It’s no secret that Georgia-based painter/illustrator/creative wonder Ande Cook is one of our favorite artists: Her vibrant images have graced many a Bas Bleu catalog cover. Most recently, we commissioned her to create a painting for our Spring 2013 issue. The result? A cheerful, whimsical image of a mini-menagerie enjoying the blossoming beauty of the season.

This week in the Bluestocking Salon, Ande guides us through her creative process, providing a step-by-step look into the creation of “The Babysitter.” (For a closer look, just click each image to enlarge.)

Babysitter #1

Step 1: It starts with an idea: In early spring I love the emergence of baby birds. I often worry about their safety as the hazards are many. In this drawing, I have given them a “babysitter,” which is loosely modeled on my dog “Trout,” a rescue of mixed origin.

Babysitter #2

Step 2: I love the dog, not entirely happy with the tree, so look for big changes there. I am going for that look when trees bud out before leaves—like an eastern redbud. But I hate the uniformity of the shape so I will “kill it” later. There is sometimes an awkward stage in the process of making a painting. As I go about my evening, in the back of my mind I will be working out the problem. And if it isn’t resolved; I will start over with a new idea. Happens all the time.

Babysitter #3

Step 3: I revised the tree by doing dashes of a different blue, this one more turquoise, over the branches and on the outer edges, which improved it two ways: It broke up the uniformity and it brought some depth and warmth to the color. Then today walking the dogs I noticed the cherry blossoms blooming on a few trees and decided to add some flowers that were oversized. The scale change worked. Now behind each blossom I will add a sheer wash of yet another brighter blue to help them stand out.

Babysitter #3a

(Detail of tree branches and flowers)

Babysitter #4

Step 4: This is the part that trips people out. All those backgrounds are just place holders. Now I go in and paint over those flat backgrounds in a more painterly way—less precision so it’s not so stiff, which is my Achilles heel (in formal painting it is an asset—in illustration not as useful). Now the sky has variation. I didn’t like how crowded Trout was so you can see I just painted a bigger area that I will refine—got a little careless with it as I painted up on that baby bird. (Rushing never pays off.) I added a flight path for mama bird which greatly enhanced the whimsy of it; a good thing for Bas Bleu. I pinked Trout’s nose and belly up a bit, loosened up the hedges, and next I will fix the foreground and get out a brush that has about three hairs and refine the edges of the animals. I will probably add some tree to the left of the image for balance and then make some last-minute tweaks.

Babysitter #5

Step 5: The final art. Can you see all the teeny tiny tweaks? Like: softening the white over Trout’s eyes. Adding dandelions. Adding weight to the left side of the tree. Clearing up the baby birds. You know what? I spent at least half of the time working on the painting in an upside down position.

To learn more about Ande and explore the range of her work, check out her website!