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Friday, January 24, 2014

Frank W. Benson, Ibises and Girls in Bright Dresses

I have been painting a lot of bird images lately.  I strive to make each painting better than the last, so I look for ways to improve.  White birds can be especially tricky.  How do you make sunlit white shine in a painting?   

To answer this question I looked back to the paintings of American impressionist, Frank W. Benson (1862-1951).  His paintings of women and girls in white dresses are beyond compare.  Here are two of my favorite examples.

Frank W. Benson, The Sisters, (1899) oil on canvas
Frank W. Benson, Summer, (1909) oil on canvas

I find that the only way to learn from a master such as Benson is to do a study of one of his paintings.  I worked up a small study of the girl in the hat from The Sisters painting.   I painted in oils in order to more closely duplicate the color, tone and style.  I learned that the whites in the painting are reserved for the brightest highlights only.  All the other colors are anything but white! 
The surrounding colors are quite dark when taken separately, but look deceptively light.  The shadows on the dress and hat are full of rich colors--turquoise, pink, blue, purple, yellow.  I would have never understood this had I not tried to duplicate the painting.  This exercise was well worth my time.  I want to paint white birds such as Ibises and Egrets in sunlight with the same dazzling shine.  Now I have a guideline to help me do that.  Here is my completed painting.

Mona Vivar, Girl in Sun (study), 6 inches by 6 inches, oil on canvas
And here is an Ibis and Roseate Spoonbill painting in acrylic using some of the same reflective colorful shadows.  Next week I will have an Egret in the surf worked in oils to discuss.  I like the way these turned out.  I always benefit from taking a lesson!

Copyright Mona Vivar, Mixed Company, 11 inches by 14 inches, acrylic on canvas
Available on Ebay at Mona Vivar Fine Art


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