Pink Pelicans Painting – Acrylics Major Work

Pink Pelicans Painting – Acrylics Major Work – 73x145cms – Available

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A gorgeous image of Pink Snow Pelicans taken by ‘Catb on Flickr’, a beautiful photographer and the start of my current fascination

Some paintings come in a heartbeat, a flash or immediately clear vision where there is nothing left to consider but creating it, others are far more considered and involved… My Pink Pelicans painting has certainly been the latter. As I say, every painting has its own life and story of how it comes to be and its a beautiful thing despite the hours, days or weeks we spend exploring a concept before we even get a brush to our boards. The idea itself, the research behind the scenes (especially for natural history painting), the endless search and challenge of referencing, developing those ideas into a satisfying composition… it can take many many maaaaany hours of work so unseen by the viewers, but measured so critically in every glance upon our work.

We rely on many resources to get the most of ourselves as artists and its a fascinating network of knowledge, people, places, possibilities and connections built over years of steady effort and reputation building to bring our visions alive. This wider collaboration of my work and world is perhaps the most unexpected and the most rewarding aspect of my life and career now which make so many things possible, incredibly thrilling and enriching on all fronts. Growing love and passion with others doing the same is just outstanding.

My Pink Pelicans painting is a concept Ive worked hard on for months now to develop. I knew just what I wanted but creating a vision into a tangible thing is not so easy in practice… and I am very pedantic on such things as you know! When its not quite right it eats me up and so if that means not going ahead with a concept I wont. If it means another week lost in the process then thats what Ill do… Afterall, theres no point spending months painting something thats not quite right in your heart and mind is there. Theres no measure to the extra hours spent to the years and decades of people viewing and enjoying a successful painting on the wall either, so its important as I say, to know how to measure the value of such things. Its not all about time.

My vision for this piece was in keeping with the look and feel of my last acrylics flamingo painting ‘The Great Romance’ with its own flavour and uniqueness as well. I am especially keen to explore the romance, beauty, uniqueness, movement and drama, the greater story found in a group of ‘flocking’ birds. Its mesmerising to me to experience these subjects on a grander scale than a single portrait, and the impact in a finished painting on this scale is immense too, and so I set out to find just the right ‘story’ amongst the Pink Pelicans. heidi willis_bird painting_artist_flamingos

‘The Great Romance’ (now sold) was a finalist in Birds In Art 2019

I have been offered many reference images by some outstanding photographers throughout this journey, and felt totally inspired by Joerg Lutz, a beautiful photographer who has allowed me to dip my world into his in such a fantastic way, allowing the merging of two creative passions, perceptions of the world and subjects we love to come together for something bigger than us both… Im a fan of that in itself. Joerg is a wonderful guy, artist, and I appreciate the support of my photographers and how it allows me to grow and share so wildly and widely.

The Pink Pelicans, which are also referred to as Snow Pelicans actually turn pink in spring due to a change in their diet and being ready to breed. Its quite remarkable. Behaviourally I understand that the dominant male is the keeper of the flock, guarding and protecting his brood nestled in the snow from harm which is just wonderful to me. Though its yet to be officially titled, its this behaviour, character, the season, the astoundingly delicate beauty and complete uniqueness that I will feature in this new painting. ‘Keeper of the Flock’ seems a fitting name but im in thought on this now… suggestions anyone?

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The rough layout of my new Pink Pelicans painting, a flock of birds nesting in the snow during the breeding season, the dominant male watching over the flock.

‘Keeper of the Flock’ is a large painting measuring 145x73cms in size. Whilst a calmer emotion overall than the flamingos, it is reflective of their gentler nature and snow bound environment whilst dynamic and powerful as the flamingo scene is. The layout has been refined and decided and its time to start preparing a new board for the painting before loosely drawing it up so invite you to join me as this painting comes to fruition amidst the winding roads of the Christmas period. It will be ongoing for some time but I love having you all along for the ride as you know!

Getting started

The last couple of days have been spent preparing my board ready for painting, and in the drawing process. The drawing for these pieces are far less intricate being an acrylics painting over my watercolour works, however its still critical to take time roughing everything in accurately to keep the story unfolding as intended… it all takes time. I have just completed this step now, white on terracotta (for no particular reason other than i like it) and after all these hours and days working on the concept behind the scenes to this point, Ill finally begin roughing in with paint tomorrow.

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The next stage is to address the background snow scape, quite a magical element to explore. Ive really enjoyed playing with the subtle balances of blues, mauves, grey and white mixed with the beautiful bare branches criss crossing through the landscape and scene. I love the diagonals it throws into the mix, the dynamic contrast and the stillness of the snowy surrounds. Below is the top left corner of the scene, too large to fit into one image!


Below is the top right side of the snow element, stretching along the top of the painting from side to side. The deep greys and midnight blues bring a real strength to the mix and tell such an interesting story of the Pink, or Snow Pelicans. I love this stage, seeing the life of the painting begin to emerge from the terracotta, leaving everything else seeming so crude and rudimentary in comparison. Its a wonderful contrast in the evolution and potential of a painting. For me too, i see the all important environment, the setting and the overall atmosphere starting to take shape. From here I will continue working on the background, the sections of water between the pelicans, the rock elements in the foreground leaving just the pelicans themselves to render… piece of cake hahaa! I am very happy with the progress so far I must say, its a beautiful study of such a remarkable creature and scene.

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With the background elements in, water, snow and rocks, work has begun on the pelicans. Laying rich blacks and darks down, the rocks fall behind to the background and the pelicans are set to take shape. Theres a lot of work in each wing, the dominant males wing in particular so it seems like a beautiful place to begin.

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Moving my way through the birds, the pace is slow and meticulous as always, but im loving the palette, progression and results, along with the anticipation of the painting beginning to emerge. Here we have the start of the first birds, a peachy ruffle of cascading pink and white feathers upon the backs of the first two females… Im happy 🙂 Its a large piece so its extremely difficult to capture this pelicans painting in its entirety, further challenged by the fact im working flat this time, but this image shows the right half of the painting and should help you to see the overall layout and direction of the piece. Of course more will come to light as I progress. If only the photos ever did the work justice!

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Theres nothing like seeing the first little face emerge from the nothingness of the board. Suddenly there is life and personality to the once empty space and the painting turns a whole new leaf of its tale. Today I completed the first little ladies head, a satisfying step forwards indeed. Only…………. 10 or so to go lol!

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A lot of work has gone into rendering my dominant male in the days recently passed, but he is looking good now and will only come alive when I return to the beaks to complete him in the coming weeks. The birds that are nestled in around him are also underway and are coming on well with their marshmallow colours and feel. Of course the photos do it no justice, even harder to photograph with the gentle sheen of the acrylics than usual, but as the story unfolds it is feeling quite captivating to peer into. Todays studio session focusses on the head of a new bird, moving into a new section after the intensity of the dominant male at long last.

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As my pelican painting, decided as ‘Keeper of the Flock’ continues to emerge, I move into create the heads of the female birds nestled into the huddle of pink and feathers, their gorgeous pink faces are so uniquely featured, their expressions so peaceful that a truly calming emotion is beginning to emerge from the painting as it develops. Today’s post shows some areas newly roughed in in the early stages of rendering, others are completed, so a good cross section for you there.

Another looooong studio is ahead of me today, as always, so work will continue in this section, particularly on the large female pelican I undercoated late last night. She is only just transitioning from grey to her pink breeding plumage so she is a delicate grey palette with soft licks of pink beginning to consume her. How magical. She has a powerful gaze and will bring a significant new section of this piece to a close soon enough… Ill see you when shes done!

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Here you can see the development of the previous pelican, and I have swept into the surrounding birds now too, slowly working in layers, watching as each slowly emerge, refine and come to life. Its a long slow process, but as I say to my students, when you fall in love with the process, seeing it come together… it will become an addiction, a thrill. Its a long haul however you manage your mental, physical and emotional space. It is in every way a discipline.

It has been such a studio focus these days, intensified by the need to pop down to Victoria for two face to face masterclasses rushing towards me. Theres no time to hurry this work though, so ive been steady, keeping my work flow consistent until my departure time. My Melbourne classes were such fun, the letting go of my headspace and momentum of the studio giving way to the input and nourishment of my classes and all the people and positivity that comes with that. Changing gears is difficult, but it is also renewing for me in some magical way… I mean, you can see the buzz of it in the pics below. How could it not be!

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This years watercolour and botanical masterclasses at Artworx Geelong and with the Calligraphy Society of Victoria, which ill be returning to in 2021 🙂 

Returning home was a crazy whirlwind, peeling away from Melbourne to the charred desert of the Hume Highway back home in time for the Jacobs Creek Sydney launch the next day, driving into a blistering night of 44 degrees at 8.30pm as I made my way north. In my bag discoveries of little thoughts, gifts, treats, cookies, from so many of you kept being discovered making the long haul so much more doable for me. Returning home was the same, warm welcomes, friends and family, smiles and familiarity again… and I felt so loved and blessed, thank you!

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Apart from lawn mowing and the storm damage in my absence, awaiting my return was some beautiful Jacobs Creek Rosé, a wonderful copy of The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart, hand signed and gifted to me by Holly, the author, my first sight of my wine bottles on the shelves, followers of my work sending me a flurry of photos from all over the place adorned with my illustrations and the wonderful news that The Great Romance had safely made it back to Oz from the Birds In Art exhibition in the USA, home to its very happy new owner in perfect order. Exhale. Sleep. But not for long, my pelicans and studio calls!

heidi willis_artist_illustrator_pelican painting_acrylics bird art_2 Back to the steadiness of my studio I change gears seamlessly, and as I pick up my brush once more, I make contact with my canvas and exhale for my return with a smile. ‘Now where were we….’ I ask my big pelican who seemed to have soul in his eye contact and expression in return. Ahhhh yes, pink, white, delicious. I remember! And so i sat for many many days working away on my pelican painting again. ‘Keeper of the Flock’ it is, i spoke to him once more, but he already knew that. Slowly the next comes to life, then the next, and the next as I work my way through the fairy floss clutch of lovely ladies nestled into the snow so serenely. Today I completed the last of the birds at last and will spend the day refining the entire painting to ensure everything is cohesive and perfect as possible before moving on to their magical beaks. They really are remarkable, beautiful, and will bring a whole new balance to the final pelican painting… the end is slowly coming into sight now.

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The beaks going in brings a whole new element, complexity, texture, palette, interest and life to the painting. Its an exciting stage of development, each section completing another part of this pink pelican story. Below is the dominant males beak, so amazing to explore!

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And finally, we have a studio shot of the overall pelican painting to give you some perspective on the size, bringing this very special painting to a close. Thank you as always for following along!

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The final snow pelicans painting

My computer died, making it impossible to share the time lapse clips with you along the way but I am up and running again and the clip can be viewed here for a whole new perspective on seeing it emerge. Enjoy!