Jeanne Mackenzie’s favorite place to paint is her neighbor’s backyard. The reason: gallus gallus domesticus, the domesticated chicken.
The chickens in the barnyard of Mackenzie’s neighbor
“Pretty Girls,” 2011, by Jeanne Mackenzie, oil, 8 x 10 in.
“I love it over there,” says the Colorado artist. “They have goats and bunnies and all sorts of things — I’m just another animal in the barnyard. The chickens are so used to people, they think they are going to be fed when I come in, so they come over.”
Chickens aren’t known for striking a pose — or keeping one for very long. One might think only the speediest painters could depict a live chicken.
“They are moving targets,” Mackenzie concedes. “It’s different than cows and horses. But chickens are all the same shape for the most part, so you have a lot of reference. If you lose one position, somebody else is going to take that position soon. Once you get the chicken essence down, you are not so worried about them moving around so much.”
Dramatic lighting can improve a chicken painting, says Mackenzie.
“Mi Amore,” 2011, by Jeanne Mackenzie, oil, 12 x 24 in.
Still, these are animals, and animals are not inclined to help with a painting. Mackenzie says she once set up in the sun, ready to paint the birds as they pecked and poked about the yard … only to find that they gave up on finding a snack and hid in the shade. “I finally got some corn and threw it on the ground, and they ate for a while,” the artist recalls. “You have to pay your models … but the price is right with chickens. And I did walk away with a few eggs.”
Chickens won’t bother you or your easel, Mackenzie says. They stay focused on what’s on the ground, and whether they can eat it. Chickens can have personality, with some staying aloof or just watching the goings-on, and others aggressively trying to get all the food.
“Cock a Dandy,” 2012, by Jeanne Mackenzie, oil, 10 x 10 in.
Mackenzie says an important consideration is the light effects of the scene. “Chickens are wonderful to paint backlit,” says the award-winning painter. “They get a lot of wonderful reflected light from the straw on the ground, plus cast shadows that are lavender and complement the shape. Finding the right time of day is important; you want a little light shining through — they catch light dramatically.”