Chicken fight!

June 30, 2023

Almost Canada Day over here (tomorrow, July 1) and Independence Day at our American neighbours (July 4), so I will start with wishing you all wonderful, sunny, peaceful and enjoyable holidays!

Oh how I struggled with this new painting! It started with a good base and I was happy to be able to depict the farm house faithfully. It is based on a photograph of a very old building in a forest close to my birth-region in The Netherlands. The farmer never knew I took pictures of him feeding his chickens. One of the series made it onto the front page of a Humane Society magazine in the 80’s and I have always wondered how it would do as a painting.

Chicken feeding time on the farm

Well, I know that now. I can assure you it was a lot of pain-ting to get it done! The farmer was easy, since my natural inclination is always towards the human subject. To my surprise I also loved working on the trees. Then came the chickens and I had to ‘peck and choose’ because most of the pictures in the series have way too many in them, mostly seen from the back. I fought with each chicken to get it in the right place and I discovered that chicken-bums are really fun to paint!

As an aside: I had a bit of prior experience with painting chickens from what now seems ages ago, in a portrait of Sebastian, a friend’s son. I love painting chickens, actually. There may be more in my future!

Sebastian, 2018

This was one of the very first paintings I did in acrylic and colour, following the process of ‘underpainting’ of the old masters. With this technique, a subject is painted multiple times, in many different layers. It is a fascinating process that can create depth to especially the human subject, that is hard to attain with the ‘impasto’ technique, where you start painting the subject in a more direct way, with only a handful of layers of paint. This was my first try at it

There was only one (partial) chicken in this portrait – in the new painting there were many, many more. I had to omit the ones that were not in the right place or not looking good enough to my, ehem, artistic standards. And it quickly became a problem. My original plan of faithfully painting the scene was already out of the window and now I was faced with a big empty space below the farmer and I was unsure what to do with it and how detailed to be.

One approach was to put two big chickens in the foreground, by way of a funny element. It gave me the chance to bring in tons of detail. Chickens really have very expressive faces and their colouring is often fabulous.

The other option was much more serious and required that I would try to depict dappled shading. This is an art in itself and the old masters from yonder years developed different ways of doing it. They were mostly landscape painters and I most definitely am not. But I have never shied away from a challenge, so when a fellow artist friend suggested to go for it, I did.

The result is interesting. When I am not working on a portrait commission that depends on a good likeness, I feel more free to experiment. Because nobody really has to see the end result plus: I learn a lot as I go. This one was as hard as I expected it to be and a lot of fun and it feels good to share it with you!

A big project is currently hovering in the background and while part of my brain is pondering the right approach for that one, I have time to do this kind of free styling. It is on the wall in my studio now. And as usual, I may still work on it a bit after letting it cure for a couple of weeks. I hope you enjoy it.

2 thoughts on “Chicken fight!

  1. Brigitte

    Zo prachtig! Zo mooi in kleur én in beweging. Ik voel de Achterhoek.

  2. Nicky Post author

    Goed gevoeld!

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