New England Coastal BIrds

New England Coastal BIrds

Friday, May 3, 2013

The Great White-winged Gull of the North- Glaucous Gull: Decoy carving and painting demo

 Making a "Competition style- service type" decoy-

     Here in New England this Arctic Gull is an uncommon late winter visitor. It shows up in small numbers in areas like Gloucester- Mass, Portland- Maine, Provincetown- Cape Cod, Galilee Harbor-Rhode Island, Windsor-CT, and a few scattered locations here and there. But for me, their arrival is something that I look forward to, it is one of my favorite species of Gulls.

     They are a large Gull that can be as large as, or larger than a Greater Black-backed Gull. The general description of Glaucous Gulls is a large, white-winged Gull with short primary extensions, large stout and parallel-sided bill with a moderate gonydial expansion. The base of the bill is heavier at the culmin which gives it a thicker appearance at the basal line. This Gull has an overall "blocky" appearance and its wingtips are usually held only slightly upwards when swimming. The head is large, squarish and blocky with small eyes by comparison. Adults, 2nd and 3rd cycle Gulls have pale yellow irids, and juveniles and 1st cycle Gulls have brown.

     Adults and 3rd cycle Gulls have pale yellow bills, while the bills of 1st and 2nd cycle Gulls are bright "bubble-gum" pink to pale gray/pink bills with a dark tip.

    This species along with its White-winged cousin the Kumlien's Iceland Gull are quite interesting to me. The adults are stunning, and the wide variation in shapes and plumage coloration in 1st, 2nd and 3rd cycles are fascinating.

     I was thinking about carving one this past year, and when the commission came my way, I welcomed it with much excitement. But what cycle Gull would I carve?

     Here is an adult Glaucous Gull-     .

      Stunning Gull!-

     Notice the slightly elevated tail and primaries and that all important short primary extension?

     2nd cycle-

     The 1st cycle Gull present a bit of a challenge. 1st cycle Glaucous Gulls we see in New England range from dark beige to heavily streaked and marked.......

     .....a little lighter and less streaked and marked........

 much paler nearing white with less markings...... almost white with lighter markings......

 completely  white with little or no markings, to many variations in between-

     After much discussion, we decided on a 1st cycle, pale beige with moderate markings and bracketing somewhere in between the range of 1st cycle Gulls leaning more to the lighter range.

     The carving process:

     A pattern is made using all the species data of measurements, bill structure, eye placement, species characteristics, etc-

    The wood selection is decided including type of wood, grain, weight, durability, problematic occurrences such as sap issues and tanin bleeding and staining etc. In this case, light weight and straight grained tupelo is being used. The head pattern is drawn onto the wood allowing the bill to follow the straight grain for maximum strength and durability-

     With the side view head profile cut out.....

     .....lay in and cut out the top view leaving "extra" wood in the pre-orbital area, bill and lores-

     With the head blank cut out, its ready to be carved. The shape of a Gulls head and its anatomic features  are very unique. For Gull carving it is most important to capture the unusual shape of the top, front and pre-orbital area of the head to reproduce this unique dynamic accurately. Gulls are a predatory bird which means the eyes angle slightly forward similar to but less angled than a hawk. This eye set feature must be implemented in the head if it is to be successful-

    The "rough shaping" of the head begins-  

     When the head is generally shaped, the eye locations are placed and the eye holes added-

     When satisfied with the eye location, the set angle, orbital areas and expression, the top of the head is slightly rounded over. The bill is then addressed. After the basal lines have been drawn and  located, the bill is then rough shaped as well.-

     Nearly completed head so far....bill details to be added later. Now its time to cut out the body.-

   Since this bird will be "hollowed" later, the wood block for the body has been cut in half  up the length of the side of the block. It is then screwed together before the side profile cut is made-

     With the side profile of the body cut, the head was now located in place and marked before the top cut is made. The top view has been cut out, ready for carving-

     I do all my basic preliminary carving with a band saw-

     After the initial rough shaping, I then use the pneumatic sanding drum to smooth out the cuts which leaves a smooth surface and shape ready for general shape carving.-

    From that general shaping with the band saw and sanding with the drum sander, I can begin the actual anatomy carving of the decoy. Here I have located and shaped the side pockets. wing coverts, scapulars, tertials, wing tip crossing, tail and head to neck area.-

     With the basic anatomy shaping completed, its time to define the areas and sharpen up the details-

     With the carving completed on the body,  I unscrew the two halves of the decoy and hollow the inside. Once the decoy is hollowed, I use marine epoxy to glue the two halves together.-

     The decoy body could have been hollowed within the two halves only allowing the original bottom of the body blank to remain intact. However, I always add a decorative feature of inserted exotic wood to the bottom of my decoys, so I hollow through the bottom-

     With the body set aside allowing the epoxy to cure, I will finish the head. The eyes are set, and the epoxy putty is used to fashion the eye lids and rings. After the eyes have been set and putty cured, I then finish the details of the bill: tomium, nares, basal line, gonys, etc.-

     With the body sanded to completion, I glue on the head using a screw from inside for strength.-

     The head is completed, glued on, and the joint area between the neck seat of the head and body was finished-

     The completed decoy ready for sealing, priming and painting. The exotic wood bottom insert and carved keel will be added-

   The sealer has been applied. NOTE to carvers reading this demo- I will offer you this advice regarding sealing your decoys. The methods I am showing here in this demo are ones that I have had the greatest success with after nearly forty years of carving experience. DO NOT over-seal your decoy! One generous application of a standard sealer is all that is needed. Too much sealer/too many coats of sealer will make a literal plastic coating  or shell on your decoy will not facilitate a good tooth for your paint, and can cause a paint adhesion breakdown.-

      Insert wood and keel attached, and the ONE coat of sealer has been sanded with 240 grit sandpaper. The decoy is now ready for priming-

     Painting methods? Well there are many! Oils? Acrylics? Airbrush? Brush? Combinations? Since this Gull is predominantly white/pale umber I will use the method that I prefer and use often for this birds plumage color values. It is oils to acrylics to acrylics to oils! What....acrylics over oils? I will also use an airbrush to start and finish by hand painting with a brush including wash applications.

     Fundamentally, acrylics will not adhere to oils, but oils will adhere to acrylics. But it can work providing the paint selection is compatible between the two mediums. Oils generally will stick o acrylics, providing the acrylics are flat or low-luster. Glossy acrylics will cause oil painters many head aches because of the lack of tooth to the gloss finish of most acrylics.

     For the priming application, I am using several coats of Ronan Japan Oil Paint which is a pigment loaded oil paint which has a flat finish which yields a spectacular ground or "tooth" for paint.

     Remember above when I cautioned about using too much sealer to seal the bird. I suggested one application of sealer. Ronan paint is a tremendous sealer, the subsequent applications of Ronan primer will increase the amount of sealer to the wood of the decoy.

     I mixed up a mixture of Flake White (soft and warm white) and Raw Umber creating a pale brownish/gray. The first application was applied slightly thinned with spirits and evenly. It was set aside overnight to dry. Make sure all the brush marks have been removed before allowing to dry. Before the second coat is applied, it is lightly sanded with 300 grit paper and all the chalky residue was wiped off.

     The second and third applications are thinned nearly 70/30 with the consistency of milk. Let each coat dry between not sand or steel wool! Allow the paint to dry velvety.....this is the needed "tooth"!

     When the third coat has dried for a couple of days, mix up Liquitex white Gesso, and a small amount of any matte or flat high quality acrylic paint (artists tube or bottle paint) such as Traditions, Absolute Mattes, Golden Fluid Mattes, etc and match the color use with the Ronans. I recommend new Gesso for this application, since older material tends to stiffen up which could cause painting/adhesion issues.

     With the new Gesso and umber paint mixture ready, apply the first coat using minimal paint and spreading. DO NOT "gobb"the paint on.....the least amount of paint, the better the finished results. Two application coats should be plenty allowing drying time between coats. The decoy is now sealed and primed ready for painting.

     For these demos, I am using Golden's fluid mattes for the acrylic aspect of the painting. Using the airbrush, I started to delineate the edges of the major feather groups with a mixture of raw umber and white-

     Next I started highlighting the mottled look to the head, neck, chest, side pockets, mantle etc. using a slightly darker value of the umber mixture.

    When the mottling steps were completed, I started shadowing the bases of all the feathers using templates and a yet darker mixture of umber-

     This progressed to a slightly darker value of umber and started accenting the bases of each feather I just delineated with the umber mixture.-

     With a Kolinsky #3 brush, I started laying in the bracketing markings on the major feathers with a darker umber mixture. With the same darker mixture, I went back and darkened some of the mottled areas of the head, etc.-

     The acrylic aspect to the painting will now be replaced with oil painting. I use a 50/50 mixture of Flake White Ronan with Titanium White oil paint (Permalba white) with a slight amount of raw umber high quality oil (Old Holland, Williamsburg, etc) to tint the white oil to an unbleached white color. I thin this mixture down with grumtine thinner with a small amount of grum one medium or Schultz matte medium added to a skim milk consistency. With a large soft sable flat brush (approx 2 inches wide)  apply one consistent wash coat over the entire bird being careful not to cover everything-allowing the feathering to show through and set it aside to dry overnight.Watch those brush strokes!-

     When the wash coat is dry, I made a mixture of very pale umber (raw umber/white) (Ronan/raw umber oil) to recreate the pale brown color now visible at the base of the feathers after the white wash coat. This will be used for splits.-

     With the splits completed, I mixed a simple white mixture of Ronan and oil (with a slight touch of raw umber and raw sienna) and began adding the small hair-like details to the head (between the dark markings) Similar to a hen Mallard head painting in reverse.-

     This carried down onto the back of the neck and chest. The small hair-like lines have been replaced with small feathers. (The white is being used to define the feather edges)-

     The white feather edging is now moving down the body-

       When all the white feathers on the Gull have been painted (first application) I went back with a slightly darker umber and started darkening and defining the bracketing on the feathers-

     When the first color application to the dark bracketing is completed, I added more white to the first white color used to define the feathers, and repeated that step and re-defined all the feathers on the bird with this brighter white-

    I repeated this application twice more in areas that would benefit with more brightening......


     .....and the body plumage is completed-

     The primaries and bill painting is completed. Here is the finished 1st cycle Glaucous Gull-

Keith Mueller
Killingworth, CT