How to paint a hen

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Painting the hen

No, this is not a euphemism of any kind. I have been asked to paint a hen.

This is not something new. Back in 2016/17, I painted a full-sized fibreglass cow which was auctioned off to raise money for charity. I then went on to paint a hog, a hare and three hearts.

I am a complete pushover with that little four-letter word ‘help’! Anyone asking me to help them has in the past always got just that. In turn I have often found myself in situations I didn’t want to be in, but I had done as I said and helped. I am hoping that from now on I can be better at saying thanks but no thanks. We shall see. However, when the former mayor of Haslemere contacted me and asked if I would help out again, I felt I had no choice other than to say yes. He is a lovely man btw, so not a difficult choice.

He did leave me with a bit of a dilemma in that he wanted me to see if I could find a sponsor. I put a note out on Facebook, and I had a couple of enquiries. One of my oldest friends from school is married with the surname Chick, so she was interested in buying one. Someone else thought they might find a way in with a local business which has hen in their name but other than that I have had no real interest.

So, I have to decide how to decorate this bird and come up with a theme of my own and something which I would enjoy doing. The big question here is how? If you haven’t been given a brief and therefore have carte blanche to create your own design, how do you go about doing this?

The internet really is your friend in this situation and simply searching for “hens” and clicking on images gives you so many photos of hens and chicks. Type in “unusual hens” and a whole new world opens up to you and some of them have the most amazing plumage.

According to The British Poultry Standards there are 93 recognised pure chicken breeds which are classified by size, feathering, origin, and rarity. However, dig a little deeper and you will find that, according to a count in 2007, there were 1,132 breeds worldwide so 14 years later that number will possibly be different.

Of these 1,132 breeds classified in 2007, 58% were to be found in Europe. 204 of those European breeds were identified as being on the critical list and 34 had been declared extinct. Who knew that agreeing to paint a fibreglass hen would throw up this kind of knowledge? I just love finding out this stuff.

Having discovered all these amazing breeds, I then decided to review what other artists have done with chickens. Remember that copying one artist’s work is stealing but copying lots of different artists at the same time is research! However, I didn’t find anything which inspired me even though there are some wonderful images out there on the internet.

A neat little trick I learned some time ago is to search for fabric designs. There are so many wonderful fabric designers and sellers who showcase their images online, providing a plethora of images to work with. So many in fact, I felt almost overwhelmed but as I already had an idea of what I wanted to do, looking at fabric designers and their designs really solidified how I was going to decorate this fibreglass figure.

The first thing I need to do is make sure that my idea is acceptable. Whilst I am waiting for that confirmation, I intend to wash the figure with soap and warm water just to remove any grease it may have come into contact with. Acrylic paint is pretty good at covering most things, but it is always best to be safe.

I also will add a coat of white paint as a foundation as even though the hen has a white undercoat, I just want to know that it has had a good coverage. I intend to take photos of the various stages of painting, which I will share with you later.

I am planning to use the white base coat as a good reflective substrate because I want the finished piece to look as if I have used watercolour paint, even though I will be using acrylic. I will achieve this by using transparent and semi-transparent paints thinned with acrylic media.

In the past, all the designs I have done have been bold, bright, in your face kind of works as you can see from the images above, but I fancied doing something a bit subtle for a change. I just hope that when the work goes to auction the audience likes it and it raises lots of money for charity.

I will add multiple layers of paint and I will use good quality paint, such as Golden, Atelier and Liquitex brands. When the painting is finished, I will apply an isolation coat and then a final coat of acrylic varnish. The isolation coat is put there to protect the paint so that if the varnish is damaged or yellows, it can be removed without affecting the paint beneath. This allows for all the varnish to be removed and then reapplied if needed. A varnished coating on a painting can last for many, many years but if the hen is going to be outside it could be damaged sooner.

NB Just for the record, I do not get paid to endorse any of the brands I have mentioned above. These are all products that I use and genuinely believe in.

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