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Oso Bay Wetlands Preserve Studies

The last few weekends, I’ve been taking trips to the Oso Bay Wetlands Preserve, here in South Texas. If you are a bird lover like me, it’s a great place to observe many different types of birds in their native environments.

I want to share with you my process of painting when I paint from photo reference, as in this instance.

From these reference photos, I made some quarter sheet paintings. The first set I want to show you is how I used a quarter sheet reference painting to make a larger half sheet work. Very often I will splice photos together to get compositional ideas.

Here is a work I composed using 2 ‘sketch’ paintings and photo references. The photo references where then spliced together . So, here, without actually sketching, I was able to make a larger work based on these 2 photos and photo splicing. It was also fun to make my 2 quarter sheet paintings.

Using this technique I was able to put together a larger half sheet of this subject.

“Oso Bay Wetlands Preserve I” – (Saunders Paper 22 x 30 – Daniel Smith Watercolor Paints)

This is one way to compose a work. It’s almost like sketching, but not quite.

In these next series of photos , I will outline my approach to a painting using a sketch. First, I look through my reference photos and isolate some nice shots of what I think will work in a compositional sketch. I then place them using my reference material. I immediately recognized that the flight of these Egrets was something I would like to capture.

There was one photo that captured the flight beautifully and that became my focal point for this painting.

So, from these photos and the birds that were isolated in them, I made my compositional sketch for my larger work. In this next set of photos, you will see my process from start to finish:

This is my preliminary compositional sketch, placing in my elements and having an idea of where I want my light and tones.
My board Sketch. Here I’m putting in my elements from my compositional sketch.
This is my first wash. Here , color is the only thing I’m after. I always critique my work and in this instance, the first wash could have been more uniform. I do like how I increased the color and tone a little in the foreground by adding some turquoise.
This is a second stage of my first wash, bringing in some elements in wet on wet with some texturing mainly to my background and some in the mid and foreground. This also helps to create some distance and I take care to cut around my birds. I also try to leave some white and light areas. I want the viewer to immediately go to the foreground focal point (bird on the right) and then travel backwards in a z-fashion through the painting.

Again, I could improve here by not going too dark too soon on this wash. It started getting a little muddy when I began adding my darks too early. Since I wanted the right section of my painting to really contrast the dark against the light , I wasn’t that concerned with coming in with my dark this early.
One of my reference photos from the Oso Bay Preserve. I used this photo to plan my background and used it also in my preliminary sketching.
This is my pallet for the second wash that will include my shadows and some darker tones. (Range 3-10). My colors including VanDyke brown and burnt sienna for my yellows, Ultramarine blue for my blue and Dioxizine Violet and Alizarin Crimson for my reds.

In this second wash, I start to bring in my shadows and more refining details. It’s the funnest stage for me because things start coming to life. Here, I often try to think about tying the painting together and making it look more uniform in color and tonal value.
This is the final painting with my darker dry brush put in.

I am pretty happy with the way things turned out. I would like to improve my washes which I think will tie in my paintings a little better. To me, they still look a little ‘pasted on’ so the transitions of tone could be better.

I hope you enjoyed this series of my work and happy painting!


  1. This is wonderful, a great way to see your process! I have a few questions…is your sketch in pencil. if so can you share the type? I need to expand my pencil use, I have been playing with both ink and water soluable graphite, but this looks like regular pencil? Also you say you are using van dyke brown and burnt sienna as your yellows…I do see an actual yellow in your pallet? Is this what you are using in the earlier wash on the bird wings?

    Liked by 1 person

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