“Predator and prey move in silent gestures, on the seductive dance of death, in the shadows cast by the vultures of the night.”Luis Marques
The vulture is often a scorned and view contemptuously by many. He is associated with rot, decay, and death. His appearance is met with dread, as usually it indicates that something horrible has or will take. place He is viewed as an opportunist who waits for sickness and death to overcome his prey and shows little emotion other than the excitement of the prospects of his next meal. He is portrayed in horror movies and stories as a scavenger and often shown to aggressively pursue its victim to the bitter end. A heartless, callous beast.
But that description couldn’t be further from the truth.
Vultures are quite harmless to living beings. And further, they actually are helpful to the environment by consuming the carcasses of dead animals which can spread diseases to people, livestock, and other animals. Lacking vultures, carcasses take about three times longer to decompose. Their stomach acid can kill diseases such as anthrax, botulism, cholera, salmonella, and rabies, so that consuming everything edible on the carcass, it will sterilize it and help prevent the spread of deadly diseases to humans and animals.
They are useful and non-aggressive animals that service us by helping keep our world cleaner, and it is unfortunate that they have such a negative stigma associated with them. They do not ‘kill’ living animals typically, but rather feed on them after death occurs. But for some reason they gained the reputation of being aggressive predators, as they tend to be associated with death and decay. Add to that they appear to be rather unkempt and disheveled in their appearance and they are rarely shown in a positive light. But it is all in a day’s work.
So why did I choose to paint this creature that is not only seen as undesirable but also ugly?
One day a couple of weeks ago, I was surfing YouTube for some creative videos and I noticed a thumbnail of this amazing creature. The channel was by artist Kirsty Rebecca Fine Art and the tutorial in particular that had the vulture featured was called “Techniques for Underpainting with PanPastels“. It was a ten-minute excerpt showing Kirsty’s method of pulling in implied colors and accentuating them in the finished piece. The result was amazing.
I went to Kirsty’s Patreon Page and looked around for a little bit. I also went back to the YouTube channel to watch some of the other videos she had presented there to see if her teaching style would be something that would both interest and benefit me as an artist. As you can probably guess, it certainly was and I saw several projects that she is offering video lessons for on her Patreon page that I wanted to try. I joined up in support of her right away and was really excited.
For those of you who aren’t aware, Patreon is a monthly subscription service in which you choose a creator and subscribe to them on a month-to-month basis. There are thousands of creators which show techniques for hundreds of types of creating. I like it because the cost to join is both flexible and minimal. You can pick your level for the month at the cost you would like to spend, as most creators have several different ‘tiers’ you can pick from. Naturally, the more benefits you receive, the more the tier costs. But there is no long-term commitment and you can switch at any time or quit altogether. It is a great way to see if you like a certain medium or technique and you can try different classes without spending a fortune. All the while, you are supporting the creators directly and giving them incentives to offer more classes. It is a win/win for everyone.
I have a “Patreon Budget” every month in which I allot myself a certain amount that I have to spend on various teachers. I tend to ‘mix it up’ a bit and stay for a while with a teacher and then when I feel that I want to switch things up, I move on to others. That doesn’t necessarily mean that I jump around every month. Some of the teachers I have been following and supporting for years. Others may not fit as well and after a couple of months I feel that I have learned all that I could from them at this point and I move on. There is nothing personal towards them, but as I tend to have the desire to learn different mediums and not stick with just one, I try to spend my limited painting time with someone who I think I will benefit most from. It really is a nice setup and works well for me.
In any case, I had most of the supplies for the vulture class and I decided that would be the best place for me to begin. With Halloween and autumn coming up shortly, I thought it would be nice to have such a cool-looking painting here in my studio. And I truly loved the depth of color and shading that this piece showed. I couldn’t wait to try!
The reference photo was from Pixabay. It fascinated me how ‘different’ it was from the final painting. Already I was learning to look beyond what we saw in the reference. I can’t wait to apply some of the techniques that I learned from painting this to my own original paintings later on:
The painting is created using PanPastels and pastel pencils (Pitt by Faber Castell and Carbathellos by Stablio) on 11″ x 14″ toned Pastelmat paper. Pastelmat is the only paper I use for pastels, as it allows an amazing amount of detail and because of the way it ‘grabs’ the pastel, there is far less dust and mess.
After doing the background, which I also learned a great deal about, I began filling in the undertones that were what I call ‘unexpected’ colors.
Typically on my other pastel drawings, I would do the background last, being afraid that I would make a mess of things by smudging and smearing everything as I finished the painting. But I learned some great tips which showed me how to avoid that and everything went smoothly.
I continued to lay in the undertones, and then started filling everything else in.
I kind of jumped around a bit and wanted to get my eye and head done first. I usually do the eyes and head more towards the beginning because I think that makes or breaks the painting in most cases and I want to make sure that I have a decent go of it. He was coming along . . .
Once the head was well established, I began refining things and adding the highlight layers. I needed to still blend everything in between these layers so that it would work both soften the ‘graininess’ as well as work the pastel into the paper so that I would be able to add subsequent layers on top.
Then came the part that to me was the most fun – the final adjustments.
I spent a couple of hours toning, shading, highlighting, and refining everything and fully bringing my vulture to life. As a last adjustment, I took the brave leap and pulled some of the background colors back over the bird, so it looks as if he is in kind of a ‘mist.’ This step really scared me the most, as once I stroked the background colors over the feathers, there would be no turning back. But I thought it would be worth a try. After all – it is only a little paper and pastel. Right?
Below is the resulting painting:
Who would think that a vulture could look so . . . well . . . ‘handsome’?
I am really rather pleased with the result of this painting. I give a great deal of credit to Kirsty Rebecca and her great approach to teaching this method. Typically it would take me probably 30 or more hours to do a painting of this type. I probably finished this one in under 10. I not only learned about looking for those ‘unexpected’ colors, and emphasizing them to give a beautiful, artsy result, but I also learned a lot about what to focus on regarding details and what to allow to be a little more vague.
Those of you who have seen my artwork know that I am very detailed and exacting. While this can make a really nice painting, much of the detail that I include isn’t really necessary and is very time-consuming to do. Especially when I am painting things like fur and feathers. I am learning that ‘implied details’ can be just as effective as actually stroking in every strand of hair or each feather. And things actually look more natural to me when done this way, too. (AND they take much less time to create!)
I hope you like my vulture. I also hope that maybe you will look upon vultures a little differently from this point on. They are an important part of our ecosystem and while they may be lowly scavengers, they are necessary and can be beautiful, too. They should not be feared, but greatly admired.
Thanks for reading.
Until next time . . .