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The bobcat painting is done. I’ve called it “Stepping Lightly”. It will make it’s debut at Wild Visions2, the group show with five other Humboldt County artists next month. The opening reception will be August 9 from 6-9pm. More later about the show and the other artists.
“Stepping Lightly” oil 18″x24″
Now, a cautionary tale about reference and using captive animals as models.
I’m doing a painting that is a first for me, three panels. Here’s the reference I’m using. The animals were photographed at the Denver Zoo and the landscape is from up on Logan Pass in Glacier National Park.
Is that a great pose or what? It was morning, warm and sunny, and the ram was getting sleepier and sleepier and finally his head gently dropped onto the ewe’s back. She never even twitched. Click. Gotta paint it. But where to put them? I chose this rocky outcropping in Glacier because I liked the shapes and knew that bighorns were often seen in the area. I did a preliminary drawing of the animals with the idea of showing them on a shelf of rocks. I wanted to communicate how comfortable bighorns are in an environment that we would find “challenging”. Here’s an in-progress shot that shows my setup with my iMac.
It’s great because Aperture lets me zoom in and out as needed very easily.
Another in-progress shot with the side panels propped on either side. At this point, I sent a jpeg to wildlife artist Laney, who has said nice things about my work the couple of times I have met her. She specializes in bighorns and I wanted her to eyeball the animals for drawing or any other problems. She replied very promptly and said that overall it looked good, but that the ewe’s hoof was in the wrong position compared to the rest of the leg and that the ram’s muzzle was too thin.
I went back to my reference and compared what I had with an absolutely wonderful book, Mountain Royalty, by famous Alaska artist Doug Lindstrand. As you can see from my photo, the ram in particular is shedding out, so it was a little hard to see the structure. Doug’s photos solved that problem and there was even a picture of a ram in a similiar position.
What I ultimately found was that while I had accurately drawn what was in my reference, it wasn’t “right”. The ewe’s hoof was at that funny angle, but that didn’t mean I should paint it that way, so I fixed it. When I compared my reference ram’s head with the ones in the book, I found that his head was really quite odd. Longer, thinner and with a roman nose that was much more exaggerated than the wild sheep. So I fixed his muzzle and re-proportioned his head as needed.
The other question I had for Laney was whether or not this behavior might be observed in the wild. She replied that the rams were only with the ewes in winter, so maybe I’d like to add some snow. Ah, well. In the zoo, of course, the animals are pretty much together all year around. In the wild when I shot my reference at the beginning of May, it was unlikely. Cue the snow reference. And, what I found was that it was the frosting on the cake since it brought the cool of the sky into the rock area and helped pull the whole thing together. Thanks Laney!
The moral of this story is that you can’t have too much reference, don’t assume that zoo or captive animals look the same as wild ones, do your fieldwork and learn about your subjects and finally, it is tremendously helpful to have a knowledgeable eye like Laney’s to look over what you’ve done and to it keep on track.
I finish the painting today and it goes in for framing tomorrow. I’ll post an image of it once it’s on the wall at the show.
ART THOUGHT FOR THE DAY
Experience enables you to recognize a mistake when you make it again.
Franklin P. Jones
From the stats it looks like the post of my pet sketches was one of my most popular so far, so here’s more. These are done the way I usually work, with a fine tip gel pen. They’re done fast. Under five minutes, sometimes under two.
Niki, our tri-color rough collie
From the San Francisco Zoo. He really did hold still long enough for this head study.
These were ultra-quick, a minute or less, but I caught the gesture. Also San Francisco Zoo.
And, looking through my old sketchbooks, I came across the studies I did at Julie Chapman’s workshop in 2005. These are of Daisy, the badger, who alas, is no longer with us. Notice that I didn’t worry about eyes. I was trying to capture “badgerness”.
If you decide to try this, and I hope you do, keep in mind that every animal is an individual and look for what makes them them. If you like what I do, I think that’s a big part of it.
I’ll end with the bobcat painting, now called “Stepping Lightly”. I’m thinking of punching up the highlights on grass and maybe futzing (that’s the technical term, of course) with the logs some more, but that’s about it.
PLANET SAVER TIP OF THE DAY
This one’s easy. Start to become aware of how you use energy. You can save money and help slow down climate change by using less and using it more wisely. Just little stuff to start- turn lights off when you leave a room, don’t leave the tv on if no one is watching, turn your thermostat down a couple of degrees or up, depending on the temperature where you are.
Now, you must know that this kind of thing, while necessary and desirable, is the “low hanging fruit”. It requires simple changes of habit, not real sacrifice. If you’re already doing the above and are ready and able to take the next steps, consider updating your older appliances to new, energy-efficient models. Change your incandescent light bulbs to compact flourescents or LEDs.
What ideas would you like to pass on to me and my readers? We’re all in this together, after all.
A few of you may remember that I was posting images of an elk painting in progress. I’m sure the suspense has been killing you. As it happens, it was a bust. Too many problems with the drawing of the elk that I saw after I’d let it sit awhile. Win some, lose some.
But here are two that are well on the way-
First is a bobcat I photographed at the Triple D Game Ranch and transferred to a more interesting setting that I shot on the Firehole River in Yellowstone. The trick, of course, is to make the light match when the reference is from two different locations, like Montana vs. Wyoming. However, both are morning light.
The second is Mt. Moran at Grand Tetons National Park with the famous Oxbow of the Snake River in the foreground. I’ve got three pieces of reference up for this one. One is overexposed for the mountains, but has the compositional angle I want and great reflections. The other two have rich color and show more detail of the mountain. For this subject, as I learned from a workshop I took a few years ago with Jim Wilcox, one has to introduce some atmospheric perspective in order for the painting to “read” correctly. The air is soooo clear that the Tetons look to be a few hundred yards away, but actually they are around 10-12 miles from the major vantage points along the road. So, getting the value relationships right is critical. And so is being decisive and accurate in the drawing of the mountain. It’s really a portrait in rock. Stay tuned.
ART THOUGHT FOR THE DAY
I see a flower. It gives me the sensation of the beautiful. I wish to paint it. And as soon as I wish to paint it I see the whole subject-flower-changed. It is now an art problem to resolve.