Guest Artist Sue deLearie Adair Discusses her Art of the Little Things

Sue-Grand-Teton

Once a month I will be showcasing the talents of colleagues in the art world and I am very happy to introduce you to Sue deLearie Adair, a good friend and fellow New York State resident. Sue mostly concentrates on little and local members of the animal world, portrayed in amazing greys or splashes of color, or a bit of both. She uses a variety of media and in this post she gives us an interesting guide as to how she chooses the best medium for her next piece. Regardless of which she chooses, you can see that her detailed knowledge and enjoyment of her subject shines through!        

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Which Medium Should I Use?
For me it is always easy to decide what subject to draw or paint—I like the little things in nature—frogs and toads, chipmunks and butterflies, and especially birds! I have been an avid birder for almost thirty years and have traveled across North America and abroad in search of birds. A dozen years ago I finally started putting my love of birds on paper in the form of drawings and paintings. But, while subject matter is easy, each time I come up with a composition I still have to decide what medium/media to use to create it. I produce graphite pencil drawings, mixed media drawings and paintings and etchings, so, what to use?
Black-and-White
Graphite Pencil is my favorite medium so if a composition would work as a black-and-white drawing that is usually what I use! Subjects that are black-and-white themselves almost always end up as graphite pencil drawings. For example, the pair of Razorbills you see below in “Renewing Their Bond”. They are black-and-white birds standing on mostly gray rocks. When I decided to eliminate the blue background (ocean) to go with a more graphic composition, graphite pencil was a natural for this piece—no color needed!
 Renewing Their Bond web
“Renewing Their Bond”, graphite pencil, 10”x10”, 2012
Subjects with a large amount of contrast, texture and/or patterns also work well as graphite pencil drawings, regardless of the colors involved. In “Scrap Pile Sparrow” a White-crowned Sparrow is portrayed. This species is a medley of browns and grays with a black-and-white striped crown and by pushing the contrast in the body feathers and adding a graduated background the bird looks great in black-and-white!
 Scrap Pile Sparrow web
“Scrap Pile Sparrow”, graphite pencil, 6”x4”, 2013
Color—A little bit of Color
In 2009 and again in 2013 I took week-long solar plate etching workshops and planned my pieces to include a small amount of color. So for these pieces I looked for subjects that were predominately one color, which became the etching ink color, and added the other colors afterwards with watercolor and colored pencil. I printed brown bunnies, reddish-brown chipmunks, and black birds such as “Junco”, a Dark-eyed Junco.
 Junco AP 1 web
                       “Junco”, Etching with Watercolor and Colored Pencil, 4”x4”, 2009
I liked the effect of having just a bit of color and started to experiment with mixed media drawings using graphite and colored pencils together. Some of these drawings have just a bit of color; others look pretty much fully colored such as “High Plains Plover” which depicts a Mountain Plover in its native grassland habitat. I used wheat colored etching paper for the piece and a variety of subtly toned colored pencils. I then used graphite pencil on top of the colored pencil to add definition and detail.
 High Plains Plover web
“High Plains Plover”, Colored and Graphite Pencils, 7.5”x10”, 2012
Color—Lots of Color!
If I like a composition and subject that is fairly low contrast but has interesting colors, then full color it must be! For me this means a mixed media painting. I start with a watercolor background and under-painting and use colored and graphite pencils to add detail. I started using graphite pencil in my paintings to shade, soften, sharpen and add really fine details a couple of years ago because of a pencil sharpener “crisis”. The sharpeners I had been using for years were discontinued (each lasted only about 6 months but made a really nice point on colored pencils without breaking them too often). It took several purchases and many months to find a good replacement, but some of the reject sharpeners handled graphite pencils well enough, so I tried adding them to my paintings—and I liked it! The more I can do with my trusty graphite pencils, the happier I am!
“Mango Shower” is a simple composition of a Green-breasted Mango hummingbird bathing in a rain shower. I liked the subdued tone of the scene and the beautiful colors of the birds tail so it became a mixed media painting. Using watercolor in these paintings also allows me to create interesting background effects, sometimes by using granulated watercolors and in this case by dropping water onto the wet, green wash. Not only would this look have been difficult to do using entirely dry media, but the effect would be rather dull. I created a black-and-white version of the painting in Photoshop to let you see the difference.
 Mango Shower pair
“Mango Shower”, 4.75”x6.75”, Watercolor, Colored and Graphite Pencils, 2013
My last piece, “Blue-wings at the Swamp”, is a composition that I could have created using just graphite pencils. The birds have plenty of contrast and interesting patterns in their plumage and the values range from black to white. But how could I resist that bright spring green!? I decided this would just be more beautiful in color and created this painting. Using watercolor had an added bonus—most of the water is done with a watercolor wash. Creating that even tone in pencil would have been extremely time consuming!
 Blue-wings at the Swamp web
“Blue-wings at the Swamp”, 7.5”x10.5”, Watercolor, Colored and Graphite Pencils, 2012
So choosing my medium all comes down to two things: 1) what I think will look best in the finished piece and 2) maximizing the amount of graphite pencil I can use to get the job done without spending forever on the background! Oh, and 3) who wants to see a butterfly or warbler in black-and-white anyway?
Thanks for reading!
Sue
Lots of Pattern and Contrast—Still Better in Color!
 Magnolia Warbler web
“Magnolia Warbler”, 5”x4.5”, Watercolor, Colored and Graphite Pencils, 2013
Thank you Sue!

Until next time…
Alison
Art Inspired by Africa and Conservation
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