TBT: “Hayden Valley Thunder

Hayden Valley Thunder

TBT (Last one till Inktober ends on Oct. 31, then it will become an occasional feature) “Hayden Valley Thunder” from 2003, Oil 30×15” Private collection: I had a great piece of reference from the Hayden Valley in Yellowstone National Park of this bull bison standing on the hill with clouds behind him. I’ve always love Maxfield Parrish. So I decide to try combining the two by changing out white clouds for sunset colors. I also added the cow from another reference photo.

Paintings in Progress

A few of you may remember that I was posting images of an elk painting in progress. I’m sure the suspense has been killing you. As it happens, it was a bust. Too many problems with the drawing of the elk that I saw after I’d let it sit awhile. Win some, lose some.

But here are two that are well on the way-

First is a bobcat I photographed at the Triple D Game Ranch and transferred to a more interesting setting that I shot on the Firehole River in Yellowstone. The trick, of course, is to make the light match when the reference is from two different locations, like Montana vs. Wyoming. However, both are morning light.

The second is Mt. Moran at Grand Tetons National Park with the famous Oxbow of the Snake River in the foreground. I’ve got three pieces of reference up for this one. One is overexposed for the mountains, but has the compositional angle I want and great reflections. The other two have rich color and show more detail of the mountain. For this subject, as I learned from a workshop I took a few years ago with Jim Wilcox, one has to introduce some atmospheric perspective in order for the painting to “read” correctly. The air is soooo clear that the Tetons look to be a few hundred yards away, but actually they are around 10-12 miles from the major vantage points along the road. So, getting the value relationships right is critical. And so is being decisive and accurate in the drawing of the mountain. It’s really a portrait in rock. Stay tuned.


I see a flower. It gives me the sensation of the beautiful. I wish to paint it. And as soon as I wish to paint it I see the whole subject-flower-changed. It is now an art problem to resolve.

Georges Vantongerloo

New Paintings, Book Review, Camera Drama cont.

Took the Nikon D70 and lens in to our local camera store. Classic good news and bad news. The lens is fixable and is being fixed. The camera body could have been, for half what it cost new, and then I’d have a repaired (after having hit the pavement hard ), four year old camera body for the Mongolia trip in September. I don’t deliberately abuse my equipment, but it does end up with stories to tell. So, I sucked it up, decided to trust the gods, and bought a Nikon D80, the follow-on. It’s, uh, killer great. In general, it’s just more of everything than the D70. Larger file size, bigger ISO range, etc. So far, my favorite part is the bigger monitor. Very handy when photographing paintings.

Which I just got done yesterday. Here are a couple of the newest. The bison is called “Autumn”. I shot the landscape in Yellowstone last year at the end of September as the season changed. It went from sunscreen to snowing in 48 hours. The coyote, also from Yellowstone, doesn’t have a title yet. If you provide the winning suggestion, I’ll send you a pack of twelve assorted greeting cards with my art on them.


I promised a review of “I’d Rather Be In The Studio!”, by Alyson B. Stanfield, who runs ArtBizCoach.com, so here tis:

How many of you fellow artists out there: try this show/run that ad/enter another competition and hope that somehow, sometime, lightning will strike and you’ll sell out your show or a collector will buy ten of your paintings or a big gallery will hunt you down and beg to show your work and you’ll be on your way to fame, fortune and winters in the Bahamas or, in my case, Hawaii?

Ain’t gonna happen. How many of us have held ourselves back with this kind of magical thinking? Honestly, it really just gets in the way when you think about it. If you’re waiting for the Fine Art Fairy to come along and sprinkle you with Success Dust, then you’re probably not actively building your career in an effective, organized way. Which means you’ll continue to flail around and wonder where the money is going to come from for that next tube of Cadmium Red (for you non-artists, that’s one expensive color!).

You can “join the artists who are ditching excuses and embracing success” for starters by reading Alyson’s book, the subtitle of which is “The Artist’s No-Excuse Guide to Self-Promotion”. What I like about it is the active voice, the practical steps you can take and why they are important.

The contents are organized around all the excuses Alyson has heard in her career working with artists both as a museum curator and now as a art marketing consultant for artists. Some of the excuses include “My art speaks for itself” (no, it doesn’t), “I have no idea where to begin” (start with your art), “There aren’t enough hours in the day to do it all” (organize your information) and, of course, “I’d rather be in the studio!” (start by defining success for yourself). She then addresses each one with specific Actions, which include exercises you can do to start to get the hang of it.

One of the things that surprised me at first was her emphasis on The Mailing List. Sure, I have one and when I want to send out postcards, which I do a couple of times a year, I ask my husband, who maintains it for me, to do a label run. I put out a sign-up sheet at events and shows and he faithfully adds the new names for me. And…that’s…about….it. Sound familiar? Did Alyson ever open my eyes to what a mailing list is, can and should be and how absolutely fundamental it is to a successful career as an artist.

She has a website and a blog (and tells you in the book how to make the most effective use of both) and she does private consultations. I was going to go that route until I read the book. I could tick off so many changes that I need to make already that I’ve decided to implement those and then run it all by her to see how I’ve done and what I still need to do.

What is really all comes down to as far as she is concerned is that you have to own your own life and career and take total responsibility for it.

So, to check out Alyson:

www.artbizcoach.com (Alyson’s home page)

www.artbizblog.com (Alyson’s blog, obviously)

www.Idratherbeinthestudio.com (the book)


And just for fun, the oriental poppies are blooming in my garden. It’s raining today, which we badly need, so the poppies really add a “pop” of color outside my studio.

Eggs and Elk

Ok, here it is, as promised. Sure to bring a million dollars at auction 1oo years after I’m dead and gone (which means it will probably go for about five bucks). Took about 30 minutes.


I thought that I might start to post works in progress which, one, always gives me something to blog on, and two, may provide one answer to “How do you artists do this stuff?” So, here we have a start of a cow elk that I photographed in Yellowstone in June of 2005, along with the reference photo. I was “game driving” between Mammoth and Norris and up on a hillside a group of elk were grazing. As you can see, they were in one of the burned areas. Lots of downed tree trunks and fresh new pines coming up.



The first questions I ask myself when I have an idea for a painting or am inspired by reference I shot are:

1. What makes me want to paint this? In this case, it’s a combination of the light, her graceful pose and I haven’t done an elk painting for awhile. A painting needs one strong idea and everything else is subordinated to it (Thanks, Scott Christensen). Every artist finds their own way to do that.

2. What is the best size and proportion of canvas to communicate the idea of this painting? (Thank you, John Banovich) As you can see, since my idea is the cow elk with the great light, most of the background was extraneous, so I chose a vertical format. This is a simple subject and, for me, didn’t really call for a big canvas, 16″x12″ seemed about right. But someone else might have decided that female animals don’t get the prominence in the art world they deserve and done her six feet high. Both are equally valid choices. I’ve had viewers of my paintings comment that they like seeing something besides bloated trophy males and enjoy my more off-beat subjects, which is encouraging. But ultimately I paint what I want, the way I want and then try to find a market.

3. As I lay in the drawing with a brush, I’m already thinking about the value (light/dark) pattern. I want the area of highest contrast where I intend the viewer’s eye to land. So, from the beginning I’m altering my reference to suit the idea of the painting. This brings us to the use of photographs in painting; the good, the bad and the sometimes seriously ugly. I have strong opinions about it (surprise. not.), but that’s a topic all by itself. Suffice to say for now that if you don’t have a strong idea of what your painting is about, then you may end up as one of those legion of artists who end up copying their photos, rather mindlessly sometimes. The key is “mindless”. Photorealists have made a quite conscious choice to work a certain way. Do what you want how you want, but do it by choice, not default.

So, here we are after two sittings. During the first, I solved the design: where the animal would be, how big and roughly how the surrounding habitat would go. In the second, which took about an hour. I refined the drawing, laid in my darkest tones and figured out roughly where the small pine trees would be, watching out for bad tangents (which is when two objects on different planes touch, which destroys the illusion of three dimensions) and deciding where the areas of highest contrast would be. California landscape painter Kevin Macpherson comments in one of his books (buy both if you want to self-study oil painting) that a painting is a series of corrections, which is so, so, SO true. When everything is corrected, you’re done. So simple, really.

Final notes (for now): I work mostly with round brushes. I like the calligraphic marks I can make with them, having been a calligrapher and sign painter at one time. I go 3-5 shades darker in value all over and then come back in with successively lighter values. I also try to work “lean to fat”, artist talk for going from thin paint to thick paint. Look at some traditional oils next time you’re at a fine art museum and you can see it. It’s one reason only seeing reproduction is of such limited use. Everything is flattened out. Original paintings have a literally third dimension of paint thickness. Fellow artist Julie Chapman’s work is a perfect contemporary example. You can’t really appreciate her lush, juicy brushwork unless you’re looking at the real thing.