“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.

EBay Auction: 5-18-09 Takhi Mare and Step by Step- SOLD

Takhi Mare, Hustai National Park, Mongolia 8x10 oil on canvasboard
Takhi Mare, Hustai National Park, Mongolia 8x10 oil on canvasboard

I’m running a little behind, so I’ll cover the art stuff that’s going to Mongolia with me next week. In the meantime, I think I’ve solved the hot-water-in-the-ger-problem with a nifty little “stove” that uses solid fuel cubes and is specifically ok for use in tents. More later once it gets here.

I thought that I would share a few images of the creation of this study.

Initial drawing and shadow shapes
Initial drawing and shadow shapes

Adding the medium tones and basic hues
Adding the medium tones and basic hues

Putting in a background tone
Putting in a background tone

Modeling the form and refining the drawing
Modeling the form and refining the drawing

Correcting the shapes and working on the background
Correcting the shapes and working on the background

And...the finished study!
And...the finished study!

As usual, there was a cat working hard, right near by:

Persephone, aka The Princess
Persephone, aka The Princess

Mongolia Monday- Painting A Mongol Horse Stallion

Today I thought I’d share my record of the progress of a painting that is currently hanging in the Redwood Art Association juried membership show at the Morris Graves Museum of Art in Eureka, California, which is about 20 minutes from where I live. This sequence should give you a pretty good idea of how I work.

ikh-nartiin-chuluu17-31-04Here’s the reference image that I started with. It was taken in September 2008 at Ikh Nartiin Chuluu Nature Reserve. This group of horses wandered right past the ger camp one evening. I got lots of great pictures. Looking at them when I got home, I was struck by the stallion’s pose as he showed off around the mares. I haven’t done too many domestic horse paintings and I wanted to really focus in on understanding their structure and capturing the sheen of the coat, so I decided to use a fairly large canvas and only paint the horse.

mh-11Here’s how I started. The support is gessoed canvas on hardboard and measures 24″x36″. I did an initial lay-in with a brush. All I cared about at this point was getting the horse where I wanted him on the canvas and indicating the proportions correctly. You can see on the front leg that is lifted where I have started to do the actual drawing.

mh-2This step shows the finished drawing for the head, shoulder and front legs. At this point, I had dragged out all my books on horse anatomy to double check the structure and confirm that I had understood it correctly. Changes are easy to make at the drawing stage, but I’ll wipe out and re-do at any point if I see something that’s wrong. That’s just the way it goes sometimes and I don’t fight it or make excuses to myself anymore. I also have a full-length mirror behind me and I use it constantly to check the drawing for accuracy. I’ve designed the mane and the tail shapes, some of which are planned to go off the edge of the canvas so the horse isn’t floating and looks more like he just happened to be walking through the frame.

I’ve started to lay in the first layer of color on the body and hindquarters and am already varying the values to pick out anatomical structures like the hind leg tendon and to start suggesting the roundness of the torso. Since I’m working from a digital photograph, which flattens form, I’ve schooled myself to compensate by always looking for ways to get back the three dimensional form I know is there.

mh-3I’ve finished the initial color layers and am starting to paint with the knowledge that the strokes I make now will quite possibly be visible in the finished painting. I’m always refining the drawing as I go. One of the things that interested me about doing this particular piece is that you can’t see his eyes at all, so I wanted to capture his attitude and character from his body language and by painting him big on the canvas. I was also thinking of the design of the positive space -the horse- and the negative space -the background.

I’ve developed a procedure in which I go darker and the opposite color temperature than where I want to end up. When I come in at the last with the final value and temperature, the contrast will create the richness and variety that I really like.

mh-4Most of the basic lay in is done. All my darkest darks and medium tones are in, except for those patchy looking bits that I haven’t gotten to yet. Now the fun starts….all the juicy highlights, modeling and finishing touches that are a reward for the prep work leading up to it.

Mongol Horse #2-Ikh Nart Stallion oil 24x36 (price on request)
Mongol Horse #2-Ikh Nart Stallion oil 24x36 (price on request)

And here is the finished painting! Since all I cared about was the horse, I kept the background simple and just added some shadows to “ground” him.  I wanted a neutral tone that related to his color and then added the soft yellow band to give it a little visual punch. I feel like I have a much better grasp of horse anatomy now and I’m pleased with how it came out.