Audubon’s Wild Turkey sparkles with gold colored metallic paint

Audubon made his work sparkle with gold colored paint

Audubon used a variety of techniques to create his drawings of birds. Audubon’s simple works are made in watercolor and graphite, or in pastel and graphite, but he often used a combination of techniques. He found it challenging to use gouache, oil paint, chalk and even collage.

Metallic gold colored paint

Audubon 001 Wild Turkey Birds of America Museum quality giclée print
Wild Turkey, Plate 001

Audubon was self-taught and always eager to learn and innovate. 

Three of Audubon’s drawings are particularly special because he applied metallic gold paint. 

We do not know if this involved the use of gold foil, or a powder of bronze or brass, but to find out it would be necessary to subject the drawings to more technical research and this has never been done.

Graphite sketch and watercolor

John James Audubon Birds of America Plate 047 Throated Hummingbird Giclée Print
Throated Hummingbirds, Plate 047

Audubon usually started his works with a graphite sketch which was then overpainted with pastel or watercolor. 

Later on, he used a mix of pastel and watercolor, usually allowing the watercolor to dry before the application of the pastel. 

However, he also developed a more complex technique of applying pastel over wet watercolor, enabling him to alter the intensity and reflective quality of the painting.

Three drawings with metallic paint

John James Audubon Birds of America Plate 221 Mallard Duck Giclée Print
Mallard Duck. Plate 221

Metallic paint is seen in these three drawings – the Wild Turkey, the Mallard Duck and the Throated Hummingbirds. 

A gold-colored layer of paint is used initially, which is then partially covered by  watercolor. 

Audubon's sparkling and expressive illustrations

However, Audubon only used this metal technique in three drawings and was probably not completely satisfied with the effect it created. 

Yet the three illustrations are sparkling and expressive. Audubon depicts them life-size in their natural habitat, and it seems as if the birds in the painting can suddenly just fly into your room.

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