It’s Official—Chickens Are Popular!

September 27, 2009


Above: Guinea Hen study in Holbein Gouache in my current journal which has Gutenberg pages, page spread is 13 x 8 inches. This study was painted over a prepainted background. Read more about this painting in the post below.

This study of a white guinea fowl is based on sketches I made at the 2009 Minnesota State Fair. (You thought you weren't going to hear any more about the Fair didn't you—Ha, I live the whole year off my Fair visits!) I painted it on a prepainted background that I wrote about earlier. The morning after I painted this study I opened my New Yorker Magazine (Sept. 28, 2009 issue). I found a delightful article by one of my favorite writers, Susan Orlean, about the rise in the popularity of raising chickens. I love it when serendipity slaps you in the face!

Orlean writes of seeing a documentary called "The Natural History of the Chicken," which planted the seed of chicken ownership in her mind. ("Why haven't I seen this movie," I asked myself as I read on. It also seems available on YouTube, but I'm ordering the DVD.) She writes:

I suddenly found myself wanting chickens, and wanting them with an urgency that exceeded even my mad adolescent desire to have a pony. At first, I thought this chicken fixation was a phase that I alone was going through, but it turns out that right now, across the country and beyond, there is a surging passion for raising the birds. Chickens seem to be a perfect convergence of the economic, environmental, gastronomic, and emotional matters of the moment, plus, in the past few years, they have undergone an image rehabilitation so astonishing that it should be studied by marketing consultants. Now that I actually have chickens—seven, at last count, but that number, because of predators, is disturbingly variable—I am the object of more pure envy than I have ever experienced in my life.

Recently several friends and more than a few acquaintances have all announced that they are raising chickens, so I realized, thanks to Orlean's article I'm in the middle of watching a phenomenon. Pick up the magazine and read the article. Orlean is a gifted writer who never disappoints. Her clean prose is chockfull of insights and information without seeming clogged.

On ordering a hen house she writes:

Better still, you could order it with hens—not six fuzzballs of indeterminate gender, and not the minimum order of twenty-five typical of most hatcheries, but even just two, on the brink of maturity (what chicken people call "point-of-lay"), delivered to a post office near you.

In one paragraph she has summed up the details of chicken acquisition. Already I have an idea on how to go forward (should I wish to) with comprehension and vocabulary. And I can listen intelligently when my friends talk about their chickens. Orlean also provides web addresses of interest and a concise history of chicken raising. You really need to read this article, even if you don't love chickens, or don't want to raise them. Chicken relate to social history!

About Today's Image

Readers will remember that I used FW Acrylic inks when pre-painting this background. I chose them for the background because I thought I would either work with Stabilo Tones or gouache for the rest of this journal, and that means I needed a waterproof background—because what I was putting on top of the background is watersoluble and would reactivate any pre-existing watersoluble background. (If you work mostly in dry media such as graphite and colored pencils, feel free to use watercolor and gouache for your backgrounds!)

For this study I used Holbein gouache. It's not my preferred gouache. I typically use M. Graham and Schmincke gouache, but I had tested Holbein several years ago and still buy tubes of it to have on hand. I like to use it in my journals. It's very opaque. I don't like the pigments used to create the colors however—they don't blend (colors, not paint) as easily as my favorite brands. The journal with those test notes was long ago filed in a box in the back room but I think there are probably a lot of 2-pigment colors. Just be careful if you opt for this brand. You get great opacity, but it comes at a cost. I use these paints when I want a flat and somewhat posterized effect.

I elected to do a study of a white Guinea Fowl on this spread because the background was so dark—the perfect foil for the white bird. I should have done a little color palette planning before starting, so that the bird's colors harmonized better with the background, but my thought processes are still clogged by the on-going respiratory battles! (I encourage you to stop and think a moment about your color palette choices so that you can achieve the most comely page spread possible.)

My sketch was made using a Pentel Pocket Brush Pen. As mentioned above, for reference I got out some sketches I made of live Guinea Fowl at the 2009 Minnesota State Fair. All of the ink lines except for the eye's pupil and a bit of a line skipped over at the gutter, have been hidden by paint. The darkest parts of this painting are all paint mixtures.

Once the sketch was made I started painting. I did use M. Graham Titanium white, because I was out of Holbein white. In gouache if you want maximum opacity go with the Titanium white. It's cooler in temperature than zinc white, which may not be ideal for your application, but it is vastly more opaque than zinc white, which is a transluscent white (and useful for all sorts of applications not present in today's image—think Turner, zinc is the white he had.)

I started by laying in slightly watery washes of color at various places on the bird. By slightly watery I mean that the paint was fresh, there was lots of water in my brush, and as I moved paint onto the paper I wasn't worried about completely covering the background. I didn't pre-mix the paints to a cream-like consistency before I started, which is typical with gouache techniques—I just started moving it around. For quick studies I find this works well. When areas dry I am then able to go in and add the final color, or blend two colors together, which is what I did here. The final touch was to sweep some dry-brush Titanium white up from the wrinkled neck folds, to simulate the spiny neck feathers. (The lovely texture of the Gutenberg paper really shows well on these spiny feathers.)

If you're a book artist or journal keeper who likes to paint in your books, I encourage you to spend some time pre-painting your page backgrounds and experimenting with gouache.

    • Donna
    • September 27, 2009

    Hi Roz, yes Chickens are popular, but a lot of that has to do with you painting them all of the time and this one has to be one of your BEST! I love it. The colors of the beak and the shadow colors around the eye are really beautiful. I don’t know, maybe you should use Holbein gouache more often.

  1. Reply

    Roz, Your chickens are indeed the best. They are lovely. 🙂

    • Roz
    • September 28, 2009

    Thanks Jennifer!

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