Wednesday, April 13, 2011

A pair of chicken portraits in oil

Yep, it's another challenge from DailyPaintworks:  The Chicken Challenge:

6x6 inches 
oil on 1/4 wood panel
[source photo courtesy of C. Marine]

7x5 inches
oil on canvas board
[source photo courtesy of C. Sheeter]

An unexpected break from the landscapes - I honestly didn't consider that chickens would be the subject matter for any paintings this week.  But, it sounded like so much fun that I just had to try it.  And, I enjoyed painting "Ethel" yesterday afternoon that I started on "Freddie" last night after the brownish madder I used to tone the canvas was dry.  I finished him up late this morning.

Of course, I have never painted a bird or chicken before.  I've been wanting to paint more animals ever since I did Observation Deck.  Unfortunately, I didn't have a single reference photo of a chicken, so I went with Carol's provided photo and one found in the Reference Image Library on WetCanvas for Freddie's.

I like chickens, actually. They are clearly unaware of their low order on the food chain, and you always hear stories about how mean roosters can be, especially when defending their hens.  The look in Freddie's eye tells you he is not to be trifled with.

This very short video never fails to make me laugh:

Ethel started out with a pencil sketch onto the board, but with Freddie, I jumped right in with the oils, making some corrections as I went.  The easiest parts of the paintings to do, beside the backgrounds?  The eyes.  Probably not what most people would say, but back when I was doing mixed media equine sculpture, I painted many tiny equine eyes.  And quite well, I might add.  They are the key of animal (or most human) portraits - if the eyes aren't right, the painting fails.

The hardest part was trying to get Freddie's feathers to look acceptable.  He is a Barred Rock rooster, and the black and white feather pattern is complex to say the least.  The extreme darks of the feathers in the photo didn't translate so well to a painting, so here it is just suggested; I ended up wiping it off twice before settling on this final version.

Palette used:  alizarin crimson, cadmium reds dark & medium, burnt sienna, yellow ochre, ultramarine blue.

Can't ever be too far from the landscapes, but I'm really liking these chickens.  I have a few more reference photos, so who knows?


  1. Great job on the chickens. You're really brave to tackle a Barred Rock and you did a great job of it. I would be more than happy to loan you our Banty Rooster for a portrait. He supposedly chased and attacked the poor woman who was supposed to feed him. I told her we have a stick just for that problem.

  2. Thanks, Susan. I'm not sure what I was thinking when I decided to try the Barred Rock, but I'm glad you think it turned out okay. I might take you up on getting pics of your little Banty tough guy with the Napoleon Complex. Too funny!

  3. Ha - Love the chickens! Ethel's expression is great!
    I haven't been brave enought to try that challenge yet.
    I had Barred Rocks as a kid - they sure have a lot of personality....

  4. Thanks, Debbie! I think it's the expressions that make paintings of chickens so fun (and fun to paint).

  5. We had chickens on my dad's farm when I was young. The roosters were terrifying and would attack, flying and with spurs outstretched, anyone who approached. Going and getting eggs was always a dicey affair.
    Nice chicken portraits. And I like what you said about their position on the food chain. Funny.

  6. Heh, heh...I can imagine! I think that's why many roosters end up in the soup pot - they have just too much testosterone and male bravado to make them worth keeping around.

    I dealt with chickens when I was in HS and in FFA on the poultry judging team. We candled eggs and had to handle both laying hens and broilers, which were so docile. No roosters, though ;).

  7. Love these portraits, especially Ethel! What a great challenge theme! And thanks for sharing about your process too. BTW, chicken-raising is in the near future for us... for eggs only.

  8. Very nice chicken portraits. I haven't heard about this site before and am going to check it out. Something like the daily challege is a great idea to widen our own art horizons and explore new things we might never have tried otherwise. I know it would for me. Sometimes I just need a push to get me out of my comfort zone.

  9. Hi Rebecca - thanks so much for dropping by; I'm glad you enjoyed reading about the process. I always enjoy it when other artists post about theirs, so I do it when there is something maybe interesting to say about it.

    Hi Ruth - thanks for stopping in again and commenting. Definitely check out the DailyPaintworks challenge - they are ongoing, and you are right: they are great for pushing you to try new things and nudge you out of your comfort zone...I've participated in most of them, and it has been wonderful!


Your thoughtful comments add value to this blog - thank you so much for taking the time to leave them!

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