Art And Memories From The Susan K. Black Foundation Workshop In Dubois, Wyoming, Sept. 2016

mt-moran
Mt. Moran; pen and ink, grey felt tip brush on paper

I got back home at midnight last Saturday from two days in Grand Tetons National Park and five days at the 15th Annual Susan K. Black Foundation workshop. Both were a resounding success. You can read about my time in the park here. This post is about the workshop, which I’ve attended four times in the past and plan to go to next year.

All the previous instructors had been invited and almost all of them where there, including nationally known artists like James Gurney, John and Suzie Seerey-Lester, Greg Beecham, Mort Solberg, David Rankin, Jeanne Mackenzie, Andrew Denman, Guy Combes, Ann Trusty Hulsey and John Hulsey, all of whom I know personally or have studied with or both.

One of the main events is the Quick Draw, a traditional name but almost every artist at this workshop did paintings. Here’s some photos of the event in action. It’s followed by sketches and watercolors that I did in the Grand Tetons and EA Ranch.

gurney-pronghorn
James Gurney, known best for his “Dinotopia” books, painted a portrait of this pronghorn antelope in casein, gouache and colored pencil
rankin-osprey
David Rankin, who I worked with most during the week (more on that in a future post) painted an osprey
guy-cheetah
Guy Combes did a lovely painting of a cheetah
andrew-owl
Andrew Denman created a graphite on paper drawing of a barn owl
phelps-portrait
Although he’s better known for his sculpture, John Phelps painted a portrait the old-fashioned way…from a study drawing
j-s-l-moose
John Seerey-Lester chose to paint a moose, one of the very popular animals to see in the Grand Tetons
hulsey-landscape
John Hulsey who, with his wife Ann Trusty Hulsey, publish the online art website and newsletter The Artist’s Road, went for a late light landscape in watercolor
beecham-polar-bear
Greg Beecham chose to paint a polar bear, bringing in the whites over a toned canvas

The weather was partly cloudy while I drove around Grand Tetons NP, which meant interesting light that could change very quickly. The aspens and cottonwoods were turning to their fall colors, too. All in all a perfect time to be there.

Both of the first ones were painted over the course of a couple of hours along the Moose Wilson Road.

aspens
Aspens- watercolor on Saunders Waterford paper 8×8″
aspens-and-storm
Aspens with storm clouds- watercolor on Saunders Waterford paper 8×8″
dsc_8090
Clouds and light
ea-ranch
Scenery at EA Ranch, near Dubois- watercolor on Arches cold press paper 8″x4″
ea-horses-1
Pen and ink sketches- Sakura Micron .01 pen in a Beta Series Stillman and Birn sketchbook
version-2
Pen and ink sketches- same media as above
skb-cd-1
Contour sketches at SKB- same media as above
skb-cd-3
Contour sketches, SKB and the Denver airport- same media as above

 

Fun Times At The Susan K. Black Foundation Workshop! A Personal Album

The annual exercise in cat-herding....the official SKB group photo
The annual exercise in cat-herding….the official SKB group photo. I’m somewhere towards the back on the right. (Photo by Anthony Cannata)

The main reason for my road trip to Wyoming at the beginning of last month was to attend the Susan K. Black Foundation Workshop for the first time in too many years. My travels to Mongolia have often gone into September and the workshop is always the second week so that it will be right after the Jackson Hole Fall Arts Festival. But this year I was home by the end of July.

In every good way, nothing had really changed and the welcome I got was touchingly warm. What sets this workshop apart is that there are always a number of instructors and one can bounce around between them as one wishes. You can learn from painters in oil, acrylic and watercolor. Plus, this year, sculptors. Even better, anyone who has been an instructor is permanently invited to come back every year and many do, so it’s equal parts workshop, a reunion of artist friends and colleagues and a gathering of the animal art and landscape clans. All in an informal environment with great food and terrific scenery at the Headwaters Arts and Conference Center in Dubois, Wyoming, which is about 90 minutes from Jackson.

There’s always a Special Guest Instructor and this year it was none other than James Gurney of Dinotopia fame. He also presides over one of the most popular art blogs in the internet, Gurney Journey, and has written what has become a standard book on the subject “Color and Light”. His endlessly inventive ways to work on location have been a real inspiration for me personally. So I wasn’t going to pass up the chance to watch him in action.

The  first day
The first day James explained his basic location painting set-up.
We got to see it in action right at the conference center.
We got to see it in action right at the conference center.
He was painting a scene from the kitchen as the staff prepared our meals.
He was painting a scene from the kitchen as the staff prepared our meals.
Saddle study by James Gurney
Saddle study by James Gurney

There were plenty of opportunities to work on location, including a couple of local ranches.

I found a nice spot down by the creek at CM Ranch.
I found a nice spot down by the creek at CM Ranch. (Photo by Anthony Cannata. Thanks!)
Picnic lunch at the Finley ranch.
Picnic lunch at the Finley ranch.
Lee Kromschroeder getting ready to paint.
Lee Kromschroeder getting ready to paint.
Some of the great scenery...
Some of the great scenery with the cottonwoods coming into their fall colors…
James Gurney and his wife, Jeanette, painting on location
James Gurney and his wife, Jeanette, painting on location at the Finley ranch.
In-progress photo
In-progress casein painting of old traps hanging on the wall of the log cabin.
Bob Bahr and Heiner Hertling getting serious.
Bob Bahr and Heiner Hertling getting serious with the scenery.
Our host, John Finley. His ranch has been in his family for over 100 years.
Our host, John Finley. His ranch has been in his family for over 100 years.

One of the best parts of the workshop is the good times with artist friends and colleagues, often in the evening at the local saloon, the Rustic Pine Tavern.

Guy Combes discovered a flyer for the workshop in a local newsletter so of course there had to be a photo. And since we're all animal artists I had to take one of him and his partner Andrew Denman posed under this imposing moose head.
Guy Combes discovered a flyer for the workshop in a local newsletter so of course there had to be a photo. And since we’re all animal artists I had to take one of him and his partner Andrew Denman under this imposing moose head.

Besides working out on location, attendees could also do studio painting.

I spent a day in Greg Beecham's class, getting great tips and advice on wildlife painting.
I spent a day in Greg Beecham’s class, getting useful tips and advice on wildlife painting. I’m in the back on the right. (Photo by, I think, Anthony Cannata)

One of the highlights of the week is the “Quick Draw”, which is actually a “Pretty Quick Paint”. It’s a great chance to watch a lot of very accomplished artists in action at once, creating auction and raffle-worthy work in front of a large crowd, including fellow artists.

John Seerey-Lester bows before Mort Solberg
John Seerey-Lester bows before Mort Solberg, just to make Mort crack up while he’s trying to paint. It worked.
Andrew Denman working on a graphite drawing of an egret.
Andrew Denman working on a graphite drawing of an egret.
David Rankin getting ready to paint.
David Rankin getting ready to paint.
Matthew Hillier hard at work. This was his first Quick Draw.
Matthew Hillier hard at work. This was his first Quick Draw.
But he obviously wasn't fazed.
But he obviously wasn’t fazed.
Christine Knapp worked on a fairly large sculpture.
Christine Knapp worked on a fairly large sculpture.
John Phelps created a small wolf.
John Phelps created a small wolf.
Lee Cable painted a portrait of a horse.
Lee Cable painted a portrait of a horse.
Guy Combes did a lion.
Guy Combes did a lion.
Greg Beecham harassed David Rankinl
Greg Beecham harassed David Rankin.

The final evening was an entertainment-packed extravaganza, starting with two suspiciously familiar faces who introduced themselves as Sir Charles Willoughby, who somehow had to keep order (good luck with that), and Chip Chippington (all the sleazy game show hosts you’ve ever seen rolled into one hilarious package).

Sir Charles Willoughby
Sir Charles Willoughby (aka Guy Combes)
Chip Chippington and his lovely assistant, Suzie Sparkle.
Chip Chippington (aka Andrew Denman) and his lovely assistant, Suzie Sparkle.

The fun started with a quiz to identify which instructor various species of dinosaurs were named after…

instrucasaurasesAnd I’m sorry to say that by this time I was laughing too much to get any pics of the rest of the show.

The night was capped by open mic performances, including one by the awesome kitchen staff.

A certain instructor came in for some ribbing.
A certain instructor (who painted the horse’s portrait for the Quick Draw) came in for some ribbing.
As did a certain well-known tv artist who painted "happy trees".
As did a certain well-known tv artist who painted “happy trees”.

There was a point during the early part of the evening when a slide show was shown of various attendees and instructors sporting a really impressive variety of hats. Getting into the spirit after the lights came up, James Gurney popped one of his Dept. of Art traffic cones (used to create space around where he is working on location in urban areas) on his head…

gurney coneAnd a good time was had by all….

gurney 4

 

 

Some Thoughts On Applying For Membership In The Society Of Animal Artists

SAA members and guests at the opening weekend of the 49th Art and the Animal; Rolling Hills Wildlife Experience

This post was originally written for the Society’s Facebook public page and blog, but I wanted to share it here since I think what I have to say relates not just to what my thoughts are about applying to join the SAA, but also lays out in general some of my beliefs about what makes good animal art. It’s illustrated with images of various members of the Society, who I am proud to call my colleagues and friends.

The deadline for the next round of consideration is coming up in mid-April. I thought that, having participated in three membership juries now as a member of the Executive Board of the Society, I would offer some observations and tips  that might be helpful to those of you who aspire to membership in the SAA.
A couple of notes before we start- First, I’m a painter and that’s what I know best. What I’m going to say applies to most other media, but creating a successful painting will be my main focus. Second, this article represents my personal views and is not an official statement by the SAA, any of its officers or the other board members. If you have any comments or questions, please direct them to me.
Now, to begin: I recommend that you do this exercise. Go to the Society’s website, visit the virtual museum and the individual websites of any member’s work that catches your eye. Then get out at least eight or ten of your own pieces. Line them up. Look at them objectively. This is not easy. We tend to be either too hard or too easy on ourselves. Do your best to be honest since that is when opportunities for growth happen.

The late Simon Combes giving a demonstration; Lewa Downs Wildlife Conservancy, 2004

Representational painting in general, and animal art in particular, have well-established criteria for what constitutes a “good” painting. These principles have evolved over a number of centuries. They are not “subjective”.

You are not in competition for a limited number of spots as would be true with a juried show. We usually have between two and three dozen applications to consider. We can accept all of them. Or none of them. Each applicant’s work is judged on its own merits.

Greg Beecham at the Quick Draw; Susan K. Black Foundation art conference, 2005 (Suzie Seerey-Lester to left)

Pick one piece that you honestly believe is at or is close to the level of the work of the artists who are already members.

You now need four more at or near that level, because one of the things that will sink an application fast is one or two good pieces followed by the jury seeing the next three or four go off the cliff. You will be judged by your weakest pieces. Consistency is very important.

Kent Ullberg gets inspired at the SAA 50th Anniversary event; San Diego Safari Park, 2010

Consistent in what? Glad you asked…

1. DRAWING: Animals have a physiological and behavioral reality that a competent animal artist has to understand and demonstrate to the jury. In other words, you need to be able to draw them with accuracy and understanding if you are a traditional representational artist and clear understanding if you are going to handle them in a more personally expressive way. You are hoping to join the ranks of animal artists who have been doing this, in some cases, for decades. They know if the drawing is correct or not. Which way a leg can bend, how a wing moves in flight or what the pattern of spots are on a leopard are not really subject to debate, however open they are to informed interpretation.

Karryl sculpts on location at the 50th Anniversary event; Rolling Hills Wildlife Experience, 2010

2. CRAFT: We want to see a solid understanding of your chosen media, whatever it is. If you decide to submit work in more than one media, then all of them need to be at an equal level of competence. Don’t submit a little of this and a little of that, hoping that something will stick, like spaghetti on a wall.

David Rankin on location, ready for anything at Torrey Lake: Susan K. Black Foundation art conference, 2005

3. DESIGN AND COMPOSITION: Do you have a solid grasp of design and composition? Have you made a conscious decision about every element of your piece? For instance, are the subjects in the majority of your submissions plopped automatically into the middle of the canvas or thoughtfully placed to carry out your central idea?

Andrew Denman gets worked over by an affectionate bobcat; he, Guy Combes and I visited the Sierra Endangered Big Cat Haven last year

4. PERSONAL VISION: Are you creating art based on a personal vision or simply copying photographs? (It is well-known that photographic images flatten and distort three-dimensional subjects like animals, so the artist must learn how to compensate for that if their goal is a realistic representation.) What do YOU have to say about lions and elk, butterflies and buzzards? Let your opinion, point of view and passion come through. HAVE an opinion, point of view and passion about your subjects.

John Seerey-Lester paints a mountain lion; Susan K. Black Foundation art conference, 2005

5. KNOWLEDGE: Do you understand basic animal anatomy? Do you understand the habitat of the species you are representing? Have you learned about their behavior as an inspiration for your work? Or is everyone just standing around? If you put an animal in a realistic setting,  you are now a landscape painter too. Are both your animals and any habitat shown depicted at the same level? Or does one lag behind the other?

Yours truly hard at work in the Gobi, Mongolia 2010

Animals are specialized subject matter that require study and the accumulation of knowledge over time to represent successfully. There are no shortcuts.

We are looking for artists who have mastered their art and craft at a consistent level and who present us with a body of five works which all reflect that level.

GOOD LUCK!