From photo to canvas

 

I have 2 sons aged 13 and 6. If you have children with that big of an age gap, you can understand how difficult it is to find family activities that are enjoyable for everyone. In my family, that activity is most often a trip to a zoo or aquarium. The National Zoo is my favorite for two big reasons. First, its exactly the right size. In a single visit, we can generally see 3/4ths of the exhibits before everyone is tired and ready to leave. The exhibits we don't get to see we look forward to visiting first on the next trip. It is also a great place for a picnic lunch, and the best part of all - admission is free. Ok, that's three reasons, but you can see I really love this place.

Like many people in the Washington DC area, I am a little obsessed with the pandas at the National Zoo. I tuned in frequently to the panda cam in an attempt to catch sight of little baby Bao Bao when she was first born, and Tai Shan before her. Every trip to the National Zoo involves a trip to the Panda enclosure. Last spring, we made a trip to the zoo specifically to see Bao Bao while she is still little. 

On the day we went, little Bao Bao was happily eating indoors. She was super cute and we all fell in love with her as we watched her chewing on some bamboo. I took many photos of her, but the reflection of my flash on the windows obscured sweet little Bao Bao in every photo. We saw one of the other pandas outside, climbing on a log, and my photos came out much clearer and easier to read. The National Zoo website enabled me to identify this panda as the male, Tian Tian.  This is the photo I took that day.

Fast forward a bit, and I was inspired to paint this image in my sketchbook. This is the watercolor I created.

 Copyright 2015 Kim T. Richards

Copyright 2015 Kim T. Richards

I enjoyed doing this little sketch so much - I immediately started prepping a canvas. Often, I begin a canvas with loose, very wet strokes of acrylic paint in an abstract design. Sometimes I choose colors with a final color palate in mind, other times, i just pick three tubes of paint randomly and work with them. I add texture from my "magic bag of tricks" - a bag filled with plastic wrap, bubble wrap, stencils and anything I can get my hands on that will add some texture to the base layers of my painting. I make a few layers like this, and it is a great way to loosen up and get into the creative zone. I will often prep canvases at the start of a painting session - a warm up exercise of sorts.

 Early stage of Tian Tian

Early stage of Tian Tian

After a few layers of doodling with paint, I will start to sketch my painting, laying out where the lights and darks will be. I love these highly textured layers of the painting, and decided to leave them showing through in the background of this painting.

 Tian Tian copyright Kim T. Richards 2015

Tian Tian copyright Kim T. Richards 2015


And here is the finished work. I have loosened up quite a bit in this painting, and this is a direction I am heading in much of my other work. I hope you enjoy it!