The Making of “Valor”

Updated: Mar 15


Hey there!

It has been a while since I posted but truth be told I have been utilising the lockdowns due to the Covid pandemic to invest my energy in improving my art and myself. The Covid situation certainly put the brakes on event work but thankfully I continued to paint. I actually delved within myself to find the motivation to try different mediums (other than soft pastels which I have been so enamored by) and I got around to painting in acrylics and oils again. This article however is about the story of “Valor” the painting of a magnificent eagle in the realism genre using soft pastels.

As a self - taught artist every painting has a learning curve and I find that I am richer by the experience of painting, more so when its out of my comfort zone. Surrealism has always held my attention but for the first time I actually stepped out of my comfort zone to paint a new style (it was for me!)

It began with a post about the eagle that a friend had published on Facebook.

"The Eagle has the longest life-span of its species. It can live up to 70 years.

But to reach this age, the eagle must make a very difficult decision!

In its 40th year, the eagle’s long and flexible Talons can no longer grab prey. Its long and sharp beak becomes bent.

The feathers in its wings, heavy with age stick to its chest and make it difficult to fly.

Then, the eagle is left with only two options: DIE or go through a painful process of CHANGE!

This process of change lasts for 150 days (5 months)

The process requires the eagle to fly to a mountain top and sit on its nest. There the eagle knocks its beak against a rock until it plucks it out.

Then the eagle will wait for the new beak to grow back after which it will pluck out its talons. When its talons grow back, the eagle starts plucking its old-aged feathers.

And after this, the eagle takes its famous flight of rebirth and LIVES for 30 more years!!

Why is Change needed?

To survive and live.


I was so fascinated when I read this that I was inspired to paint an eagle. Little did I realise at that time what a challenge I was going to face but since adversity has always been an old friend I was not put off. I gave it my all, learning along the way.


Here is how I did it.....


Materials

- Brustro Pastel Paper

- Mungyo Soft Pastels

- Faber Gold Soft Pastels

- Carbothello Pastel Pencils


Step 1


Colours Used:

Soft Pastels - Dark Green, Light Green, Black and Yellow


I went with an out of focus background so that the focus would be solely on the eagle. I used light and dark green, black and yellow to achieve this finish. The soft pastels for the entire background was applied with my fingertips




Step 2


Colours Used:

Soft Pastels - Medium brown and Off white

Pastel Pencil - Peach


I covered the eagle with medium brown and then added the off white for the beak and the wing

I used a peach coloured pastel pencil to draw the outline for the eye.




Step 3


Colours Used:

Soft Pastels - White, Dark brown and Black

Pastel Pencil - Black


I added dark brown to highlight the area behind the head and beneath the eye. This was blended to show the difference in the shades of brown that I used.

I blended the off white for the beak and added a coat of white over that which I also blended.

The off white on the wing was also blended.

I used a black pastel pastel to darken the area above the eye.





Step 4


Colours Used:

Soft Pastels - Dark brown and Orange


I added more dark brown which I blended. I then added orange to bring out the vibrancy of coloraturas against the dark brown tones.





Step 5


Now came the most difficult part, the feathers!


Colours Used:

Soft Pastels - Peach, White, Yellow and Black

Pastel Pencils - Black, Grey, Yellow and Peach


Eye

I defined the eye and made sure to start by adding white to create the gleam in the eye.


Head

Gentle but firm strokes of White were used to create the down above the eye.

Black that was applied beneath this area helped the white to stand out.


Beak

I used yellow to shade the beak while the grey was used to emphasise the hooked part of the beak


Feathers

These were most challenging for me because I have never painted feather before and I also did not know how to paint them. I started slowly by drawing the outline of what I hoped would evolve into a feather. I alternated between peach and white for the outlines. I proceeded to fill a little cooler within each of the feather outlines

I used a peach coloured pastel pencil to draw the outline for the eye.


Lower part of the eagle

I flicked the edge of my white pastel stick to create the illusion of down.




Step 6


Colours Used:

Soft Pastels - Orange, White, Medium Brown and Black

Pastel Pencils - Black and White


Area in front of the Eye

I applied white and softly blended it in


Head

Strokes of Medium Brown were added to offer perspective on thickness of the down



Feathers

The arduous task of adding feather outlines and filling them continued. This was followed by adding orange which was blended into the peach. The black served to demarcate each feather and offer depth.

It felt like I was taking forever to complete this step.




Step 7


Colours Used:

Soft Pastels - Orange, White, Medium Brown, Dark Brown and Black

Pastel Pencils - Black and White


All my attention was on the feathers

Feathers

The next layer of colour, yet again, was orange. The area to the bottom left of the eye was worked on with medium and dark brown. I had to do this carefully so that the colours did not blend into each other since I wanted them to be distinctive.


I prayed that the paper had enough tooth to take on a few more layers!




Step 8 - Step 9 - Step 10


I kept alternating between blending white and orange till I got the colouring to my liking.




Step 11


I used white to add the details to the area in front of the eye



I knew by this time that I had to stop fiddling with the painting and accept that it was completed.


Sharon Davis my school mate came up with the title of "Valor"

I had posted a pic on Facebook while I was on the process of doing this painting and asked friends to suggest names. Valor was a powerful and perfect name.


So allow me to present my attempt at realism with my painting titled Valor




I have always known that inspiration can be found in the most unlikely places and I hope that this painting will inspire you to try something new, to take the plunge without fear and to most importantly enjoy the process.


Happy Painting!


Leeza A. Harris

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