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 tend to start a number of paintings in succession and then finish them in batches. Is it that way for any of you? Or do you have a more even work flow? How do you decide what to do next?
Here’s a new one from reference that I shot in Kenya in 2004. It was after the conclusion of the Simon Combes safari and I had flown back down to the Mara for a few days at Rekero Camp, which is on the Talek River. Fabulous camp, great staff, wonderful food, terrific drivers. I’d love to go there again. It’s apparently one of the places the Big Cat Diary people stay when they are filming and I can see why. It’s a tented camp right in the bush. Buffalo wander through and you can hear the hippos grunting and roaring at night since the tents are mostly right above the river. A real storybook African place.
A couple from Ireland were kind enough to invite me along on their game drives. My first morning with them we saw a serval walking down the road as the sun came up. I loved the color of the first light of the day hitting his or her coat, but most of the shots weren’t particularly paintable. We were so close that my point of view was from above ( I know, I know- boo hoo) or the gesture was awkward, etc. But…..I got some great reference at the Denver Zoo this last May. Nothing special in the Light Department, but wonderful eye-level alert poses. So I put the two together and came up with this. I kept the grass loose and impressionistic so that the focus would be on the cat, who is Up At Dawn.
I’ve also just finished my first in a planned series of paintings of Mongolian horses, the ones the Mongolians ride, not the takhi. I got a lot really good shots in great light, but picked this one to start with because I loved the color of his coat.
I’m going to be in a group show with a flower theme at my gallery, starting next week. It’s not something I’ve done a lot of, well, any, but I have some great hummingbird reference that I shot right outside my studio windows so….for something completely different…
I went back to an Art Nouveau/Arts and Crafts inspiration from my previous incarnation as an illustrator and used a decorative approach. Flatter light with a plain background. It was fun and I’ll probably do more flower subjects in the future. This one sure got me using my reds more than usual. The bird is a male Rufous hummingbird, just another little rottweiler in a bird costume. Thank goodness they aren’t the size of ravens or none us would be able to go outdoors when they’re around.
What do you listen to when you’re working? I can’t write this blog with music going, but otherwise I always have something on. I’ve acquired a taste for celtic-inspired world music and really like listening to Kila, Peatbog Fairies and Shooglenifty (No, really.). When I want to up the energy level, it’s time for some Afro Celt Sound System. I’ve been know to listen to Baka Beyond and Kenyan benga music when working on African subjects and Mongolian music when I’m…. you get the idea. Favorite rock includes anything by John Mayer, Mark Knopfler and Sting. Also still Stuck in the Sixties with Quicksilver Messenger Service (love, love, love John Cippolina, my guitar hero), Jefferson Airplane and of course The Beatles and Rolling Stones. When I come into the studio in the morning and need to ease in slowly, it’s Enya, Clannad or Nightnoise.
ART THOUGHT FOR THE DAY
If anyone, in the beginning of study, will set himself to study the various compositional forms, then experiment and practice with the variations of them, he will find that his instinctive taste is developed; and subjects will in time lend themselves easily to his feeling for unity, and soon he may be able to forget all about them.
It must never be forgotten and let this be most strongly emphasized – that the dominant aim of the student should be to train and equip himself to the point where he can judge unity and all of its contributing factors by “feeling”.