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Birds and Branches

The story of how a painting evolved with the help of a sign shop.

by Keith J. Hampton


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Birds and Branches (finalized work) click on picture for larger version.
acrylic on canvas, 36 x 24 inches

Birds and Branches didn't start off as a planned painting. In my usual style, I simply started painting and waited to see what or who would show up. At the intermediate stage, I ended up with three panels surrounded by a border. I had been using metallics at this stage and some masking for clean edges. The end result was pleasing, but... well, it needed something more. I took it up to Magdalena and she confirmed my own opinion. (see below)

Then the painting sat. And sat. I've never had a painting sit so long. I wanted to put just the right overlay on it, but I was so happy with the background, I didn't want to muck it up with the wrong image.

Finally, I came up with the idea (this was in early May, mind you) to put a branches pattern on top. I went out and took tons of pictures until I found the right one, this was a lilac tree. But it still seemed somehow lifeless with the addition. (below) It needed more.

Then, one morning I was watching all the birds in the back yard. They all seemed so animated, each on their own little agenda, preening, eating, fighting with each other. (Much like we humans, eh?) I thought "Wow, the answer is right there, just add birds!". So, I went back through all my bird photos and started outlining the ones I thought would work best. (below)

Finally, I had something I was really starting to like. But that was only in Photoshop. I still had to get this on the canvas somehow. The birds wouldn't be a problem, but I wanted the clean, delicate look the branches had without having to create pencil lines. I tried white pencil, but it looked sloppy. And lead pencil? Fuggedaboutit.

So, the painting sat some more while I thought how to solve this problem. About a month later (no kidding) I finally figured out a way to get the branches on after seeing a few of my old sign projects. I could use a stencil created from vinyl and have the sign shop in town cut it from an EPS file. If you aren't familiar with digital art, suffice it to say that I could get the outlines from my Photoshop file, convert them in another program and send that to the sign shop and have a stencil cut.

The sign folks said I could pick the vinyl up the next day if it all worked out. Well, to my surprise, they actually GAVE me the stencil for free! I couldn't believe it. Very nice people! (Thanks again, Brownsburg Signs!)

The next step took me all day long. Taking the stencil off of the backing paper and getting it to lie flat on my painting was not easy but after being patient and slow, I got it down. After a quick application of paint, I peeled it back off and was happy with the results.

Next came the birds which I basically tranferred onto the canvas with drawings and pencil. I painted them in transparent inks, interference blue and metallics. A little clean up on the background with a new color and the painting was done.

Here are some detail shots and a video. Why video? The metallic, pearlescent and interference colors change when you move your position, so I wanted to show how this looks in certain light. Hope you enjoy this and I apologize for the yellow cast in the video.

Detail One

Detail Two

Detail Three

Detail Four

Detail Five (angle shot)