“Elephant Seals, Piedras Blancas” Step-by-Step

“Elephant Seals, Piedras Blancas” oil 8×10″

“Elephant Seals, Piedras Blancas” is currently in “Magnificent Migrations: A Journey Through Central California” a joint exhibition of the California Art Club and the Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History.

I haven’t shared a step-by-step for awhile, so I documented the stages of this one more than I usually do. Below is the scene…hundreds of elephant seals hauled out on the beach, some just conked out in the warm sun, others getting into tiffs of one kind or another. We saw them on a trip back from Southern California in May, 2007. Piedras Blancas is located just north of San Simeon, home of Hearst Castle.

When I started looking through my reference I wanted strong shapes that would lend themselves to an abstract design, interesting heads and expressions and color variety. I finally settled on this one:

The next step was to do a drawing to set the composition and value pattern.

I scanned the drawing and then projected it onto a 8×10″ RayMar canvasboard panel which I’d precoated with a raw sienna tone. It doesn’t show up in the photo because the drawing was on white paper.

I restated the drawing with a round brush, paying particular attention to the features.

I used a “dirty” purple tone to lay in the shadow shapes that would be a relative warm that the cooler shadow color would go over.

Here’s the palette I used for the painting, a very limited one, but it worked well. There’s titanium white, ultramarine blue, raw sienna, Payne’s gray, …., raw umber, all Winsor Newton and Rembrandt Cold Gray and Transparent Oxide Red. So I have my warm and cool colors and primaries (the blue, raw sienna and oxide red), just going more toward earth tones than crayon colors.

The second pass covers the entire canvas. Loose and ugly at this stage. It is not at all unusual for a painting to seemingly fall apart and look really bad, but experience teaches one that if the artist has a clear vision of where they want to end up, then the painting will come out the other side just fine.

Then it’s a matter of refining the shapes, their colors and getting the value relationships right. One change I made between the one above and the one below was to add the tail flippers from a seal in another location to the lower left corner. It felt like something was missing and that the viewer’s eye might easily exit the painting there. And it added a third (uneven number) point of interest besides the heads.

All the cool tones are in and the darkest dark areas mostly established. And, once again, below is the finished painting, warmer than the reference photo with the emphasis where I wanted it, on those two faces with the interesting markings. I also liked the grey and greenish tones of the seal body on the far left. Notice also that between the step above and the finished piece below I removed the two front flippers at the top. Not interesting and visually distracting.

“Elephant Seals, Piedras Blancas” is available for purchase. Price on request. Please message me and I’ll put you in touch with the museum.

Two Juried Show Acceptances! In One Day!

Watchful (Saiga Antelope)
“Watchful (Saiga Antelope)” oil 24×30″

December 3 was quite a day. First I got an email from Focus on Nature XV informing me that “Watchful (Saiga Antelope)” has been accepted into their exhibition. A couple of hours later I got an email from the California Art Club letting me know that “Elephant Seals, Piedras Blancas” was going to join fellow members’ work in “Magnificent Migrations: A Journey Through Central California”.

The first one is a big deal for me since scientific accuracy in appearance and behavior is required. Here’s the criteria:

“The Focus on Nature jury selects original works of natural and cultural history subjects (in whole or in part), excluding human anatomy and portraiture, that demonstrates:

  • a high degree of technical skill
  • scientific accuracy, including taxonomic definition
  • aesthetic qualities, including composition
  • a unique scientific and/or artistic viewpoint, techniques, medium, or format (organic depiction, schematics, diagrams, etc.) including traditional, mixed and multimedia, or computer-generated images
  • a broad representation of artists”

So my saiga piece was in competition with artists who have degrees in scientific illustration. I have a BFA Illustration. I saw my subject, a young saiga antelope, in Mongolia when I was at Khar Us Nuur National Park in 2015. Generally, saiga run away the instant they spot a car or human, but this fellow stayed close enough for me to get some good reference photos. The mountain in the background is Jargalant Hairkhan Uul, which is sacred, as are all mountains in Mongolia.

The exhibition will be at the Roberson Museum and Science Center from July 21, 2019- January 12, 2020. You can find out more here.

Elephant Seals, Piedras Blancas
“Elephant Seals, Piedras Blancas” oil 8×10″

My second accepted painting “Elephant Seals, Piedras Blancas” will be in the California Art Club/Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History exhibition “Magnificent Migrations: A Journey Through Central California” from January 18-April 14, 2019.

What makes this acceptance special is that it was open to all members and that means I was competing with nationally-known. long established artists.  I just rejoined the Club this year which one does at the entry level of Associate Artist member. There is a review once a year in November for which one can submit work in hopes of getting a “promotion” to Artist Member and then beyond that are the Signature and Master Artists. That’s one of my goals for next year.

I saw these elephant seals on a trip to southern California many years ago. We were heading home up the coast on Highway 1. There was a big parking lot right on the ocean with a long stretch of beach on the south side, where I took this photo (which is closely cropped from the original) and a rocky area with tide pools on the north side. That day there were hundreds of elephant seals all over the place on both sides. And it was noisy! Young bulls were jousting with each other on land and in the surf, the pups trying to stay out of their way. My painting is from a long “pile” of seals who were laying about along the waterline. When I was going through my reference to find animal subjects from Central California, these two were an easy choice. I liked their expressions, colors and marking variations, plus the variety of colors on the ones around them.

You can find out more about the Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History here.

“The 12 Days Of Drawings Sale” 5


Don’t miss out on these one-of-a-kind original drawings!

“Elephant Seals” I saw these two bull elephant seals having an “argument” at the Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery near Cambria, California.

11.x14″ graphite on paper


Payment accepted through PayPal (within 24 hours or piece will be made available again). US shipping is included, as is sales tax when applicable.

To purchase: Leave a comment with “Sold”. I will reply and request mailing information. All work subject to prior sale.

10% of the purchase price will be donated to the Mongolian Bankhar Dog Project. https://www.bankhar.org/