Thumbnail image: Liz Clayton Fuller
[Lisa Kopp] Feel free to use the chat to say hi, or let us know where you’re from. We’ll give people just a little bit longer to start joining. It’s always fun to see where people are joining from. Lots of people in the West Coast joining us for breakfast.
[Liz Clayton Fuller] Coffee and painting.
[Lisa Kopp] Yeah.
[Liz Clayton Fuller] Great to see you. From all over. So cool.
[Lisa Kopp] Yeah. All right. Well, we’ll get started on introductions. So welcome to today’s webinar from the Lab of Ornithology. My name is Lisa Kopp, I’m on the visitor center team. And today is really special. We’re going to be joining Liz Clayton Fuller, a scientific illustrator in her studio to watch her work.
So I just have a couple of announcements before we get started. So for those of you who don’t know, the Lab of Ornithology is home to a community of researchers and supporters from around the world. Many of you joining in today, who appreciate birds and the integral role that they play in our ecosystems.
Our mission is to advance leading edge, research, education, and citizen science that helps solve pressing conservation challenges. This work, including today’s webinar, is funded primarily by people like you who choose to be members. So if you enjoyed today’s webinar, I hope you’ll consider being a member. You can join by visiting birds.cornell.edu. And thanks again for joining us today.
So a few little logistics related to Zoom. Hopefully everyone’s pretty well practiced at this point. But we do have closed captioning available. If you look at the bottom of your screen on Zoom there’s a choice, an option to show subtitles.
For those of you on Zoom, we’re going to be using the Q&A option. So again, that’s located right at the bottom of your screen. It’ll pop up a separate box. And that’s where we’re hoping that you’ll be able to enter your questions that I will be sharing with Liz, as she’s drawing or she’s working. So we’ll be answering some questions verbally. But I’ll also be using the Q&A to try to answer questions that we’ve got the information to, so that Liz can also just do her work and you can watch that.
Please just use the chat for technical support. So we’re not going to be monitoring the chat for questions, will be using the Q&A feature for that. The chats really there in case you’ve got something going on with your settings on Zoom. And you’re looking for a little bit of help, we’ve got some folks behind the scenes who can assist with that.
And then, if you’re watching on Facebook, welcome, were live streaming there as well. You can add your questions to the comments on the Facebook feed and we will do our best to answer those too. But please be sure to not click on any links on the Facebook page that have not come directly from the Lab. There are bots that will try to spam our participants on Facebook.
So with that, let’s get started. So, I’m thrilled to be able to welcome Liz Clayton Fuller today. And I you know, Liz and I have gotten to worked together for a long time now. And it’s so fun to see you even just virtually. But for those who aren’t familiar with your work, could we, could you share a little bit about you and your background and what you do.
[Liz Clayton Fuller] Yeah. Thank you so much for having me Lisa. It is really fun to be here with you. And hey, you all like Lisa said, my name is Liz. And I am an artist educator and scientific Illustrator specializing in birds.
So birds have kind of been my specialty for almost 10 years now, which is wild to say. But I don’t plan on stopping anytime soon. I have done a lot of work for the Lab. I’ve illustrated scientific research papers, field guides, educational outreach, all kinds of things. I also have a class with the Lab, with Bird Academy, on nature journaling and field sketching.
So birds and art are kind of my jam, and I’m really excited to have you all here in the studio with me today. I’m going to be painting the Labs mascot a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, which I’m super excited about. And I’m just honored that you’re here, and excited to kind of give you a glimpse into my process. So I’ll just be working on this painting today. Talking a little bit about my process and taking your questions.
Be it about art or scientific illustration as a career, whatever comes up so. With all of that being said, let’s do some painting. And hopefully, I can answer some of your questions. So let me get started sharing my top down camera here. There we go.
So, you’ll be sure to put your questions in the Q&A. And Lisa is kind enough to be sharing them with me today, so that I can keep painting while we chat. I’ve got the sketch done here. And I feel like the question might come up first things first, about how this white sketch got here. So I want to share with you all a little glimpse into my sketching process.
And then how I got it into the sketch book. So I did some sketches just to see you know, kind of what composition I wanted to go for with the bird. Then I sketched our sapsucker here on tracing paper. And then, I used white transfer paper. You can kind of see the ghost of the sapsucker on the screen there. So you put the transfer paper between your paper and the sketch, tape it down and draw it.
And then, as you can imagine transfers the drawing onto the paper. So I’ve got, excuse me, I’ve got it all teed up and I’m going to get to painting. So I know that a lot of you are just settling in. But if we’ve got any questions right off the bat Lisa, I’m going to get started painting. And you hit me with them.
[Lisa Kopp] Yes. So we had a really great pre submitted question, it seems like a nice place to start. It’s how do you decide, which materials to do your illustrations. Say, between watercolors or colored pencils, regular paper or toned paper. Does it depend on the species of bird, bird behavior or the bird features that you’re illustrating.
[Liz Clayton Fuller] That is a great question. So today, I’m using gouache paint. And I like to say, if you’re not familiar with gouache, it’s kind of like, watercolors cousin. It’s a very similar medium. But it’s opaque instead of translucent, like watercolor is.
So I’m using gouache today. And how do I decide on my materials. So I love toned paper because it lets you start with the middle ground. So when you’re painting on just plain white paper, you are starting with the brightest, lightest value right. So when you have toned paper to start, you don’t have to work as hard for those middle ground.
You can kind of pop in some highlights and pop in some shadows. And then, the paper itself is kind of your medium value. And a lot of projects you know, ask for different things. So if I’m doing a painting for a scientific paper, say, I usually go with watercolor on white paper. Because that kind of work requires really tight details and no distractions.
So the tone paper is really cool, but sometimes you just need a really straightforward type detailed drawing or painting in this case. So yeah, it depends a lot on the project. I would say for my personal work, I really, really love the tone paper because it’s the most fun.
It gives me a little bit of flexibility. I’ve got a couple of different colors of toned paper. So I get to kind of choose like for this sapsucker there’s a lot of warm tones in the bird. So I chose this cool gray paper to work on today.
[Lisa Kopp] There’s a couple of really great questions related to the process that you touched on with transferring the sketch. Why did you do that transfer instead of direct drawing.
[Liz Clayton Fuller] Yes. Also a great question. So the reason that I like to transfer my sketches is because sketching is a phase that requires a lot of editing, a lot of erasing. I always say the eraser is your friend. There is no harm or shame in erasing or anything like that.
And I end up doing it quite a bit during the sketching phase to make sure that I get things right. So the reason that I don’t do that on the paper is because paper can only take so much, you know, sketching and erasing, and working. So I want to do the working and all of that on a separate piece of paper, get everything refined. And then, transfer it cleanly into my sketchbook.
And sometimes in your sketchbook that’s what that’s for. You’re going to want to do all of that sketching and erasing. But for today, I thought it’d be good to just have a clean sketch to get started. So that’s why I chose to do that.
[Lisa Kopp] I just wanted to answer a question that popped up really quickly, which is just on the logistic side, which is that we are recording this. And by registering and attending you will get an email from us with the recording. So if you want to go back, and maybe try this and follow along with Liz, you will be able to do that with the recording. Another question that’s popping up Liz is, are you referencing the photo right now as you’re sketching.
[Liz Clayton Fuller] Yes, absolutely. So as a scientific illustrator, I am very reference bound right. Because I want to get the accuracy. And today, I’ve got this beautiful photo from the Macaulay Library just propped up in front of me. So that I can just pop my eyes straight up at the reference, and straight back down to my painting. But as a scientific illustrator, I’m always using references because I want to be as accurate as possible. When I am doing a painting like this that more for joy and practice and just to kind of pay homage to this lovely bird. I’m not, I’m not counting feathers in the same way that I do when I’m doing my scientific illustrations. But even so, I still need that reference because the birds I have in my brain are definitely not the same as the birds in pictures. So always needing a reference definitely. [CHUCKLES]
[Lisa Kopp] Well, and maybe that could be a nice segue into talking a little bit about your path to scientific illustration and why birds specifically, sort of how you got into this and yeah, what those skills are that have developed as a result of you doing so much bird work specifically.
[Liz Clayton Fuller] Sure. So growing up, I was an artist before I was a birder. And art actually is what ended up bringing me to birds which I’m forever thankful for. I studied illustration in my undergrad and I was a little bit lost as to what is going to be my artistic career?
Maybe for a while I thought I would be a children’s book Illustrator. I wasn’t sure. And then I took a scientific illustration class in my undergrad and I was like, whoa, mind blown, like you can just draw all of the beautiful things that exist in nature, heck yeah, count me in.
So [CHUCKLES] for that class, we were asked to sort of choose a focus. And I was like, well, what’s my focus going to be? And this is such a serendipitous moment that didn’t seem important at the time, but now really is.
I went to the bookstore and there was a book about birds of the world that was on sale, this big beautiful, just thick heavy hardback book full of birds from literally all over. And I was like, oh, birds are cool. OK. So I got the bird book [CHUCKLES] and I started painting birds just from all over the world. And I was only choosing them because they were beautiful.
And as I started painting birds from around the world, I kind of realized, wait a minute, there are birds all over the place, like I see birds all the time in my backyard walking to class. So I started after that painting by local birds and I have not stopped since. So that was sort of my start, my stumbling into illustrating birds and I’m so thankful for that dang book. I couldn’t be happier doing this. [CHUCKLES]
[Lisa Kopp] It’s so amazing thinking about those moments that end up making these huge, they just serve as these pivotal moments in your life and you look back and you had no idea that walking into that bookstore would do that for you.
[Liz Clayton Fuller] Absolutely.
[Lisa Kopp] So I have one technical question that a few people have asked which we’ll start with and then another one that sort of gets back to your artist’s life. What kind of brush are you using right now?
[Liz Clayton Fuller] Right. So my favorite brushes for gouache which I’m using today are Daler-Rowney System3 Acrylic Brushes. So they’re the best brushes. I have other brushes, but these are the best. So those are the ones that I recommend. For gouache, acrylic or synthetic brushes are really great because the watercolor brushes want to hold a ton of water. And for gouache painting, you don’t actually want your gouache to be that watery. You want a consistency on your palette.
The best description that I have ever heard is a consistency like heavy cream. So there’s a tip for you if you’re interested in gouache. So you want your mixture to be like heavy cream and not sit too watery on your brush. So Daler-Rowney System3 Acrylic Brushes are my favorite gouache brushes. [CHUCKLES]
[Lisa Kopp] Great. So then going back to what we were talking about sort of getting into the field, we have a few people who have said that they are budding artists. And do you have any sort of words of wisdom or guidance for those who are sort of trying to break into this field?
[Liz Clayton Fuller] Yes totally. First of all, you’re awesome. Keep doing what you’re doing. And my best advice, so something that has been really pivotal in my career is my relationship with the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.
So whether you’re a budding bird artist or you’re interested in ichthyology or entomology, find an institution that studies what you love to illustrate and connect with them and see what kind of illustrations they need, because you never know who’s studying something that you’re passionate about illustrating and maybe your art could push their research further.
So just make those connections. And also if you ever need any advice, I wish that I had a scientific Illustrator to talk to when I was trying to get into this field, so please feel free to reach out to me. But just keep striving, make those connections, and keep making your art and keep improving. That’s my best advice. [CHUCKLES]
[Lisa Kopp] Thank you. That’s wonderful. So we’re going to go back to another technical question. Why are you starting with white?
[Liz Clayton Fuller] So with white on this toned paper, it is the hardest color to get that really bright opacity, that like very thick coverage that I want to get that super, super bright white. So I like to lay a layer down first and I’m going to let it completely dry and I’m going to be going back over the white again to really get that strong color.
So in birds that have kind of larger areas of white, I typically try to get a layer down as soon as I can, just so that I can come back and go over it again. And another really important tip with gouache is let your layers dry before you try to paint over them because if they’re still wet and you try to paint on top of them, they’re going to mix instead of layer and it’s going to be a bad time.
So [CHUCKLES] patience is a virtue with gouache. And that’s why I’m actually going to pop over to our tree branch here and do a little bit of work over here while my areas that I’ve already painted are drying.
[Lisa Kopp] Thank you. That’s so helpful. Lots of questions about that.
[Liz Clayton Fuller] Gotcha.
[Lisa Kopp] So another sort of more personal question. Do you have a favorite bird that you like to illustrate more often?
[Liz Clayton Fuller] I struggle with that question. It’s like picking your favorite child. [CHUCKLES] I really I cannot pick a singular favorite bird, but I can tell you some birds I do love to paint. I really enjoy illustrating hummingbirds just because they are so beautiful and so complex. So that’s a real joy for me and a challenge to which I kind of like.
I also am partial to illustrating my backyard birds. Carolina chickadees, Carolina wrens, whoever’s kind of around the most, white breasted nuthatches. I really do enjoy painting the birds that I see. I have a connection to them and that makes illustrating them that much more of a joy because it feels like I’m painting a friend in a way. [CHUCKLES]
[Lisa Kopp] And I know today you’re working off of a photograph, but we’ve had a couple of people who have talked about being out in the field. And we’ve put the information about Liz’s nature journaling and field sketching course in the chat.
So there’s lots of information there. But I wondered if you could sort of touch on how you deal with things that are moving. Or another really great question that someone asked is what do you try to convey in an illustration that a photo might not be able to capture?
[Liz Clayton Fuller] Gosh. OK. Great question. So I’ll tackle the moving birds first. It is definitely very hard to draw birds in the field. But there are a couple of tips that might help you a little bit. So birds typically kind of go through a cyclical pattern of movement.
So if you can be somewhere where you know birds that are going to be like your feeder for instance and set up with your sketchbook, birds will– you think they’re kind of flitting around like totally randomly, but the more that you watch them, you’ll see these patterns.
And what that allows you to do is start a sketch and then the bird moves, but then they’ll kind of come back around to that movement and you can work on that same sketch again. So something that I teach in my Nature Journaling class is gesture drawing which is sort of a quick, loose form of drawing that will help you capture those gestures, capture that movement without being too precious and taking too long. So gesture drawing and watch for that cyclical movement.
And I get questions a lot about, why is scientific illustration better than photography, essentially? And the thing is that photographers, while incredible artists in their own right, are limited to what is happening in front of them.
And as illustrators, we can take references from our experiences in the field, from photos online, from videos, from museum specimen collections, specimen collections, and use that in our work. So we have a flexibility that photographers don’t. And there’s beauty and value in both things to be sure. But the flexibility of scientific illustration is what makes it sometimes the right choice for whatever project.
[Lisa Kopp] And a great question from Facebook related to that is before you start an illustration, how much research do you do? You mentioned like a bunch of different resources that an Illustrator could use. Do you have an approximate time that you dedicate when you’re starting something new or doing a bird for the first time?
[Liz Clayton Fuller] Right. So I always try to come at new birds sort of with a wonder of like wanting to learn, wanting to understand. And I think that’s why I find so much joy in this work. So if you asked me to paint a Carolina wren, for instance, it’s going to take less research than if you asked me to paint a bird that lives across the world that I’ve never seen.
So the research time varies a lot. But I always want to learn as much as I can and also as much as is pertinent for what I’m illustrating, like if I’m just illustrating plumage, maybe their behavior isn’t as important to know about.
But yeah, I try to be strategic and I usually end up having, ugh, if you could see my computer while I’m working on an illustration, it’s like 10 different images of the same bird because I’m taking bits of each for the information that I need.
[Lisa Kopp] Do you have any go-to resources or locations that you do that where you’ve got your screen open or other, someone asked if you use field guides or you did mention museum specimens and any favorite go-to spots?
[Liz Clayton Fuller] Yes. Field guides for sure I have a Peterson and the Sibylle next to my desk at all times and I love looking at other scientific illustrators work to see, what did they find important to illustrate about this bird? And kind of take it for my own practice.
And the Macaulay Library which is a resource that the Lab provides the photos is amazing just to see birds in a lot of different, there’s such a variety of photos there. You can see them doing different behaviors.
For copyright, free references, Pixabay is a great website that has a lot of bird references because as an artist, you want to be careful that you’re not taking the work of other artists and photographers and using it without their permission. So yes, lots of different areas to find research. And going out into the field and watching is a tremendous resource for sure.
[Lisa Kopp] That’s great. I have some more technical questions here, which is, why did you choose the gray paper and that tone related to the bird that you’re painting right now?
[Liz Clayton Fuller] Yes. So I learned my lesson quickly. I got excited about having this toned paper and immediately tried to illustrate like a black chicadee could on here and realized that the black feathers of the black chickadee are the exact same color as the paper.
So I try to look at my references and see what is the color scheme? Does the color of the paper appear in the bird? Is that going to be OK? So for this reference, there is a lot of warm tones, like a warm yellow, the yellow breasted sapsucker and the red, and the tree is a bit of a warm tone. So I thought that the cool gray paper would be a nice contrast for that today.
[Lisa Kopp] I know you’re not close yet but one question that a few people have asked is, how do you know when you’re done with a painting? And then as a scientific Illustrator, who sort of gives you the seal of approval in terms of accuracy?
[Liz Clayton Fuller] Gotcha. Both great questions. So let’s see. How do you know when you’re done? I feel like if you ask any artist that question, they’re going to say that they struggle with it, even professionals who have been working for years and years and years.
Sometimes you just have to make a choice and say this is enough because it’s quite easy to fuss and noodle in the details for way longer than you might need to. So something that really helps me is taking a physical step back from your work and looking at it from a distance, seeing how it reads that way. Taking a picture of your work on your phone also helps you see it in a different way. But it is hard to know and sometimes you just have to make that call. [CHUCKLES]
And as for the other question about who gives the seal of approval? So it depends on who I’m working with. So I’m typically, for my freelance work, collaborating with ornithologists and we kind of go through a series of, I’m showing them sketches. Does that look right? Did I get the anatomy of the pose, the plumage, all of that stuff right?
So the experts give their seal of approval which is amazing and has taught me a lot. I’m not an ornithologist by any stretch, but I love working with experts because I learn so much from them. So they are the final word on if a piece is a OK or not because they know best. [CHUCKLES]
[Lisa Kopp] What happens if while you’re working you make a mistake? How long do you have to fix that with this kind of paint? Or what are your editing options as you’re going along?
[Liz Clayton Fuller] Well, so I have kind of started to fall in love with gouache for a few reasons. But one of the reasons is that it’s a bit forgiving. I have to say watercolor is quite tough to fix a mistake. But I find that gouache is a little bit more workable. Definitely try not to make a mistake. But it happens to the best of us. And there are a lot of options in my field to be able to fix that.
So digital art is huge now. Right? So I can take a painting if I’ve goofed something and fix it digitally because the final product doesn’t need to be a standalone painting. Typically, it’s a scan that is going into a paper or into a field guide or something like that. So you get creative when you goof, for sure. [CHUCKLES] You do what you have to do and I’m not totally proficient in digital art. But when I need to use it, I definitely make the best of that and try to use it to my advantage.
[Lisa Kopp] Well, unrelated to that, we’ve got some questions about mixing and what you’ve got in your palette and how long that’s usable. I’ve seen you talk about mixing before it’s always really fascinating if you wouldn’t mind talking about that a little bit.
[Liz Clayton Fuller] Yes totally. Color mixing is one of my favorite parts of the painting process. I love color theory and trying to achieve that color, it’s really, really fun to me. So I will set on top of my palette for or maybe here for a second. But these are all the colors in my palette.
And they are just kind of cobbled together from what I have and this palette is amazing. And this is a great question that reminds me. I have a little spray bottle here, so this palette has a silicone lid and it keeps the paint wet like it was straight out of the tube.
So you can use gouache when it dries, that’s called, that’s like what this is here, it’s called a skin on your palate and you can re-wet it and use it. But out of the tube, wet is the most opaque, the strongest the color is going to be. So I really like this palette and it has a lid that keeps it wet for quite a while. So far I’ve had it for maybe two months. And I’m very impressed. So big fan of the palette that keeps things wet. And yeah.
[Lisa Kopp] And I just put the links to those to your palates in the chat.
[Liz Clayton Fuller] Perfect. I’m going to start going in now with some black. And with using black, you need to be really careful and make sure that the adjacent areas of paint are dry because if you are painting with black next to an area of white that might still be wet, that wet area wants to suck in that pigment from the new paint that you’re putting down.
So definitely be cautious as you are putting down your blacks. I try to be cautious and strategic, but again gouache is pretty dang forgiving. So if I goof and I kind of paint over where I meant to, I can fix it later, which is great. That’s why I love it so much. [CHUCKLES]
[Lisa Kopp] Liz, would you mind repeating your brushes one more time. I think people are adding to their Amazon carts as we speak.
[Liz Clayton Fuller] Yes, yes, yes. I’ll hold it up to the camera. So Daler-Rowney System3 Acrylic Brushes. They are super and they come in a lot of different shapes and sizes as all brushes do. One of my strategies generally with painting is to use as big of a brush as possible as long as possible because once you start getting in with the little tiny brushes, you’re kind of fiddling and fussing.
And sometimes you have to do that. Like with these areas of color, it’s going to be easier for me to use the smaller brush. But the bigger brushes you can use, the longer, that’s going to be better, because you’re filling in big areas and you want to save the kind of noodling and fussing for last if you can. [CHUCKLES]
[Lisa Kopp] We have a couple more sort of career-focused questions. One is have you ever made a book or do you have places that your artwork is on display? And any suggestions for sort of professional groups or networks that exist for scientific illustrators or sort of people in the field.
[Liz Clayton Fuller] Yes. No books yet. But stay tuned. That’s definitely a goal of mine. I’m really interested in having there be Liz Clayton Fuller field guides someday. So keep an ear out for that. And as a scientific Illustrator, I don’t have my work in galleries particularly often.
But I’m actually kind of bridging that gap lately, which I feel like is really cool that gallery art does not have to just be fine art that’s unscientific. It can be scientific illustration too. And oh yeah, about sort of groups that are great for scientific illustrators, the Guild of Natural Science Illustrators, GNSI, is a fantastic organization. Tons of support for artists deep into their career or just beginning. So please check out the Guild of Natural Science Illustrators.
Y’all who might be tuning in from Ithaca are quite lucky that there is a Finger Lakes region Guild of Natural Science Illustrators chapter. I don’t have one close by me in Nashville [CHUCKLES] and I wish that I did. So please check out the GNSI. They’ve got a lot of really great resources for sure.
[Lisa Kopp] Liz, I might give you a second to work. I’ve got a few questions in here that are about the Lab itself.
[Liz Clayton Fuller] OK. Go ahead.
[Lisa Kopp] And people are interested in how you can either work at the Lab or what kinds of jobs there are. And actually I feel like this webinar is a really great example of the many, many ways that people can become involved at the Lab of Ornithology.
There are a huge, huge number of scientists and researchers at the Lab. So that’s more of the traditional science track– PhD, master’s degree, lots of time in the field and doing research and data analysis and reporting.
But there are so many of us who are educators or communicators. There are web developers. There are artists like Liz. There are administrators. There are accountants. There’s all sorts of people who get to be a part of the organization.
So it’s a really unique place. But it takes a lot of people with a lot of different backgrounds to make it work. So if there’s a path that you’re passionate about, there’s likely a way to be involved in the Lab if there’s a position open in that place for you. So hopefully, that answers a couple of questions about the Lab itself.
So Liz, earlier you mentioned that sometimes you have illustrations that you will be sending along digitally. So that was something that a few people have asked about, do you do digital illustrations? And how do you deliver your products most often when they’re complete?
[Liz Clayton Fuller] Right. So I’m a little behind the times. I have not delved into digital illustration very deeply yet. The way that I incorporate the digital realm into my work is that the way that I deliver my finished pieces is as a scanned and edited for clarity and quality image that is digital and gets sent to my collaborators or clients or whoever it might be.
So yes, I do a high quality scan of my artwork. And even the best scanners don’t always get the color right, so I end up dragging that image into Photoshop, doing some editing, making sure everything is looking good and clean and sending it along that way.
So it really is an incredible tool and I would like to learn more digital illustration to be sure. But have not had the opportunity to do so just yet. And I also I just love traditional media and there’s no reason that I can’t love both. But I’m really happy with my work and my process right now. So it’s definitely hard to make that leap to learn a totally new thing. [CHUCKLES] That’s good for you too.
[Lisa Kopp] And you mentioned traditional media, does that include things like colored pencils or charcoal? Are there things that you work with or mostly is it paint-based?
[Liz Clayton Fuller] Typically, paint. I’m a painter at heart. I kind of oscillate between watercolor gouache and acrylic gouache just sort of based on the needs of a project and what I feel like would fit best. But definitely, a painter. I would say 99% of my finished products for work are painted art.
[Lisa Kopp] And do you ever just paint for yourself? I know this is your full time job. So you may be painted out at the end of a week. But do you take time to do things just for you? Are they birds? Are they other things?
[Liz Clayton Fuller] Yeah. It might be surprising, but my joy and my leisure painting is also birds, but it’s unscientific birds. I’m not like focusing on the details as much. I’m painting again, sort of like I talked about earlier, birds that I have a connection to.
If my husband and my dog and I have gone on a hike and we had some really cool experience seeing a bird, I’ll come home and do a page in my sketchbook on that experience. And that’s just for me. That’s kind of my style of nature journaling these days. Because I am a full-time scientific Illustrator, I paint all day and then I don’t necessarily want to go out in the field and paint some more.
So I go out, I watch birds. I’m totally present in the experience and then I come home and I fill my sketchbooks with pages just for me that make me happy and are kind of like an ode to the experience that I had, if that makes sense.
[Lisa Kopp] Do you have any artist that inspired you or inspires you currently? Do you have any favorites that you sort of also enjoy their personal style?
[Liz Clayton Fuller] Yes totally. So y’all are probably familiar with Jane Kim of Ink Dwell Studio. She is a huge inspiration to me. And when I was a Bartel’s Scientific Illustrator at the Lab of Ornithology, I got to meet Jane while she was painting her wall of bird’s mural. And she was like a celebrity to me. She just like wrapped me up in this big hug and it was so cool to meet her and see her work in person. That is really an experience.
I have a ton of peers who are scientific illustrators who inspire me all the time. Alex and Shay Warnecke are sisters who both do bird illustrations and they are huge inspiration to me. I have to think of others, but those are the ones that are popping to the front of my mind right now.
[Lisa Kopp] We have some more material questions. Do you have a favorite brand of gouache that you use?
[Liz Clayton Fuller] I do. And I should have told y’all first thing. Holbein, H-O-L-B-E-I-N, gouache is my favorite, favorite brand. They are a little bit expensive to invest in up front, but they do have, these are 15 milliliter tubes and I think they have 5 milliliter tubes that come in some sets that you can get for a fairly reasonable price.
And gouache, it’ll get you some miles. I mean, I had a tiny set for a couple of years before I upgraded to the new tubes. So Holbein is easily far and away my favorite brand. Just great quality, really luminous color, and very consistent.
[Lisa Kopp] Now that the bird is really coming together, we have some questions coming in about eyes and how that’s a particularly challenging place for a number of people and they’re wondering if you have any guide. I mean, you could also just if you want to wait till you get there. But people are already thinking about that.
[Liz Clayton Fuller] Yes. Well, no. I’m glad for that question because I want to prep those folks to say that, oh, how funny. See, I just mixed a color of gray that’s basically exactly the same color as the bird’s foot. So that’s something that you kind of have to think about when you’re using this toned paper.
So for the eyes, I actually save them for last in all of my paintings. And that goes across my sketchbook work to my scientific illustration work. And I’ve heard multiple different illustrators have different strategies on the placement of the eye, not on the head, but in the process.
So Jane Kim, for instance, who I just mentioned, she paints the eye first for the same reason that I paint the eye last which is that it really brings the illustration together. It’s kind of the cherry on top. My mom calls it giving the bird a soul. It really comes to life. And so my birds have to be soulless for a little while.
But then at the end, I can really focus on that eye and bring it to life and it just sort of feels like, ahhh! And that’s also something that helps me to mark a painting finished, is to put in the eye, look at it as a whole, see what I need to add. But the eye is sort of a marker of where we’re getting to the finish line here in my process.
[Lisa Kopp] We have a couple of questions about iridescence and how you represent that with birds like hummingbirds or maybe like a grackle, how that might be an extra layer to things.
[Liz Clayton Fuller] Totally. Iridescence is tough. But what I recommend for it, which is what I recommend for drawing generally, is you have to break it down into shapes and colors. It’s like, oh, iridescence as a concept is super intimidating.
But look at the hummingbird’s throat or the grackle’s feathers and like literally see what colors are there? What are their shapes? How are they batting up against each other? And try to go at it from that approach, thinking of it as colors and shapes rather than, oh, iridescence is super intimidating because it is. I totally get that.
Typically with iridescence, I end up putting really contrasting colors against one another and that ends up having your subject sort of visually vibrate in that way. But that very subject is subject. So I would say get to know your subject really well and see what that iridescence calls for and go from there.
[Lisa Kopp] I know that I’m watching you from the same angle that everyone else is and I think I can see that your hand is held up the entire time, which is probably pretty exhausting. But people were wondering, do you ever drag your hand through something that you just worked on or how do you manage that?
[Liz Clayton Fuller] I do that by accident fairly regularly. Typically, at the end of the day on the side of my hand, I’ve got some big splotch of paint where I got a little careless. But I’m doing a pretty good job today because there are a lot of people here. So I’m trying not to just dunk my hand in my paint.
But a good strategy for that is to try and work, if you’re right-handed, work from left to right, if you’re left-handed, work a little bit from right to left so you’re not just dragging your hands through where you’ve worked. And obviously there are times where you just got to do what you’ve got to do and get into those areas where you need detail.
But in the beginning, I started with the white over here and then moved right to the branch. Had to go back. But try to work strategically so that you don’t have to dunk your hand in your paint. [CHUCKLES]
[Lisa Kopp] I just scrolled back up to the top of the Q&A list and realized that I missed the question that came up a few times which is again back to the materials. What brand of white transfer paper were you using or what type of– yeah, what brand of transfer paper were you using?
[Liz Clayton Fuller] I had it right here because I knew it would come up. It’s called Saral and it comes in several different colors of transfer paper. So Saral is the brand. And I like white best for my toned paper.
And if you’re working on white paper, I would recommend trying blue, red, or yellow because the graphite color, the gray color Saral transfer paper is really, really harsh and it has a tendency to stain your paper in a way that is undesirable.
So you want to transfer your drawing and then you try to erase and it’s just like hunkered down in your paper. So [CHUCKLES] be wary of the gray Saral, but the other colors have a little bit more flexibility and erasability and I prefer them. So [CHUCKLES].
[Lisa Kopp] This is a fun question. Someone asked, did you ever paint the bird’s accouterments? So nests, eggs, baby birds. And someone also asked about sort of painting the tree branch or the bark, like how do you sort of master those non-bird related or non-bird specific elements of a bird life?
[Liz Clayton Fuller] Yes, great questions. I wish I could do a whole sketchbook tour with you all today because I love painting nests and baby birds. And occasionally, I think to myself, do I love painting branches just as much as I love painting birds because similar to birds, branches, gosh, there’s so much interest and texture and sometimes there’s like cool lichen and you can also tell a story like with the branch that the bird is on.
So I would say study your accouterment just as much as you study your bird, because that stuff is really important too. And I often tend to focus on the bird. But I really do love drawing a good branch. So I think that sort of beefing up your skills, what I love to do is go out into the backyard and see what fell on the ground and just take some inspiration from branches that I find, take some pictures.
So yeah, sometimes especially in scientific illustration, you don’t want to illustrate a bird perched on a branch from a tree that it is not overlapping in the same region as you find the bird. So you have to think about the bird and all things around the bird too for sure. [CHUCKLES]
[Lisa Kopp] Liz, I just realized I completely failed at reminding you of the halfway mark. We have about 10 minutes left.
[Liz Clayton Fuller] That is OK.
[Lisa Kopp] But I see the progress you’ve made.
[Liz Clayton Fuller] Yes. I’m doing fine.
[Lisa Kopp] Good. Good. OK. So there’s a question here that you can always choose not to answer. But someone asked how do you deal with any self-doubt that you might go through as an artist? Or are there phases where you’re feeling particularly inspired or sort of just a little bit less enthralled with the day-to-day of painting?
[Liz Clayton Fuller] Yes. [CHUCKLES] Yes to whoever asked that question, I see you and I feel you and I think that, heck, I don’t an artist who doesn’t go through that. Some days I just feel like I don’t got it and I’m off, my drawings are off, and the paintings are off, and it comes a little harder.
And sometimes you need a little break. Get outside, take some deep breaths, and get physically away from whatever work is going tough on you. So some space can be really important and impactful sometimes. And some time, if you have the ability, take a little time off from drawing.
Or honestly lately, I have found a lot of joy and sort of relief and comfort in just drawing some silly stuff. Like just kind of not taking myself too seriously, drawing some little cartoon birds, whatever it is just to lighten up a little bit because if you’re unhappy while you’re painting, you’re not going to want to paint.
So you’ve got to make sure that you’re taking care of yourself in that way. But yes I think I’m right there with you some days and I know we all get through it in different ways. But I hope that maybe some of those tips can help. [CHUCKLES]
[Lisa Kopp] Thanks for sharing that. I know it has to be a joy to do something that you’re so passionate about. But everyone has their ups and downs no matter what. So that makes sense. So we’ve got a couple of questions in here about the differences between watercolors and gouache and which is best. I know you’ve talked about your preference but I think people are looking for maybe a little bit more detail on that.
[Liz Clayton Fuller] Also I just want to say that I think I mispronounced gouache for years and the best tip that I have found is gouache like squash because I was always like go wash, and people are like it’s not that. [CHUCKLES] So gouache like squash, best tip.
And the thing is some people thrive in watercolor and some people thrive in gouache. I really think that if you like to paint in one, you should give the other a try. I think that you can achieve beautiful, incredible scientific illustration work in both mediums. It does not have to be one or the other.
But I mean, I was like watercolor woman for years and then I started gouache and I was like, wait a second, gouache is great. So I think it just depends on how you like to work. I’m really loving the opacity of gouache and the like strong colors that it brings.
But there’s also something about the softness of watercolor that you just can’t get in gouache and also wet on wet technique if you’re familiar with watercolor doesn’t really work in gouache. So it just depends on what you are searching for with your medium. So if you have the ability and the access, I really recommend that you try both, because they’re both great in different ways. [CHUCKLES]
[Lisa Kopp] We have a couple of questions about sort of resources for people who are beginner artists who are really just trying to learn more and continue building their skills and if you have recommendations for either books or courses or different options available for them.
[Liz Clayton Fuller] Sure. Well, not to toot my own horn too much. But I really do love working with beginners and my online self-paced course with Bird Academy is directed straight at beginners and is designed to be accessible and not scary because a lot of times, beginner art classes kind of dive deep too quickly. So I feel like my course with Bird Academy could be a great option for y’all.
As far as books go, the Laws Guide to Drawing Birds is also a really accessible book for bird art specifically. If you’re a little bit more advanced, you might be interested in the Manual of Ornithology which is quite a technical scientific book. But it shows all the feather groupings and the feather layerings and it can kind of push your art to the next level to know about bird anatomy on that level, if that makes sense.
[Lisa Kopp] And I can also mention that I think some of you may have known about this because you had taken one of Liz’s workshops that we’ve worked with her on. But we are so fortunate Liz has been offering a series of workshops through the Lab.
The first one is really just about sort of beginner level sketching called Drawn to Birds, then we’ve been offering a bird anatomy workshop. That’s really about some of the specific parts of birds. And then a watercolors workshop. And we’re doing that series again this summer.
And actually I can put the link in the chat. The Drawn to Birds workshop is on sale today. It just went on sale at noon. So you can get your tickets to that too as sort of a beginner level sketching course in addition to the resources that Liz mentioned.
[Liz Clayton Fuller] Definitely. [CHUCKLES]
[Lisa Kopp] Liz, we have another really interesting– clearly by the way that I pronounced squash gouache, I am not an artist. So some of these technical questions are really fascinating for me too. So I’m curious and some others are also about, how often you switch out your water?
[Liz Clayton Fuller] Oh yeah.
[Lisa Kopp] To keep things clean.
[Liz Clayton Fuller] Yes. Daily but not like hourly or anything. I do keep, you can see, two reservoirs of water, which is actually kind of a holdover habit from my watercolor days. But for watercolor, a lot of the time you are wetting the paper with clean water and then painting over the top of it with the pigment on your brush.
So I don’t actually use the clean water for anything when I am using gouache, but I just have the second reservoir anyway. And so when this water gets too murky, I just pop right over to the next one. So often but not wildly often. If I feel like it is inhibiting my ability to clean my brush, then I will change it out.
So I’m about to get to the eyeball and I know we had questions about that because we’re already just creeping up on our hour which I can’t believe it’s already been that long. But I am going in and I’ve added the eye ring first which is sort of like a fleshy circle that sits around the bird’s eyeball.
It’s typically got some texture to it. There are like little lines through it if you look really, really close. And now I am putting in the black gouache for the eyeball itself and I’m going to let it dry and I’m going to pop a really nice bright highlight in the eye.
And that’s my biggest tip for bringing a bird to life is that highlight because right now, OK sure, it’s a bird, but they kind of look a little dull. So the highlight is going to really bring things together. But again, you’ve got to be patient and let your gouache dry.
So well I’m doing that, I’m going to go around with my little skinny brush and kind of add some feathery texture bits that I couldn’t get with my bigger brush while we’re here. But the highlight is going to really bring it together.
[Lisa Kopp] And I’ll ask now before it shows up, do you have information on that brush that you could share with us?
[Liz Clayton Fuller] Yes. Well so this is [CHUCKLES] this is a brand called Black Gold. It’s really not my favorite. But sometimes this is another sort of tip for myself that maybe y’all could use too is that when I am doing art that is not scientific illustration and I’m trying to take myself less seriously and loosen up, sometimes I will use kind of crummy brushes with the purpose of like I can’t take this too seriously, this brush is so goofy. So I again still recommend the Daler-Rowney. They have liner brushes like this. So if you want a nice liner brush, stick with that brand. [CHUCKLES]
[Lisa Kopp] Great. So yeah, we have about two minutes left. I feel like I should open it up to you, Liz, to see if there’s anything that you want to share with us about your journey, your artwork. I should mention that we’ll be including links to Liz’s website and all of her social media accounts so you can stay in touch with her.
And then we will continue to post in the chat the links to her Nature Journaling and course from Bird Academy and the Drawn to Birds course. But Liz, what have I missed or what have we all missed collectively as an audience?
[Liz Clayton Fuller] Honestly, you all have such wonderful and thoughtful questions today. I’m just really honored that you spent your time with me this Friday afternoon and I do hope that you’ll connect with me on social media. And if you decided to do some drawing with me today, please share it with me. I would love to see it.
I post most regularly what I’m working on on Instagram if you’re on there. And yeah, I would just like love to connect with y’all and really appreciate you sharing your time with me today. It’s been really fun and it went by too fast.
So now that we’re on the last minute, I’m going to pop the highlight in the eye, the cherry on top, if you will. But this has been a joy and honestly, if we were here for another hour, I might keep fussing with it. But [CHUCKLES] sometimes it’s good to have an ending to things like we talked about earlier. [CHUCKLES]
OK so I’ve got my gouache on my brush. And sometimes it’s like a perfect circle, sometimes it’s like a more organic shape that’s the highlight. But it really brings a lot. So I’ll pop the highlight in the top and then sometimes I’ll take like a lighter gray or if I’m thinking this bird is in the forest, maybe even a green and I’ll just put a little sort of circular shape on the bottom too.
And let me hold this up so that you can see a little better because I know that we’re a little bit far away. But I hope you can see the highlight a little better. And yeah, just gosh, thank you all so much. And if you’ve got any like lingering questions, you know where to find me on social media and my website. And I’ve got some bird art in my online shop. If you’re like this rules, please check it out. [CHUCKLES] And yeah, it has just been such a joy having y’all in the studio today. So thank you very much.
[Lisa Kopp] Thank you, Liz. It’s incredible to watch how you can make something so beautiful and answer all of our questions at the same time. So thank you for this and thank you everyone for joining. And you will receive an email with the recording and some of the links that we’ve included in the chat. So we hope to see you at a future Liz or Lab event. Have a great day, everyone. Thank you. Bye.End of transcript
Born and raised in Nashville, Tennessee, Liz is an accomplished scientific illustrator and fine artist. She holds a BFA in illustration with a minor in art history from Savannah College of Art and Design and a certificate in natural science illustration from the University of Washington. She has created and taught field sketching courses for Cornell University undergraduates as well as for their adult university program. She has also illustrated field guides, created educational outreach materials, and painted visuals for scientific papers at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.
Join us for a virtual visit to the studio of Liz Clayton Fuller, a friend of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and a Scientific Illustrator. Liz is known for her ornithological illustrations along with her sketchbook-style studies of bird species. Spend an hour with Liz as she works in her sketchbook and talks about her process–from concept, to sketch, and finally to painted work. This free webinar features audience Q&A; come with your questions about scientific illustration and ornithological artwork. Whether you’re simply curious about the artistic process, a fan of Liz’s work, or a master artist yourself, grab your online device and enjoy watching how Liz works.
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