The first birds I studied at any length were brooder chicks that arrived in boxes kept warm in our farm kitchen. They were absolutely adorable—soft yellow fluff balls that cheep-cheeped continuously, and rapidly grew into gangly little creatures that felt so vulnerable in hand. They make excellent subjects for Chinese Brush Painting and many resources cover how to paint them.
The little Yi Ming book mentioned in a previous post on Little Brown Birds illustrated how to develop a chick based on two overlapping ovals. I had fairly satisfactory results with this approach.
Here are two versions of chicks developed using Yi Ming’s steps:
I then tried creating a chick following the steps Jane Dwight shows in The Chinese Brush Painting Bible. Her little bird is strutting off to stage left and has a curious look in his eye.
How it’s done:
1. With black ink and a detail brush create a small angled beak with a large eye .
2. Load a medium soft brush with dark ink (or a medium ink dipped in black for tonal variation) and execute the head leading into two wings. This part could be done as three strokes–one for the head and and then two overlapping for the wings.
3. Reload your brush in lighter ink and follow a long v-shape from under the chin, down the breast and up the back end of the bird. You can break this long stroke or pause to suggest where the upper thighs would lead to legs.
4. Return to the detail brush and dark ink to paint legs with three front-facing toes and one facing the rear. Add little flicks for toes.
Once I’d become familiar with the little chick shapes and what body parts required which of the two brushes, I found it was quite easy to create a little flock of chicks. Soon I settled into a comfortable concentration trying to get sharp little beaks, expressive eyes and more accurate feet. If the head or backs needed darkening it was fairly easy to tip in a wee bit more dark ink while the bird was still damp. I played a bit with using a dry brush to create a more feathery look. I rather liked my compositions showing only chicks, but there are all sorts of grasses, shrubs, flowers, vegetables to consider painting as settings.
Notes to self:
1. Try these steps in the “speckled grays, browns, pale yellows and ochers” Dwight mentions.
2. Collect more variations in postures for chicks.
3. Study how to create “conversations” among chick groups for a larger composition.
4. Tackle the rest of the family: the rooster and hen.