Mongolia

The Big Argali Painting, Part 3

When we last left the big argali painting (36×40″), I had worked through the composition and drawing. You can read that post here.

I finally got back to it this week. The first step was to use the good old grid system to transfer the drawing in pencil. Then I restated and refined it with a filbert (a flat brush with a rounded end) and a light tan tone. Scale does make a difference and the ram at the bottom, which looked ok in the smaller drawing, didn’t cut it when the head was around 13″ from the back of the horn to the nose. Back to the reference. And a much better head position. I taped a piece of tracing paper onto the bottom of the canvas and drew the new head. Once it was done, I moved the paper around until I had him where I wanted him. Then I did a transfer with graphite paper and a #7 pencil. The tricky part was where he overlapped the hind legs of the ram above him.

Brush drawing

Brush drawing

Now that I could see the painting at the final size, it was time to do the color rough. I have good reference and a pretty clear picture in my head of where I want to end up, so I decided to combine thinking value with working out the color scheme. All I’m after is the overall pattern of relationships, so it’s just blobs of color, but it has the information I need to get started.

Color rough, approx. 8x11"  on canvas paper

Color rough, approx. 8x11" on canvas paper

I set the rough down where I could see it and then started painting. The first step, for me, is to cover the entire canvas with a medium dark tone that is somewhat opposite the color temperature I’ll eventually end up with. This is all scumbled in with a fairly dry brush. The fun really begins when I start to add the lights in over the darks. Whoohoo!

Initial color lay in

Initial color lay in

The main ram is present. There’s someone home in there, even though the eye is only indicated with a rough shape. I’ve added the first layer for the sky. It will go one step darker and cooler and then I’ll paint lighter, warmer tones over it, but still letting a little of the original color show through.

First tone for the sky

First tone for the sky

Next, it was time to “rock”, as in scumble in the first tones of the rocks. The light is coming from the right, so I want to establish my light side and shadow side right away and also introduce some visual variety and form. I’ve also added the darkest darks for the shrubs. I stood back at that point to see if they made a good pattern in and of themselves. Ok so far. May need a couple more on the right and left edges.

I’m looking in the mirror a lot at this point as I define the shapes of the rocks. If you look on the right, you can see where I’ve eliminated some pinnacles. The ram’s head felt too confined. He needed more air in front of him.

Initial background tones

Initial background tones

I spent the afternoon working my way across the canvas. The drawing is mostly lost at this point, but that’s ok because I have it stored in my head, hand and on the tracing paper. The next step is to find it again. I’ve redone the grazing ram (again) and lengthened the front leg of the main ram. Before continuing, I’ll do a proportion check. Argali have big bodies with very thin legs, so they sort of look “wrong” on the hoof.

Initial lay in done

Initial lay in done

I’m kind at the point, which many artists hit, when I hate the painting. The drawing was so nice and now things are a dull, undefined mess. All I can see at the moment are the things that are “wrong”. Now is when it’s important to hold onto the vision in my head of the painting I want to do. Here’s the one part I still like. It’s the top of the far left side pinnacle.

Rock pinnacle detail

Rock pinnacle detail

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