A few months ago, a local brewery approached me about creating an image for their seasonal beers. The image would be in the background of four seasonal brews to be released over the course of the year. They wanted the image to contain feathers from raptors of California as well as other native California bird species. They had a tight deadline and a limited budget but I took the project on with enthusiasm.

We went through several rounds of sketches before agreeing on a final sketch. We wanted to make sure the raptors of California were well represented, as well as some favorite species like Great Blue Heron and Mallard were also present. The image had to be colorful and dynamic while still being able to work behind the layout of the label.

While I was sketching, I was also investigating sources for specific feathers. I wanted to look at as many feathers as possible. I had the opportunity to work with some local raptor organizations, looking closely at feathers from many of our California raptors. Allen Fish at the Golden Gate Raptor Observatory helped connect me to the Ornithology and Mammalogy collections at the California Academy of Sciences. Moe Flannery generously invited me to come to the collections to research and sketch from their specimens. I spent the better part of a day at CAS, digging through study skins, drawing, photographing, and talking to visitors about my project.

Once my sketches were done and the client agreed that we could move forward, I also presented some color samples so that they would be able to see the actual colors I would be using. I did these in the same medium I would be doing the final image: colored pencil and gouache on frosted mylar film (Duralene).

color samples for four species
color samples for four species

The process of working on Duralene is one I really enjoy. Once I had approval of the final drawing from my client, I transferred the drawing from the sketch to the Duralene. Since Duralene is semi-transparent, this process is fairly straightforward, basically tracing the drawing from the sketch directly on to the Duralene. I then begin using gouache to paint in the light and dark values of the image. I also work on laying in the major color blocks. Once all of that is done, I turn the the Duralene over and begin adding details and color modifications in colored pencil. The gouache on the back gives the image some richness and depth and the colored pencil on the front allows me to work up details and make any adjustments.

After about 50 hours of work, the image was done! The species represented include: Great Blue Heron, Pintail Duck, Peregrine Falcon, Barn Owl, Barred Owl, Swainson’s Hawk, Cooper’s Hawk, Chukar, Ferruginous Hawk, Golden Eagle, Ring-necked Pheasant, Red-tailed Hawk, Great-Horned Owl, Screech Owl, American Kestrel, Northern Flicker, and Belted Kingfisher.

final image
final image

The client shelved the project and the image will not be used for the beer labels so I am now searching for a new use for this project. I will be showing the original at the annual Art of Nature exhibit at the Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History in 2013.


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