Here are four more new paintings to go with the two I posted last week. I had a problem with the background in the last one and thought I’d show how it was and how I changed it.
Here is one of the takhi (Przewalski’s horse) that I saw when I was at the Khomiin Tal reintroduction site in western Mongolia in September of 2006. It was first light a group of horses were coming down out of the hills to graze.
This was a harem stallion that I saw at Ikh Nartiin Chuluu last fall. He was also the model for Mongol Horse #2. It amazes me that, given the extreme environment that they are exposed to year in and year out, that these tough small horses grow such long manes and tails. But they do.
I saw this Rocky Mountain bighorn lamb with his mother near Tower Campground in Yellowstone National Park a couple of years ago. They were by the side of the road, which lacked interest as a setting, to say the least. So I moved him.
This argali ram, along with five others, gave me an eyeful on my first morning at Baga Gazriin Chuluu Nature Reserve in Mongolia in July. I wanted to work on capturing the quality of light without worrying about painting too many animals, so decided to start with a small painting. I had one idea for the rocks as you’ll see below but, on further review, something wasn’t working. Time to get out the scraper. What do you think was wrong? Answer below the second image.
There were a couple of problems. One, in getting into the grooviness of painting the rocks, I completely lost track of my light source. The rocks are in full light, but are on the same plane as the ram. Buzzz. Second, I tried to use what I knew to design the rocks more or less from memory, which resulted in a boring, distracting (what an awful combination!) set of shapes. I went back to the rocks that were in the original photos and saw that they were much less rounded, which provided a needed contrast with the curves of the ram.
There’s a saying, referrring to humans, that “the eyes are the windows to the soul”. I believe this is every bit as true for animals. Now, whether or not, in the religious sense, animals literally havesomething that could be called a soul, is a question I’ll leave to others. But in the sense of consciousness, sentience, “isness”, I believe that absolutely. Animals experience emotions such as happiness, grief, depression, hopefulness and silliness, feel pain, form a wide variety of relationships, communicate with each other within and across species, teach and acquire wisdom and culture, use tools and, in some cases, clearly demonstrate self-awareness in the human sense. They have as much right to a safe and decent life on this planet as we do.
Whatever it is that vanishes from an animal’s eyes when it dies, before that point, there was an individual someone at home in there.
That is my starting point for drawing and painting animals. And so, in a sense, the “eyes” have it. I often do the eyes first and, not infrequently, there is my subject looking back at me. I’ve even been known to say out loud “Well, hello there.”
Here are five drawings of eyes, using the Wolff Carbon pencils on vellum bristol. I did a little something different with a simple border, an idea that I picked up from fellow student when I was in art school. It lets simple designed compositions occur instead of just having the drawing randomly trail off.
A reticulated giraffe that I photographed in the Samburu, 2004
A Holsteiner stallion, who I did a portrait commission of year before last.
A bighorn sheep ewe from the Denver Zoo.
A serval, also from the Denver Zoo.
And our own dear tabby girl, Persephone, aka The Princess.
I’m just finishing a second productive week in the studio after my return and, boy, does it feel good. As did getting out yesterday afternoon and planting some new roses and spring bulbs.
HEAVY LIES THE HEAD
I’ve got a number of pieces in progress, but wanted to share this one that was completed before I left. It was in the Wild Visions 2 show and I hadn’t had a chance to photograph it until a couple of days ago. I’ve never done a three-panel piece and I’m thrilled with the framing. Unfortunately, the framer has gone out of business and there isn’t anyone else around here who can do this kind of custom work. Drat.
The animals, bighorn sheep, were photographed at the Denver Zoo. It was a warm morning and the ram couldn’t keep his eyes open. His head kept, drooping, drooping, until it sank onto the back of the ewe, who never even blinked. The pose was irresistible, but I did check with Laney, a nationally known artist who specializes in bighorns, to ensure that this behavior could have happened in the wild.
Of course they needed a more interesting setting, so I found some nice rock formations that I had shot up on Logan Pass in Glacier National Park, where bighorn sheep are often seen. Laney suggested adding the bits of snow so that the presence of the ram and ewe together would be consistent with the season.
Besides the great pose, I wanted to try to capture the feeling of the environment bighorns live in and how casual they are about heights that would make a lot of people faint with vertigo.
CHEETAH HEAD STUDY
Some animal’s heads are more challenging than others. There are subtleties to the forms that, if they are missed, leave the viewer who knows better feeling that the painting was “close, but no banana”. Cheetahs seem to be one of the difficult ones. I think I’ve seen more badly drawn and painted heads of cheetahs than maybe any other animal, so I’ll hang it out there and offer for your perusal this new head study.
All in all, everything worked as it was supposed to.
My husband was very happy with his LL Bean Katahdin 20F sleeping bag. He liked the larger size and the fact that it was rectangular. The Climashield fill kept him comfortable. The only down side was that it didn’t pack down as small as my down bag.
My Katahdin 20F down bag was great, as usual. One of the nice things about the rectangle is that it can double as a comforter. This is handy in a ger, which has regular beds with sheets and blankets. It can get cold at night though, but unzipping the bag and throwing it over the bed worked well. And if the mattress was too hard, as is sometimes the case, I used the bedding as a “pad” and just slept on top of it in the bag.
The LL Bean ripstop cotton pants were absolute winners. We wore ours day after day and they seemed to shed dirt and never felt icky. My husband likes them so much, he now wears them for his everyday pants.
Loved having the New Balance walking shoes for around town and camp as a change from the hiking boots. Hadn’t made space for that before. The LL Bean Cresta Hikers were, once again, comfortable and functional. David bought a pair of Keen hiking boots, which he really likes for their comfort and breathability. What we found, however, during the deluge at Ikh Nart, when we had to walk around 40 yards to the toilet, was that his boots wetted through pretty quickly. Now, he hadn’t waterproofed them, because we hadn’t anticipated such hard, out-of-season rain, but my boots kept my feet dry throughout. They are leather, which I probably wouldn’t buy now unless I could source them to humanely raised cattle, but they really performed.
The Smartwool socks rocked! The Thorlos tended to get sweaty. Next trip I’ll take more Smartwool for the field and a few Thorlo light hikers for around town.
Loved the Patagonia fleece for comfort, but will probably replace it to reduce bulk. It took up a lot of space in my duffle. The Travelsmith jacket was great. Too bad they don’t make it anymore. The only problem was that the patch pocket got caught on something and ripped loose.
I love, love, love my Icebreaker 100% merino wool thermals! The top and bottom together take up less space than one piece of the other brand. I didn’t need them very much, but found them very comfortable when I did wear them.
It’s interesting how things are going full-circle for some outdoor gear. All there used to be was cotton and wool. Then the new, improved synthetics came along and, overall, they were an improvement in weight, performance, etc. But I’m finding that the new cotton and wool products work as well, if not better, and are not made with petroleum by-products.
The MetroSafe 2000 purse was good, as usual. Very functional, practical and unobtrusive.
My old standby neck scarf and hat did the job, also as usual.
The luggage came through fine. It was nice to have the lower rigid-side compartment on the bottom of the big one for odd, ends, extras and art purchases. It’s a rolling Sportsman’s gear bag from LL Bean. The small one, which Bean doesn’t make anymore, holds the camera equipment, toiletries bag and the minimum needed to survive a day or two without the big bag.
ART THOUGHT FOR THE DAY
“There is a common foundation from which all the arts rise, and that is the need for self-expression on the part of the artist,-expression of his own personal experience, whether it be by words, as with literature; by sound, as with music; by pigment or with plastic shape, as with the graphic arts. But there is a further condition attendant upon this expression of which we do not always take account, namely, that the artist’s personal experience must be emphasized by strong feelings, by enthusiasm, by emotion, or the result is not art.”
Notes on the Art of Picture-Making by C.J. Holmes, Slade Professor of Fine Art, Oxford University, 1909
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.