Penguin Watercolor Sketches

rockhopper watercolor penguin sketch
Rockhopper watercolor penguin sketch. Michele Clamp

Penguin watercolor sketches were the topic for today. The reason for this is that I’ve had a commission on the todo list for a while now. Specifically it is for a panoramic penguin painting featuring multiple species of penguins. James has requested it and the final painting will hang in our main living room. It’s going to be a challenge. First things first – start off with some sketches to see how the different penguins look.

There are many different species of penguin

There are apparently 18 species of penguin. Some are more visually attractive than others so sorry, but the little Australian penguin probably won’t make the cut. Of them all the rockhopper sketch came out very well as did the gentoo sketch. I also found out that I’ve been painting king penguins and calling them emperor penguins all this time.

My approach was to pick a penguin and quickly get down the main shapes. I tried not to dwell too much on the drawing accuracy (within reason of course). Keeping the lines and shapes interesting was more important than accuracy. I took a couple of liberties with the feet. Not all penguins have orange feet but I like that pop of color so orange they were. One of the sketches that wasn’t quite as successful as the rest was the ‘unknown penguin’. I really liked the pose with the outstretched wing but the penguin plumage itself wasn’t particularly interesting. I may transplant the pose onto another species and see how that works.

You have to paint quickly on sketchbook paper

I was painting these fairly small (around 4 or 5 inches) in a Strathmore watercolor sketchbook. This isn’t the worst paper to paint on in the world but it’s no Arches or Fabriano Artistico. The paper is fairly substantial but not very absorbent. The paint dries quickly and blending is hard. This means that you have to work fast and not noodle over things too much. It lends itself to a very loose and energetic style which I like.

Next Steps

These penguin watercolor sketches made for an enjoyable afternoon’s painting. The next step will be to compose them so they look interesting and not just pasted in a line. Wish me luck…

Apple Color Study – Session 2

Apple still life oil painting study
Apple Study. Michele Clamp. Oil on panel. 5”x7”

This is the apple color study – session 2 (session 1 is here). After the struggle with surfaces last time this was never going to be a masterwork. But it’s been interesting (never thought apples could be that interesting). The painting is never going to hang on a wall but I wanted to work more on this and really try to get the colors as close as I could. It’s really good training in mixing but more importantly in just looking. Getting closer I think.

Munsell Chips to the Rescue

Munsell chart 10YR and oil painted copy
Munsell chart 10YR and oil painted copy

A couple of years ago I was really struggling with color in my watercolor painting. After googling a little I found Paul Foxton’s site He is an oil painter and, after a workshop with Anthony Waichulis weeas a convert to using the Munsell classification for color. He found it transformed his color work and, I’m now a convert too.

I won’t go into details here. If you go to Paul’s site and/or youtube channel he has a lot of free videos describing his process. It has been a godsend for me. I’m now able to see, mix and use color much better. I can now be much more accurate in my mixes but that’s not the main thing. The fact that color identification and mixing is no longer a lottery for me I can now be *much* more expressive color-wise. Gaining a skill in this area has increased my powers of expression through paint and is much more enjoyable as a result.

I will likely go into more detail about Munsell and watercolor in upcoming posts.

So I used Munsell chips extensively in this apple painting. You can buy (at great expense sadly) a large book of 1600 painted chips which cover the gamut of all the colors you can reach in paint. Identifying the colors you need in you setup you can then pluck out the relevant chips and mix to those.

Thanks to Munsell chips the apple study – session 2 was a success!

Oil Painting Surfaces – A Cautionary Tale

Apple still life oil painting study
Two Apples. Michele Clamp. Oil on panel. 5”x7”

Yes I never thought the title would be ‘oil painting surfaces- a cautionary tale’. Today was supposed to be a set of apple studies with different types of brushwork. It turned into a sorry saga of unsuitable surfaces. With pretty horrible results.

Strathmore Canvas paper – too absorbent for oil paint

As this was just meant to be some studies I first started with a quarter sheet of Strathmore canvas paper. I’ve used this before with good results but what I forgot was that I gessoed the surface first before painting on it. And this time I didn’t. Ugh! The paint just sinks in, you can’t blend it, and it somehow darkens and goes matte on the paper. After struggling for an hour or so trying to get the paint to cover the surface (it soaks in and in!) I gave up. Here’s the result:

Disastrous apple still life oil painting on canvas paper

Blergh. Almost no form on that left hand apple even though I was *so* careful with the values.

Not all ‘gessoboard’ is the same

After a quick stomp around the studio I fished out a small 5”x7” Ampersand gessobord. *Gesso* board so this surface must be ok yes? Hmm. Well it was better but boy so slick! The paint just rides around on the surface as there’s no tooth to speak of. It was definitely better than the paper but only just. Here’s my chunky block-in.

Apple still life oil painting study color block in
Apple still life oil painting study color block in

Kinda okay. I had a lot of trouble getting the chroma right on the light side of the apple. I was using Munsell chips but was still struggling. Will try and tweak that tomorrow and see if I can get it right. It has a certain charm but nowhere near what I was aiming for.

Finally I blended some of the edges and beefed up the darks a little. And that was it for the day. 4 hours – 2 apples! I have to get back to watercolor.

Apple still life oil painting study softened edges
Apple still life oil painting study softened edges

Apple Study in Oil

Apple Study in Oil (Paul Foxton Livestream)

Apples today with Paul Foxton. A lot of detailed mixing but the whole thing only came alive when the detail spots and the highlight went in. Could do a lot more on this. I only started to see a lot of the detail towards the end when I was really looking at it. But fun thought.

Oil study – Lime Wedges and Backgrounds

Oil study for Threads

Well this was fun. I learned a lot here. The subject was a lime wedge against different colored backgrounds. In the end I used pretty much the same colors for the wedge itself but the background (obviously) and the foreground and reflection changed color. In particular that reflection, even though it looks yellow/orange is in real life a pure grey. Who’d have thought? In hindsight I should have known as a yellow reflection on a gray background will result in a neutral gray!

Here’s a closeup of the result

Lime wedge oil study

Limited Palette – Final(ish) Results

Two limited palette studies. The left hand one is with quin magenta, cadmium yellow, cobalt teal. The right hand one is with naphthol red, cadmium lemon and winsor blue (green shade). Really surprised how close the colors are between the two sets.

This one is with the Zorn palette of cadmium red (actually naphthol), yellow ochre and black. Lovely muted colors and really surprised how blue that pot looks with only ivory black and white.