to depict them requires real looking.” Sloan’s “real looking” began with Florida’s long-legged waterbirds–flamingos, egrets and herons. His familiarity with different birds has expanded through the years, aided by his having lived in several regions of the United States. In Sloan’s work, however, a bird is more than a bird; it’s an actor in an allegory about the fragile relationship between nature and civilization, a balance tipping out of nature’s favor. He may give his avian subjects a natural backdrop, realistically painted, but you’ll never find in nature anything close to the scenes he contrives.

acrylic painting of Canada goose by Kevin Sloan

In Birds of America: Migration Interrupted (acrylic on canvas, 38×56) the shape and pose of the Canada goose resembles John J. Audubon’s Whistling Swan (a tundra swan). Many Canada geese, no longer migrating from park environments, share an uneasy relationship with technology, as suggested by the electrical cord. Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center will host an exhibition of Sloan’s paintings and Audubon’s prints in March 2015.

When the idea for a painting comes, he’ll draw upon his years of observation, supported by photographs–his own or those of nature photographers–and images of the work of other artists. He’ll explore his idea with charcoal on a gessoed canvas that’s been further textured with Nova Color white texture paste. “I like the surface of the canvas to appear to have a history,” he says, “something like an old stucco wall.”

Once he’s worked through his concept, he’ll wipe off much of the charcoal, leaving a “ghostly template” for his acrylic painting. He’ll then brush in the bird’s form with a neutral color in order to hold his subject’s place in the composition. Following this, he’ll begin the background but, throughout the painting process, he’ll swing back and forth between the “primary character” and its surroundings. He’s constantly open to revision, which he often works out with charcoal and white pastel directly on the painted surface, and he may even go so far as to re-gesso some or all of the canvas. “There’s always some detour or roadblock in the process,” says Sloan, “which then opens up avenues I could never have foreseen when I began the painting.” ~H.D.

Visit Sloan’s website at www.kevinsloan.com.
Subscribe to The Artist’s Magazine.
Get your copy of The Artist’s Magazine (November 2014) for the full feature article on avian watercolor and acrylic paintings, and more.

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