The Elk, part two


Went over to the shelter for my usual Wednesday afternoon gig yesterday. Almost didn’t go because I was feeling kind of tired. But working with the animals and getting out on my feet usually energizes me, so off I went.

And was dragooned by a kennel attendant about 10 seconds after I walked in to “help with an animal”. Dog or cat, I asked. Neither, she said. Hummm, I thought. We entered a small outdoor enclosure and there lying on the floor covered up with towels was a jersey bull calf, who had been brought in two hours earlier. He was a newborn, so new that his umbilical cord was still wet when he arrived. He was also pretty scrapped up. They don’t know yet if he was dumped (being a male of a dairy cow breed means you are of very limited use) or fell off a truck, but they needed to get some food in him immediately. So Kathy held the calf, I held the bottle of colostrum and with some sweet talk and stroking, I got him to start sucking at the nipple. Now, mind you, the only reason I ever wanted to go to the fair as a kid was to see the animals, but I’ve hardly ever even petted a cow and here I was getting to help save this (not-so-little) guy’s life. Deep satisfaction doesn’t begin to describe how I felt.

One of the animal control officers has extensive experience with cattle, both dairy and beef and also lives near the shelter, so he has volunteered to take care of him and make sure he eats. The calf also made the front page of the local newspaper this morning. I’ll post updates as I find out more and a photo if I can get one.


So, back to the *#@*!^ elk. Upon further review, something was seriously not right and I spent most of Tuesday and part of Wednesday fixing it. The drawing of the head was out a mile and the neck was too short, plus a few minor, quickly fixed problems with the hind end. I’ve now repainted the head, oh, I don’t know, six or so times. One of the challenges when faced with something like this is to do what needs to be done and still end up with something that doesn’t look labored.

Over at Julie Chapman’s blog, there is a comment thread discussing a common phenomena in art in which the artists who are competent professionals agonize and tear their hair out and artists who aren’t very good always seem to be pleased with what they’ve done, oblivious to the problems in their work and impervious to any criticism. I’m definitely in the “agonize” column. Just ask my husband.

One theory I have is that, as according to Buddhism, people don’t like to be uncomfortable. They move toward pleasurable things and cling to them and away from unpleasant or uncomfortable things. It’s hard to just be with whatever is going on without getting caught up in it one way or another. Really seriously creating art that is good, whatever the media, means living with frustration, mental exhaustion and doubt, none of which is particularly comfortable. Any dedicated artist reading this knows what it feels like when you’ve busted your butt all day and finally your mind just hits the wall and slides down to the floor. Then you know it’s quittin’ time.

But all that can be avoided if one takes the position that everything is fine, just fine. And, if you don’t get into juried shows or organizations, hey, it’s all subjective and they don’t know what they are talking about anyway. Letting go of that means that you have to take responsibility for your art and its shortcomings and, to improve, you have to be willing to do what it takes. And that’s one big thing that separates the amateurs from the professionals. You do what it takes to get it right. No excuses or rationalizations.

I remember when I made the conscious decision to pursue oil painting (and drop illustration, graphic design, etc.) and see just how good I could get. I realized that I had to face the possibility that I would give it everything I had and that, in the end, through an inability to exercise correct choices or judgement, that I would only ever be a mediocre painter. That thought made me sick inside. But I couldn’t turn away, so I accepted the challenge. None of this has ever come easily to me, so one thing I know how to do is hang in there and struggle through. Which brings us back to that bloody elk, part two-


There’s still LOTS to do. The modeling of the head needs work to describe the structure. I’ll probably do a pencil drawing to work it out better, so I can lay the paint in with confidence.

And, here’s one of my newest finished paintings, called “Mutual Curiosity”. When I was at Ikh Nartiin Chuluu, I spent two days out in the reserve walking around alone with a GPS, looking for argali so I could do behavioral observations. The trick was that I had to find them, without them seeing me, in order to do the observations. It wasn’t easy. This big old ram spotted me pretty quickly, but he let me follow him around for about twenty minutes. He was very thin, but had a huge, heavy horns. I filled him out a little. It was spring, so he had made it through the winter of 2005. I wondered as I did the painting if he made to 2007.


I also wanted to show the amazing environment that the argali of Ikh Nart live in. I compressed the scene a little from the photograph, but all those weird formations are within yards of each other.

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