An Improbability of Puffins

When is black not black? When looking at the plumage of ostensibly black and white birds, that’s when. You would think that painting Atlantic Puffins would be simple, lots of black and white and some big, silly coloured bills, but no…that plumage has a lot of subtle colouration, greys, browns, blues as well as ‘black’! Actually, I loved painting these, they have such personality in those faces, and who doesn’t like Puffins? But the plumage did take some getting right, especially giving the impression of individual feathers on the backs of the birds, where the oiled plumage is relatively smooth. That’s why I love painting raptors, lots of feather detail!

I mentioned that I had it in mind to paint a ‘portmanteau’ piece for Puffins, using several of Mark’s images. Well, this is not that piece. Mark has some lovely photos, but all on the sea or flying over it. Sea and I don’t have the best painting relationship right now, I’m getting better at depicting it but I’m not there yet, so I wanted to do a ‘land-based’ piece. Getting those sorts of photos is not easy here, Puffins tend to be on off-shore islands (more off-shore than we are, anyway!), hence the number of images Mark has of birds on the sea, which is the best we can do without taking to boats. So I decided to try on line and use one of the photo sites that allow use of photos for art purposes. It pays to be careful, and to check that the website, or the individual picture, carries either the Creative Commons Zero Licence (CC0) or an Attribution Licence.  Either of these allow you to make any kind of artwork from the photos, without asking permission, and to then sell the artwork, prints or use it elsewhere. The difference is that the first type of licence does not even require you to credit the original photographer whereas the second requires a credit on each use. To be safe I took a look at a site that has only CC0 licenced images, Pixabay. It had an easy search tool, typing in ‘puffins’ soon brought up a number of nice images, all stood on rocks. I chose two photos, both of groups of birds, and downloaded them to my computer. I then chose individual birds from the two photos and mixed and matched to get a grouping I liked, before drawing my picture. The background was added after finishing painting the birds, and was mainly my imagination, directed a bit by the backgrounds on the two photos. I do prefer using Mark’s photos, but this did make a good option for those occasions when looking for something specific that might not be in his photo library (but I have a huge backlog of photos that I want to paint, so it’s probably not going to be a common occurrence!).

There are a number of other photo sharing websites, others with the CC0 licence (so you can browse with confidence) include Unsplash  Public Domain Archive and Pexels, whilst MorgueFile uses a similar licence that just needs you to change the image in some way (so making a piece of art works!). I haven’t looked at these sites yet, though, as I found just what I was wanting on Pixabay.

improbability rs watermarked

‘An Improbability of Puffins’, Atlantic Puffin, 8 x 10 inch, watercolour pencil (Caran d’Ache Supracolor) on 140 lb cold press Canson XL watercolour paper.

What to call this one? I looked into the collective nouns for Puffins and there are a number, including a ‘burrow’ (maybe best for nesting birds?), a ‘parliament’, a ‘raft’ (probably best for those on the sea), a ‘puffinry’ (a bit obvious, perhaps?), a ‘circus’ (getting warm), a ‘loomery’ (nicer still) and an ‘improbability”. I went for the ‘improbability’, as it does seem to sum up the look of these charming, comical little birds.



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Sandra Dennis

Now I'm in early retirement from my previous career as a pharmaceutical scientist, I've taken to creating art pieces. I specialise in wildlife art, especially birds.

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