Thumbnail image: Liz Clayton Fuller

[Lisa Kopp] Hi, everybody. Hi, Liz.

[Liz Clayton Fuller] Hey, Lisa. Hey, everybody.

[Lisa Kopp] We are going to get started in just a minute. We are welcoming people. In it’s nice to see where people are coming from and all of the different weather that we’re experiencing this time of year. There is just something about April.

[Liz Clayton Fuller] Always unpredictable. I’ve got storms in Nashville today.

[Lisa Kopp] And it’s like a rare, beautiful, 70-degree sunny day in Ithaca, New York, but a week ago we had winter storm warnings and got a couple inches of snow, so who even knows?

[Liz Clayton Fuller] Who knows? A good day for drawing and painting no matter what, though.

[Lisa Kopp] Exactly, yes. It’s wonderful. So we just hit the top of the hour, and I want to make sure that we give Liz as much time as possible to paint this warbler for us. So I’m going to jump right into some of our announcements, and then we’ll get back to Liz. So welcome to today’s webinar with Liz Clayton Fuller. Liz is one of my favorite people to talk to in these webinars, so I’m really excited to have her back. It’s been a few months. So we will get started with Liz in just a minute.

As I mentioned, we are hosting this webinar from Ithaca, New York, and I wanted to read a statement acknowledging the Indigenous people as the original inhabitants of this particular area. Cornell University is located on the traditional homelands of the Gayogoho:no, the Cayuga Nation. The Gayogoho:no are members of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, an alliance of six sovereign nations with historic and contemporary presence on this land. The Confederacy precedes the establishment of Cornell University, New York State, and the United States of America. We acknowledge the painful history of Gayogoho:no dispossession and honor the ongoing connection of the Gayogoho:no people, past and present, to these lands and waters.

And as I mentioned, we are part of Cornell University with the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, and we are home to a community of researchers and supporters from around the world who appreciate birds and art and the integral role that birds play in our ecosystem. And our mission is to advance leading edge research, education, and citizen science that helped solve pressing conservation challenges. And one of the things that I find so wonderful about what I do on the Visitor Center team is that we get to sort of interpret that mission really broadly. And so today we’re going to be doing that through art and the appreciation of the really sort of special beauty of birds.

A few quick tech notes. We have closed captioning available on Zoom, so if you’d like to use those, you can go down to the three buttons on the bottom of your screen and click Transcript and either show the transcript or hide the transcript, depending on your preference. As Liz works today we’ll be taking questions. I will be keeping tabs on the Q&A, so please use the Q&A for your questions, and I will relay as many as I can to Liz.

And the chat we are going to keep to tech needs. So if you’ve got any issues that you see with your Zoom, we always recommend sort of signing in and signing out and signing back in as the first step, but we can try to help you. And then we will also be using the chat to post links and important information that might help you if you’re interested in learning a little bit more about Liz or the bird that she’s going to be painting for us. And then we’re also streaming live to Facebook, so hello to all of you joining us from Facebook.

[Liz Clayton Fuller] Howdy.

[Lisa Kopp] We also want you to be a part of the conversation. So we have wonderful colleagues who are behind the scenes, and they will be helping to relay some of the questions that come from Facebook to me so that I can ask Liz as well. So we will do our best to keep you– get your questions answered as you watch Liz work. So I think we’re ready to get started. Like I said, Liz, I’m so happy to be with you again today.

[Liz Clayton Fuller] Yeah, thank you for having me, Lisa. And for those of you I haven’t had the pleasure of meeting yet, hi. My name is Liz Clayton Fuller. You can just call me Liz. I am a scientific Illustrator, fine artist, and educator based in Nashville, Tennessee. And I’ve been a friend of the Lab since 2015 when I started there as a Bartels scientific illustration intern, and they have not been able to get rid of me since. I keep coming back and painting birds and doing webinars and classes, so I’m super excited to be here with y’all today.

And I’m going to be painting a black and white warbler for you, because it’s migration season, and we need to honor those cuties that we’re seeing in the trees passing through. So let me get my screen sharing started. Not that one. Not that one. There we go. All right, so here is my black and white warbler sketch. So because I’ve only got an hour with you today, what I’ve done is I did a sketch of our black and white warbler friend.

This beautiful photo from the Macaulay Library. There will be a link to it in the chat. If you’d like to view it as well, what an incredible resource the Macaulay Library is for art inspiration. So I did a little sketch, and then I transferred the sketch onto my sketchbook paper so we could get started painting. So if you have any questions about my process along the way, please feel free to ask. I’m using gouache today. Gouache like squash is how you pronounce it.

And I’m just going to get cracking on painting and talk to you a little through my process and take your questions along the way. So thank you so much for being here and spending some of your Monday with me. It’s perfect painting weather in Nashville, because it is, like I said, nice and stormy and dreary out there, so good weather to be painting a cute little warbler.

[Lisa Kopp] So Liz, you know this well because we’ve done lots of workshops and webinars together. But one of the top categories of questions that we get are materials, right?

[Liz Clayton Fuller] Yes.

[Lisa Kopp] So again, we’ve got some really wonderful people behind the scenes who are going to help answer some of these questions in the Q&A by just typing out answers. But do you want to give us a little bit of information about some of the paints? And also I’ve got a question about your transfer paper.

[Liz Clayton Fuller] Yes, yes. So OK, I’ll get started with the transfer paper, because that’s kind of the base of what we’ve got going on here today. So you saw my sketch, which I like to do separate from my sketchbook. Because when you’re sketching in your sketchbook, you’re doing a lot of pencil lines, you’re erasing. You kind of end up chewing the paper a little bit.

So if I want to have a nice, clean drawing to transfer, I always do my sketch away from my sketchbook, off of my sketchbook, to work out all the proportions and details and things. And then I use transfer paper, which is this really cool paper here. You can see that I’ve used this one a couple of times actually. You can see all the sort of ghosts of the birds that I’ve transferred on it. But it is a cool paper where one side has a lot of pigment on it. You can see that it came off on my hand a little bit there.

So you put the transfer paper face down. You put your sketch over the top of it. And then you trace your sketch and it transfers it into your sketchbook. And I’m using white transfer paper, because I’ve got this really nice tan-toned paper that I’m working with today. But there’s lots of colors. There’s graphite transfer paper. There’s blue, yellow, red, I think, too, so lots and lots of options and can be used for a lot of different mediums. So that’s how I got my sketch down.

And then today I’m using gouache paint, specifically the brand Holbein, which is my favorite brand, but there are a lot of great brands out there. And if you’re not familiar with gouache as a medium, it’s really cool. It’s kind of like– I like to refer to it as watercolor’s cousin. It’s got some similar properties to watercolor in that you can see that these paints are totally dry on my palette here. I’m touching them. I’m not getting any pigment on my hands. But with a little bit of water you can reconstitute them and bring them back to life and then use them to paint with.

So they’re similar to watercolor in that way, that they’re activated by water. But what’s different is that they’re opaque. So watercolor is really translucent, meaning that you can see through the layers that you’ve painted. And gouache a lot more opaque, meaning that the color goes down really strong, and you can’t see between those layers. So that is a little gouache primer for you.

And I’m also using what might look like a really weird futuristic tool. It is a Pentel water brush. So all this is is a brush with a little reservoir for you to put water in. And you can give it a little squeeze, and it wets the bristles. So it’s basically just having a constantly wet brush to paint with. It’s not quite as fancy as it looks, but it’s also one of my favorite tools out there. So highly, highly recommend that.

[Lisa Kopp] Thank you. Yes, lots of questions about that water brush. And I know this is a softball question, because I know the answer to it from having worked with you at other events. But that is not something specific to gouache, right? You can use that with other– with watercolors.

[Liz Clayton Fuller] Right.

[Lisa Kopp] And yep, OK.

[Liz Clayton Fuller] Yes. A lot of people like to use this brush for painting in the field because it’s really transportable, and a lot of people like to use watercolor in the field, so yes, definitely any water-soluble material. Actually if y’all are familiar with Jane Kim and her beautiful mural at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, she’s the one who turned me on to these brushes. So you can do a lot of incredible things with these brushes, from a sketchbook page of a warbler to a two-story mural, so very versatile.

[Lisa Kopp] Right. Wow. Is there a reason that you choose to work in gouache, or is it specific to this particular painting that you’re doing today?

[Liz Clayton Fuller] That’s a great question. I thought I was a watercolor gal for a very long time. It was the medium that I used the most for years and years. And then I started experimenting with gouache, and I just– I love the punchiness of the colors, and I also love the ability to paint on this toned paper. That’s become something that is a huge part of my painting process now, is painting on paper that is already toned to be one color or the other.

And gouache can handle that because of the opacity that I mentioned earlier. You can really cover that color and kind of start with a really nice middle ground for your painting. Instead of just a stark white paper, if I had put white gouache on a white piece of paper, nothing would happen. So yes, I prefer it. I prefer it now for its versatility and the punchiness of the colors, I think.

[Lisa Kopp] We have two really interesting related questions. One, how do you choose when or when not to use toned paper? And then– well you can tell me, based on your process whether these are related or not– but is starting with the white, or why do you start with the whites when you’re starting with this bird?

[Liz Clayton Fuller] Great question, and honestly it’s a little bit– in art class they’ll tell you not to do that, but sometimes you got to break the rules. Honestly I’m starting with the white today because even though gouache is very opaque as a medium, you can see that the color has dulled after I’ve laid it down already. So I’m going back over it again. So I know that I’m going to need to lay down a couple of layers of white to get the really punchy brightness that I want to have on this toned paper, so that’s why I’m starting with it.

It’s kind of more strategic than anything, because I know I’m going to have to go over it. And I want it to dry pretty well before I paint over it, because if you paint on somewhere where you just painted and the paint hasn’t quite settled into the paper yet, you’ll actually end up pulling the paint that was already there up instead of laying paint down on top of it. So I’m being strategic with adding the white first today and just to get that really bright color.

And as for the question about when to use toned paper, it really is a stylistic choice. You don’t have to. There’s no reason for it that it’s required in any certain situation. But like I said, I really love that you start with a middle ground so you can add these bright highlights. And I’ll be adding the deep darks of the black streaks and the plumage, and the background is this nice middle tone. The light lights will pop, and the dark darks will pop, and you’ll get really nice contrast. It’s just something that once I started doing it, I can’t stop. I really like it so much. I would recommend anybody to try it, just in case you take to it like I did.

[Lisa Kopp] And can you tell us a little bit about what’s happening between your two palettes that you have going on here?

[Liz Clayton Fuller] Yes, absolutely. So I’ve got a little palette up here where you might notice in the camera it’s very, very shiny. And the reason for that is that it is a palette that is intended to keep your paints wet. So when your paints are wet, it’s like you’re using them straight out of the tube. Remember earlier I showed you this palette. I touch the paint. It’s totally dry. So I have to activate this paint if I want to use it.

But this little palette here, it keeps my paint wet so they’re ready to go at a moment’s notice, so that’s been a really useful tool for gouache for me. Because you can get these really sort of juicy colors right off the bat without having to go over to your palette, and take your wet brush, and activate the color, and get it wet, and just get a tiny amount of pigment. This way it’s ready to go. So this is sort of my mixing and my dry paint palette. And this is my always wet palette of all my colors that are ready to go.

[Lisa Kopp] Thank you. It’s helpful.

[Liz Clayton Fuller] Absolutely.

[Lisa Kopp] I just wanted to mention to people that we’re using the Q&A function in Zoom for questions. We’re not actually going to use the chat. I’m not able to check both places. So we’re just using the Q&A for questions, so please please feel free to add your questions in there. So Liz, a little bit about sourcing. So we posted in the chat the reference image from the Macaulay Library that you used when you sketched and then transferred this little warbler.

[Liz Clayton Fuller] Yes.

[Lisa Kopp] So we’ve got some questions about, do you ever paint out in the field? And also separate from that, how do you choose your images that you use as references?

[Liz Clayton Fuller] Yes. Both great questions that are important to the process. So I do, I do paint in the field sometimes. I enjoy doing that, although because I am an artist for my job, sometimes when I’m in the field I just want to watch the birds instead of drawing them. Because drawing birds is my work, so I do sometimes paint in the field.

I really like to bring– I have a little tiny watercolor palette that I like to take out sometimes. And when I’m in the field I’m doing really loosey-goosey sketches. Nothing is super refined. Nothing is super detailed. Excuse me. I like to keep it, just keep it in the moment in the field, because birds are incredible. But they’re not the most cooperative subjects.

If you’ve ever tried to draw a bird in the field, you know this. They don’t stay. They just leave. So sometimes I end up having just kind of a goofy little sketch of a bird that I did, and then they immediately left. But that’s enough for me when I’m in the field. Field sketching is way different from being in the studio in this controlled environment and having a reference to pull from. It’s just a totally different ballgame.

So definitely love doing it, but I don’t do it sometimes as much as I would like, because I just end up watching the birds and sort of taking those moments when I’m in the field and using them for inspiration for paintings in the studio. So I like to do that a lot. What was the other question you asked? Oh, where to pull images from?

[Lisa Kopp] Yeah, and how do you choose reference images?

[Liz Clayton Fuller] Yes. So there’s a couple of things to be thoughtful of, to be mindful of when you’re choosing reference images as an artist. One of course is you don’t want to be taking anyone’s work without permission. It’s the same with art and photography. You want to make sure you have permission to use a photo before you use it and directly reference it for your art.

So the Lab is kind enough to let me use the Macaulay Library images for workshops and webinars like this, which is really, really awesome. If you don’t have access, explicit permission like that, there are a couple of different things. You can do you can find public domain images which are totally free for an artist to use for any purpose.

You can also take a bunch of different images and combine them to make something unique and that is your own. So instead of pulling directly from one image you maybe take– oh, when I’m doing paintings I probably have five to 10 references that I end up pulling from my sketches, which sounds like a lot. But you can take the feet from one reference, and the tilt of the head from another, and the plumage from another. You can get really creative with it.

So to choose your reference you have to be careful. And also you choose it based on what are you trying to portray. What information do you want your painting to have? I’m thinking about it as a scientific Illustrator of course, and today I’m painting this cute little black and white warbler just because it’s migration season. So that’s my reason. So it didn’t need to be in a specific pose or doing a specific thing.

So yeah, just think about, what do you want your art to say? What do you want it to teach? Or do you just want it to be beautiful, because that’s valid, too?

[Lisa Kopp] That’s great. That’s really helpful. Would you mind sharing a little bit about you as an artist? We’ve got a couple of questions about people interested in getting into scientific illustration but also people asking about some of your favorite artists and if you have any favorite birds to paint.

[Liz Clayton Fuller] OK, yes. All very good questions. So I’ll start a little bit with my history as an artist so I can stall on the favorite bird question, because it’s really hard for me to pick. So I will talk about my history a bit. I did go to art school. I went to Savannah College of Art and Design, and I studied illustration. And luckily I stumbled upon a scientific illustration class during my senior year of college.

Because I was creating all this art, and I was like, man, I really don’t like this art very much. And then I took a scientific illustration class and realized, oh my gosh, you can just paint beautiful things that already exist in nature. That’s exactly what I’ve always wanted to do, and I didn’t know it was a career. So I did that. I also went to the University of Washington. I got a certificate in natural science illustration.

So my biggest advice is create a portfolio that shows what you want to do with your scientific illustration, because it doesn’t have to look just one way. It doesn’t have to just be super accurate, detailed representations of birds. There are so many different ways that you can use your art to reach people, like educational outreach, and infographics, and all kinds of things.

So don’t feel limited. Definitely put forth what you love, and find people that are studying or trying to teach people about what you want to illustrate. And luckily I just fell in love with birds through art, actually. I didn’t really grow up birding. I’ve always loved being outside, but I just didn’t have anybody that was showing me the ways of birdwatching.

And in this scientific illustration course I picked up a book about birds. And I was like, oh, birds are pretty cool. Then I started painting them, and I was like, wow, there’s a lot of birds. Wait, wow, they’re everywhere. And I just kind of fell in love with it through there. So definitely let your path take you to what you’re passionate about and connect you with organizations that are doing the things that you want to illustrate.

Because even in the digital age there is need for scientific illustrators to portray all kinds of things that simple photography cannot. And simple photography, by the way, is no knock on bird photography. I cannot take a picture of a bird to save my life. But sometimes people ask me, why do we need scientific illustration when we have photos? And the truth is that there’s all kinds of things that art can communicate, and we can make the bird in any pose and showing any plumage. And it’s definitely a valid medium alongside of photography, so don’t feel don’t feel limited in that way.

And then let’s see, what were the other– my favorite bird?

[Lisa Kopp] Yeah, yeah.

[Liz Clayton Fuller] Ah. So it’s tough. I really love to paint hummingbirds. They’re kind of a unique challenge, very interesting plumage, the gorget, sort of representing that very iridescent plumage. I’ve always kind of been drawn to that. So I’ll say hummingbirds today, but if you ask me another day it could definitely change.

[Lisa Kopp] Somebody asked a really interesting question, which is, do you have any idea how many birds you’ve painted? Do you know the species number?

[Liz Clayton Fuller] I wish. I wish I did, and I think I need to– I think I need to go back through the years and sort of take a bird census of my paintings, because it’s definitely in the hundreds, but I don’t know how many. I have I’ve easily painted hundreds of species of birds. And if we’re counting drawings and sketches in there, the number is higher, so a lot, a lot, a lot, a lot at this point. Very, very many.

[Lisa Kopp] We’re getting quite a few questions about whether you work in digital formats or if you’re still, if you do more analog.

[Liz Clayton Fuller] Yes. I definitely do more analog, but I have to say that I’ve dipped my toe into digital art this year on the iPad using the program Procreate, if anyone is familiar with that. And I had a really good time. I kind of thought that I wouldn’t like it because I’ve been so staunchly in the traditional world for so long. I love the tactile aspect of it.

But I have really, really enjoyed digital art because there just feels like there are so many possibilities. And it was like learning a whole new medium. It was like, if I had never used gouache for the first time when I took to digital art. And I’m having a good time. I’m definitely primarily still a traditional artist, but I am really enjoying my time learning digital art, too. So a little of both these days, a little of both.

[Lisa Kopp] Yeah, that’s great. Somebody asked a couple– or there are a couple of questions here about your sketching process, which is going to take your mind out of painting. But I’ve done this with you enough to know that somehow you can talk about something completely different from what you’re doing. So would you mind talking a little bit about– I mean, you did share about the transfer paper, but about your actual sketching process? And I just added to the chat one more time the link to the Macaulay Library reference image, so hopefully that’s fresh in everyone’s screen.

[Liz Clayton Fuller] So when I sketch birds I have sort of a process that I’ll go through, and this ties very directly into the bird drawing essentials class that we have coming up. A lot of folks who draw birds sort of have a different process that they go about it. And I always– my anchor point when I start a drawing is the beak. I always start with the bird’s beak. For some reason getting the angle of it and the shape of it down on the paper, and then I kind of build the bird off of that, check proportions, and then go from there.

So that’s a very, very basic sort of explanation. I wish I had time to sketch and paint with you today, but if you’re interested in more sort of bird drawing tips, bird anatomy tips that are helpful across all birds, definitely please consider joining me for that upcoming workshop, because that’s going to be the whole thing.

[Lisa Kopp] Yeah, so I will put in the chat right now there’s links to two different workshops that Liz is going to be presenting And some of you may have taken workshops with Liz in the past, and these are new workshops. One is on May 21. It’s going to be live painting similar to this, but it will actually be a paint-along with Liz, so we’ll send all of the materials in advance, tell you what to get. You’ll have a setup. It’ll be two hours with Liz sort of guiding you through step-by-step live painting of a cedar waxwing, another springtime favorite at least in the North, Midwest, and Northeast part of the country.

And then the second workshop is a bird drawing essentials, which is one you were just talking about. That’s going to be June 4. And similarly, Liz, you’ll walk participants through what you go through to draw a bird.

[Liz Clayton Fuller] Exactly. Yes. And today I’m just kind of painting and fielding your questions and not explaining every piece of my process. But in the paint-along workshop it will be step by step by step, and I’m going to talk about everything I’m doing along the way. And in the drawing workshop we’ll be drawing together for the entirety of the workshop, talking about different sort of tips and tricks to know better how to represent birds and the process that I go through from blank page to sketch of a bird.

So that should be hopefully, hopefully really enlightening. I’ve got a I’ve got a tip about drawing bird feet that I just want to share with the world. So I hope you’ll check it out if you’re interested.

[Lisa Kopp] And then we should also mention your incredible course through Bird Academy, which I also just put the links in the chat to. And I should say if you registered over Zoom, you will be getting a follow-up email sometime tomorrow with all of the information about these workshops and Liz’s course. So of course, I don’t know how fast the workshops will sell out. They are limited in capacity, but we should be safe for tomorrow.

So Liz has an incredible course called Nature Journaling where it’s a little bit broader than the workshops that we’ll be doing. But it’s many more hours with Liz talking you through how to paint or how to do a lot of these sort of basic steps. I don’t know if you want to talk a little bit about that, Liz?

[Liz Clayton Fuller] Yeah, absolutely. The field sketching course is really kind of a primer if you’re just starting out with your art. Or if you’re experienced and you’re looking for a little inspiration to get outside and do some more drawing, there’s a lot of tips on just basic drawing techniques and also watercolor fundamentals as well, along with all kinds of activities that you can do in the field with your sketchbook to get some inspiration and also get experience with the medium of drawing and painting and watercolor as well. So yeah, that course was a ton of fun. And if you’re, like I said, looking for some inspiration, that could be an awesome choice as well.

[Lisa Kopp] Great. Thank you. So getting back to some of the painting specific stuff, we’re getting questions about mixing different things. So do you ever mix watercolors and acrylic with gouache?

[Liz Clayton Fuller] Right.

[Lisa Kopp] Yeah, could you talk a little bit about that?

[Liz Clayton Fuller] Absolutely. So I’m just noticing in my reference, by the way, this little warbler has almost little golden toes, which is so cute. So I’m going to try to bring a little bit of that color in here. So yeah, gouache is often something that watercolor painters use if they are doing a painting and they need a bright white highlight. They’ll bring a little gouache in, a little white gouache, and make that highlight on their watercolor paintings.

Because both mediums are water-soluble, you can interchange them. But I don’t typically combine them a lot, because I just already like what gouache has going on. But when I was doing a lot more watercolor painting, I would always add– if there’s a bright white highlight on the beak or a really bright highlight in the eye, I would grab my tube of titanium white gouache and put those highlights in there.

So I would say if you want to just experiment with combining the two, you absolutely can and just see how it works for you. You want to make your paints work for you and sort of portray what you’re hoping that they will. So if the combo of watercolor and gouache is that for you, then absolutely go for it. I don’t mix my medias too too much, but you definitely can, and there’s plenty of good reason to.

[Lisa Kopp] Great. Well we’ve gotten quite a few questions about cleaning your brush between colors, especially with this little black and white one, who, you don’t want to dirty up those white feathers that he’s got.

[Liz Clayton Fuller] Totally. Yes. So the cleaning of the brush is actually probably the easiest part of the process. You can see I’ve got this little paper towel here. And what I end up usually doing is I just kind of do a little twist and paint and a little bit of a squeeze of the brush. And as soon as it’s coming out just totally clear, we’re ready for a different color. So super, super simple, and really only takes a couple of seconds.

So you can have multiple different water brushes with you, if you just want to pick up one and put down the other and switch between. But I don’t find that it takes too much time to do a little cleaning, so that’s typically what I end up doing with these.

And I will say, too, if you haven’t used these brushes before and you’re considering trying them out, I do highly recommend them. I will say that typically when I get a new brush of these– I think I’ve had this specific one that I’m using for at least a year now. When you get a new one they kind of go through a bit of a moody phase sometimes, is what I like to call it. And they’re letting a lot more water out than you want them to.

And you’re like, what’s wrong with this brush? So just a little mileage with the paint brush goes a long way, and they chill out. And then just kind of I hardly even squeezed my brush at all except for when I’m changing colors, and even then I just barely squeeze it. And it’s just sort of consistently staying damp, but I don’t need to squeeze it. And it’s not like making my paint super watery or anything. It’s very just sort of nice and mellow.

[Lisa Kopp] That’s so funny. After working with you on your first workshop and seeing these water brushes in action, I bought a couple for my toddlers. And I was like, oh, this is great. They can paint and we don’t have water cups that get spilled all over. And I was– but they would squeeze it, and the whole thing, the whole page would get sopping wet. So I guess it’s not just toddler user error.

[Liz Clayton Fuller] Yes, definitely not. Moody phase. And yeah, truly because you can squeeze the brush, a lot of people think that you need to a lot, but you really don’t. You can just really gently touch it. And most of the time the bristles will just stay damp, and that’s all you need anyway. So I really do hardly ever squeeze it.

[Lisa Kopp] And do you use a special kind of water? Distilled, or is it just regular tap water?

[Liz Clayton Fuller] Straight out of the tap, yeah. Just tap water. And that’s what I would use if I were using– I’ve got a whole cup of traditional brushes as well, which I do use sometimes. But there’s just something about the convenience of the water brush that really speaks to me. And I use it even for my studio paintings. It was sort of introduced to me as an idea of you can take this into the field. And I did that, and then I got home, and I was like, what if I still want to use the water brush? So it’s my go-to brush now, for sure.

[Lisa Kopp] That’s great. I’m seeing a lot of questions about how sort of, I don’t know, more details about keeping your palette wet or people saying that their colors tend to dry out fairly quickly. Do you have any tips for sort of the working between those two palettes? Wonderful. Thank you.

[Liz Clayton Fuller] Yes, absolutely. So I have a handy water spritzer here. And all the time when I’m painting I take my palette– and I’m going to do it away from the artwork– but I just give it like a really, really good spirit to keep that paint super, super moist. And then also if you’ve got just a palette like this, you can spritz that, too. So if your paint is drying out, just keeps spritzing.

And if you have trouble remembering– I absolutely do– you can set a timer on your phone to remind you, or every time you take a sip of water you spritz your palette. You hydrate yourself and hydrate your palette, some sort of routine to get into to remembering. But I will tell on myself. One night I was painting and I totally forgot to put the lid on my gouache palette, and it was like a crackly, dry desert the next morning.

So it definitely happens. Don’t feel too bad about it. But yeah, trying to make sort of a routine will help a ton. And keeping your paint wet is just, it’s just really convenient. So if you can find a way to keep yourself reminded to do that, it’ll be, it would be really helpful.

[Lisa Kopp] And on the flip side of that, how long does it take– I mean, it looks– we could watch some of that white paint dry.

[Liz Clayton Fuller] Yes.

[Lisa Kopp] Or at least to the eye it looks dry. Is it actually dry? How fast do you– how fast does gouache dry? And can you, do you, do you wait to paint over what’s most recently been painted till it dries? Or can you talk a little bit more about that?

[Liz Clayton Fuller] Totally. Yeah, gouache dries pretty dang quick. So actually this is a good time right now. You can see how the branch is shiny. It’s catching the light, so that’s still very wet. But as I paint the rest of this branch, I bet by the time I’m done filling in this area, that area will be totally matte and dry. You won’t see the shiny anymore.

So it dries pretty quick. And if you are wanting to add a layer of gouache on top of a layer of gouache that is already down on the paper, you need to let it truly, truly, truly dry, or you’ll start accidentally picking up that initial layer that you laid down. So letting your paint dry is very important.

And it’s a reason that I’m kind of bopping around the painting. I’m laying in this branch, and while I’m doing that, all of the warbler is going to be drying. So after I paint the branch, I’m going to go back up to the warbler, give the branch time to dry. So you can be strategic about kind of popping around your painting to give various other areas time to dry really, really well.

And if you’re unsure– so you look at your paper, and it’s not shiny anymore, but you’re like, still seems kind of wet, so let’s check. So that right side is totally not shiny anymore. The left side is, because we just did it, but the right side is very matte. What you can do is once it’s not shiny, you can take your finger and kind of touch it.

And if your paper feels cool to the touch, it’s still not quite dry. So you can kind of touch over here and be like, OK, I know that’s dry, and touch over here, and it’s cooler to the touch, so not fully dry yet. So that’s a good, that’s a good tip for knowing when it’s safe essentially to lay your next layer of pigment down.

And yeah, I’m going to pop back up into our little warbler friend here and clean my brush really, really well, because I’m going in for some white again. And y’all might have noticed this in my process. Why am I avoiding the eyeball? I don’t know if that question has come up yet, but–

[Lisa Kopp] It hasn’t yet.

[Liz Clayton Fuller] OK. Typically that is one of the first questions I get is, what’s the deal with the eyeball? I like to leave the eyeball for the last piece of the painting, because I just feel like it really brings it to life and brings it together. So it’s sort of like the cherry on top, I guess.

And it really brings the painting together and makes me feel like, OK, I’m done with this painting. Because if I’ve got any other artists out there, sometimes it’s really hard to know when a painting is done. So sort of leaving one step for last to be like, boop, done, can be really helpful. If anyone is struggling with that, maybe that will help you as well.

[Lisa Kopp] Someone asked if you have a– is there sort of like an average time it takes for you to complete? I mean, like this is an hour, and you’re creating this beautiful, beautiful piece. And it’s amazingly impressive that you’re able to time it. And actually I missed my reminder of the half an hour mark. We’re at–

[Liz Clayton Fuller] No worries.

[Lisa Kopp] –12:38 right now.

[Liz Clayton Fuller] OK, gotcha.

[Lisa Kopp] But is there, are there certain birds that really challenge you and take you much longer? Or are there some that you sort of can just, you know really well and you feel really comfortable with and can get through quicker?

[Liz Clayton Fuller] Totally. Yeah, like off the top of my head I feel like I can breeze through a chickadee painting. But then there will be other birds with more complex plumage, like any sparrows. There’s all of those beautiful, neutral colors that are sort of mixing and mingling but still distinct. So yes, definitely it varies a ton.

I wish that there was a set time that it took me to do every painting that would rule, but it varies widely. Sometimes it takes five hours. Sometimes it takes 35 hours. It really runs the gamut, depending upon the complexity of the bird, the size of the piece, yeah, all kinds of things.

And if I’m doing work for scientific illustration specifically, illustrating for a paper or a field guide or something like that, that requires a different level of detail and focus than my fine artwork, which is very representative of birds but isn’t so, so tightly detailed. So yeah, it’s all over the place. That wasn’t really an answer, but that is the answer.

[Lisa Kopp] No, that’s great. So sort of more specifics, how do you address proportions and/or perspective? I know you mentioned looking at multiple reference images to try to get a holistic sense for the subject that you’re working on. But any tips for how to manage that?

[Liz Clayton Fuller] Mm-hmm. So something that I always tell people about perspective is that when we’re trying to draw a perspective– and I say we, all of us artists out there– it’s intimidating. You’re like, oh, perspective. That’s hard. I know that’s hard. And then you’re immediately putting yourself in the mindset of I’m doing this really difficult thing and essentially psyching yourself out.

So reframe your mind when you’re starting to work on perspective is a huge tip. All perspective is– if you can look at a subject and break it down into simple shapes and replicate those shapes, you did it. You don’t have to perfectly know bird anatomy. What you do need to know is how to see something, break it down into shapes, and get it on the paper.

So a bird beak facing straight at you is sort of just like a chunky triangle. It’s all very simple if you can break it down and allow your mind to see it that way. So that’s something that I encourage you to do. Another thing that of course helps is if you give yourself the time and the resources to study up on bird anatomy, and you just sort of generally understand how a bird works, that’s going to help tremendously too.

So a base of knowledge of your subject is key. It’s going to help you more than you know. It’s not going to be like, oh, my drawings are perfect now. But you aren’t going to be second guessing yourself and questioning yourself as much, because you’re like, oh, yeah, OK. I know how beaks work. I know what a warbler beak looks like. It’s very– so definitely give yourself the opportunity to get really familiar with your subject, and that will help you a ton, too. I hope that was helpful.

[Lisa Kopp] That’s great. Thank you. I think we’re all watching you make these beautiful greens, and there are lots of questions about the specific palettes, so actually lots of questions about both palettes. What is the palette with the paints up at the top? And then how do you use the palette on your, I guess it’s your left, most of our lefts on our screens at least, to create what you’re putting down on the paper?

[Liz Clayton Fuller] Right. So the palette up here is just the colors straight out of the tube. So there’s no mixing happening with these colors. What I’m doing with my brush in this palette is I’m grabbing colors from up here, bringing them over onto my palette, doing some mixing if I need to. This one I think I can actually just kind of go straight in and blend it a little bit with what’s already there. But yes, this palette is for mixing. This palette is just for holding the colors straight out of the tube. I hope that clarifies a bit.

[Lisa Kopp] That’s great. And I should say– because we’re getting lots and lots of questions about the specific colors in your palette– we don’t have that. We get lots of information from Liz ahead of these to try to be able to answer your questions.

[Liz Clayton Fuller] Right.

[Lisa Kopp] We actually– I don’t have that list of all of your specific colors.

[Liz Clayton Fuller] Yes. I actually do have a list. So here is my palette as it exists, and here are the colors that are in the palette. And this is not– I would not say this is an ideal artist’s palette. This is just– the first set of gouache that I had, these were the colors. And I also do want to say that it says zinc white here. That’s actually titanium white. So it might be a little, it might be a little goofy, but generally speaking, those are the colors.

But I think that essentially if you have– whatever colors you have at your disposal, I very highly recommend making that work for you. Of course if you want to invest in new supplies, I support that as well. But you don’t have to have the exact colors that I have to achieve a similar effect. You know what I mean?

Whatever white you have is fine. Whatever green you have is fine, especially if you’ve got a yellow to mix it with. So just generally speaking I do know that typically the exact colors of the palette are something that people are really curious about, and I support that. But also I support whatever you got will be enough as well.

[Lisa Kopp] That makes sense. And more material questions. The palette that you have with the paint from the tubes– it looks like it has little tabs. Does that close and seal shut?

[Liz Clayton Fuller] Yes, it does. It closes and seals shut, and that’s how it stays moist overnight if you remember to put the lid on it. So assuming that you remember to close it up, it will keep your paints totally wet. I give it a good spritz. Whatever bottle you have that can spritz, that you can put water in, will work. I’d give it a good spritz before you close it up. And I know y’all have the link to that palette that can be shared in the chat. So yeah, definitely that’s exactly what those tabs are for. The lid is also a bit– it has some silicone on it, so it really–

[Lisa Kopp] Oh, yeah.

[Liz Clayton Fuller] –it really seals shut really good. And I will say if you keep your palettes, your paints and your very damp palette, for a long time, they will mold, just like anything that is damp for a long time. So I would recommend just sort of starting with a small amount of color and keeping it moist. And then if you need to refresh it, you won’t be feeling like you need to waste a bunch of paint. So keep the amount of paint that you put in your palette on the lighter side to make sure that you are not molding out too much of your paints.

[Lisa Kopp] We’re getting some questions about if you’re sort of a basic beginner, do you have a favorite– we’re including some links to the specific materials you’re using. But you just mentioned sort of whatever you have can work. Do you have any recommendations for places that people who are just starting out trying to get some art supplies could go? Or are there any good resources for that kind of information?

[Liz Clayton Fuller] Yeah, I think online shopping for art supplies is absolutely incredible. My two favorite stores are Jerry’s Artarama and Blick, and you can get all sorts of supplies on there. And I would recommend– so the brand of gouache that I have, Holbein, is a more expensive brand. And I invested in it because it is literally my job to paint birds, and I knew that I was going to use it.

So I would recommend if you want to try a medium, there’s a lot of more affordable options where you can get a feel for a medium and then decide if you want to invest further. So that’s sort of my advice to people who are like, oh, gouache seems cool. Maybe I should try it out. There are these sort of small Holbein tubes. Let’s see. This peacock blue is a 5 milliliter little tube. So you could get a couple of colors of that and see how you like it. And then if you really like it, you can get the big old tubes that are 15 milliliters.

So yeah, I would say start small, see if you like it. I had a friend who I was like, oh man, you’ve got to try gouache. I love gouache. And then he hated it, so he was glad that he didn’t really invest too deeply financially in the gouache supplies. Yeah, that’s my recommendation. Also just a great resource is just googling beginner x supply, gouache, whatever you’re looking for.

[Lisa Kopp] So you did just– you said it at the beginning, but someone asked if you are a full-time Illustrator, which yes, you just answered that again. But we have an interesting question about the way in which that can work sometimes. So if you are asked to draw something, are you given specific guidelines for size or position or scale or anything like that?

[Liz Clayton Fuller] Sure. It varies from project to project. So in addition to scientific illustration I take a lot of commissions as well. And essentially it’s up to me to speak with my client and learn what they’re looking for. If someone emails me and says, can I have an 18 by 24 gouache painting, I’m like I’m not accepting commissions of that size right now, but this is what I can do.

So we work out those parameters together. Typically if I’m doing an illustration for a scientific publication or otherwise it’s going to be printed at x size, so I don’t need to paint it huge, I just need to paint it sort of at a medium reasonable size. I need to make sure that it looks good when it’s shrunk down to be smaller.

So I have this handy dandy reverse magnifying glass that makes everything tinier that you’re looking at.

[Lisa Kopp] Oh my goodness.

[Liz Clayton Fuller] So if you’re illustrating something and you know that it’s going to be small, but you don’t want to illustrate it small because that’s hard, you can illustrate it a little bigger but make sure that it’s going to look good. You can also do that by taking a picture with your phone, or a lot of different ways. But I do, I do love my little magnifying glass.

But yeah, so typically yeah, I get parameters, and I also do my own personal portfolio stuff, which is super great, because then I can paint whatever size I want and do my own thing, so that’s great too.

[Lisa Kopp] Yeah, and we will put a link in the chat right now to Liz’s shop–

[Liz Clayton Fuller] Yes.

[Lisa Kopp] –which has beautiful, beautiful pieces. Somebody put in the chat, is there going to be a drawing for a free giveaway of this piece that you’re doing? Which is a fun idea, but–

[Liz Clayton Fuller] That is a fun idea.

[Lisa Kopp] –I know from past– I think from past events you have posted the pieces that we’ve done.

[Liz Clayton Fuller] Yes.

[Lisa Kopp] That’s a special, special thing to be able to see.

[Liz Clayton Fuller] Definitely. Yes. I’ll be posting, and I may even put this little cutie in my shop, so definitely stay tuned. Yeah, in my online shop I’ve got prints and stickers and a couple of originals as well. And I made a little promo code for y’all just for being here. If you use the code WARBLER, which I thought would be easy to remember, you can get a 15% off of your order. So definitely welcome to check it out if you need any more bird stuff for your house.

[Lisa Kopp] That’s great. Thank you. So I’ve seen a couple of questions. They’re not all exactly the same, but I think they’re getting at the same point, which is related to the transfer. You chose the white transfer outline? And I don’t think we can see it from our screen, but there were some questions about, does the white transfer come through? Do you ever erase it? If you had sketched in pencil, do you erase the pencil line when you’re done?

[Liz Clayton Fuller] Yes, that’s a great question. And you can see– you can sort of see some of the transfer sort of peeking out underneath the branch here. So what I do when I’m using my transfer paper is I will make the transfer and then I use a kneaded eraser, like K-N-E-A-D like you knead bread. And I take it, and I make it a little flat. And then I just do a little bit of pulling up like that. And so it really starts to take away that pigment.

Because when you put the transfer down it kind of builds up a bit heavily, so you definitely want to pull it up after you put it down. And I did that. It sounds a little counterintuitive. It’s like, put it down and pull it up. But you do just want to have basically a little ghost of an outline so that you know where you need to paint, and you know where those details are, but it’s not getting in the way, and it’s not shining through the painting, if that makes sense.

[Lisa Kopp] Great. And actually related to that, what did you use to do that white transfer? Is there are special stylus or something?

[Liz Clayton Fuller] Yeah, well actually, so the transfer paper is just like this. And then the pencil that you want to use is a harder lead pencil. So use a 4H pencil with a really, really sharp point. Because if you’ve got a soft lead and you’re trying to trace, your lines are going to be really thick and chunky. So you want to use a nice, sharp, hard pencil, and that’s going to help your transfer be really, really, crispy.

[Lisa Kopp] Right. And since we’re nearing the end– we’ve got just–

[Liz Clayton Fuller] We are.

[Lisa Kopp] –about five minutes left– do you have– and you mentioned that you usually save the eye for the end. But is there a particular part of birds that you find really challenging or you sort of just find yourself having to think more about?

[Liz Clayton Fuller] I think notoriously and accurately bird feet are a bit difficult. They’re so tiny, but they’re also like extremely intricate and detailed, and they’ve got– their tiny little claws are so perfectly pointy. And so to represent that accurately is sometimes a bit of a challenge. So I think that bird feet are still the hardest but getting easier with time and with practice, just like everything, I guess.

[Lisa Kopp] And since you mentioned that this could end up in your shop, which will include a beautiful photo of it, can you give a little bit of information about how you get this physical painting into that digital format?

[Liz Clayton Fuller] Yes. So there are a lot of different ways to do it. Some folks still photograph their paintings, which is super cool but takes a ton of setup. I have a really nice art scanner that I rely on to scan my drawings. And when you’re taking something from traditional to digital there’s always some loss. There’s loss of a little bit of detail. There’s loss of what the color looks like.

So luckily digitally you can take your painting and give it a little life back into it after you bring it in digitally. So what I typically do is I scan my work really high quality. And then I’ll take it into Photoshop and make sure that it looks like what the original painting looks like. And then from there I can use that file to make prints or stickers or whatever else it ends up being.

[Lisa Kopp] Great. Thank you. That’s very helpful.

[Liz Clayton Fuller] Sure. We’re going in on the eye here, folks. And if you can see– if you’re looking at the reference you might notice that in the warbler’s eye– it’s very small and it’s very subtle– but you can kind of see the tree line reflected in their eye. So I always try and include that when I see it. So I just wanted to tell y’all about that so that maybe when you’re looking at photos for your reference, you can see what’s reflected in the eye and see if you can maybe just represent it, even just a hint of it just a little bit in your painting.

[Lisa Kopp] It’s incredible.

[Liz Clayton Fuller] And also birds around their eye, they have a little eye ring. So it’s kind of like a fleshy circle that’s around the circle of their eye, and it’s very textural. So I typically try also to put in the eye ring and then give it just a little bit of texture. There’s a lot of times when you’re painting birds that you don’t have to do everything completely accurately or perfectly. But if you’re implying that texture, it still comes across in your painting.

So I’ll bring it a little bit closer. You can see that there’s the eye ring and that there’s just a little bit of texture on it so it doesn’t look flat. It’s not– I didn’t do every single ring perfectly, but you get the idea, and sometimes that’s enough. Sometimes that’s plenty, in fact.

[Lisa Kopp] Someone just put that it’s been like magic watching you do this, and I totally agree. I host a lot of these webinars. They’re all so much fun. These are by far the most relaxing. It’s almost meditative to watch you, watch you create something so incredibly beautiful.

[Liz Clayton Fuller] I am so happy to hear it, and I’m so thankful that all of you out here decided to spend an hour with me today. And I will say that I picked a black and white warbler for the simplicity of color so that I knew I could get it done in an hour. But I’m still just– I’m really proud of it. It’s like a little sweet little study, and it’s been so so nice chatting with y’all and answering your questions. Just a true pleasure, as always, to chat with you, Lisa.

[Lisa Kopp] Yes. Thank you. Just while you’re finishing up, I just wanted to let everyone know that if you registered over Zoom you will get an email with the recording of this that you can watch again, over and over. And in that follow-up email we will include links to some of the things we posted in the chat, including information about Liz’s upcoming webinars and her Bird Academy course.

We likely will not be able to put the materials list in that email. It’s just really pretty extensive. If you do sign up for any of Liz’s courses, the material list is included there, so you can get that information in that way. And we hope to see you all at a future Liz event, because yeah, it’s just absolutely wonderful to get to chat with you and to see you work.

[Liz Clayton Fuller] Yeah. Thank you so much for having me, and thank you all for your very cool and thoughtful questions. It’s just been a joy. It absolutely flew by. And I hope you’ll join me for my workshops if you’re interested, and there will be more in the future, too, so it’ll be great.

[Lisa Kopp] Absolutely. Well thank you again, Liz, so much. We’re just going to let everyone take in this beautiful little painting for a couple of minutes, as everybody has–

[Liz Clayton Fuller] Doodled a little detail here.

[Lisa Kopp] There it is. Oh, my goodness. Look at that sweet little bird.

[Liz Clayton Fuller] Very cute. I haven’t seen one yet this year, but maybe this painting will help manifest one.

[Lisa Kopp] I was going to say, I hope somebody gets the joy of seeing one outside today.

[Liz Clayton Fuller] Yes, I hope so, too.

[Lisa Kopp] Great. All right, well thank you again, everybody, and hope to see you soon.

[Liz Clayton Fuller] Yeah. Thanks, all.

[Lisa Kopp] Have a great day. Bye.

[Liz Clayton Fuller] Bye.

End of transcript

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 an artist yourself, grab your online device and enjoy watching how Liz works.

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