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What I Learned From Painting the Same Bird Almost 10 Times

by Niki Hilsabeck in Recent Posts
A few years ago, I painted a Sandpiper with pastel and brushed it with water for a soft, calming effect.  It was one of those times where I used art to ease my anxiety– I painted the bird during a summer thunderstorm.  Thunderstorms in cool weather don’t bother me, but the ones we occasionally get in the summer can be stifling–with an added touch of electricity in the air!
                              “Calm” 9 x 12 Water-Brushed Pastel on Paper 
                                       Click here to view large or purchase 
I put the painting away, bringing it out a couple of years later so that I could frame it and bring it to a festival.  One visitor passing by my booth got excited at the sight of the bird and asked what kind of bird it was– I started to answer “Sandpiper,” but she blurted out “That’s right, it’s a sand-peeper!”  Her husband arrived shortly after, and she enthusiastically pointed the “sand-peeper” out to him.  He agreed it was a nice “sand-peeper.”  I dutifully held in my laugh until they moved on to the next booth.   
So, I feel I have some history with this bird.  When I began to create my third online class for Skillshare, I decided that the  bird would make a nice, easy subject for exploring different methods of using soft pastels.  I decided to go ahead and use this painting for my class demos.  I re-created a simpler version of it with dry pastel, water-brushed pastel, over acrylic, on oil pastel, and on a torn paper collage.  Add in the several drafts I created throughout the filming process, and I think I painted the bird at least 8 or 9 times.  
By the time I got to the final painting, I was of course a bit tired of re-creating the same composition over and over.  I did find, though, that it was a good experience for me to try it with the different techniques.  The one that surprised me the most was the collage!  You can see some of the various outcomes on the cover image I used for the class:
I’ve often read that painting the same subject over and over yields a new understanding of it.  I have a hard time doing this on my own (I’m always afraid I’ll get bored, which I know is a sad excuse), but approaching the same subject repeatedly with the different uses of pastel was less tiresome than I had been expecting.  
If you’d like to try these activities yourself, here’s my free link to the class: 
You can post your own samples in the “Projects” section of the class once you’ve tried the exercises!
I’m not sure now what to do with all those extra “sand-peepers”  I painted– they’ll probably be turned into new paintings somehow when I’m feeling creative.
If you like ocean-themed art, check out my “By the Sea” gallery on this website! 

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