Category Archives: Painting animals

How the muse works …(sometimes)

On Saturday I realised that I was supposed to hand in a painting to the Art Society of Tasmania’s March member exhibition the VERY NEXT DAY. The theme is “From my Studio” and I’d been putting off deciding on my entry because I don’t really have much of a view from my little studio room. Both windows look out onto the side path which has a large concrete retaining wall a few feet away. I painted it with a mural years ago but it’s a bit faded now so the view is not so inspiring.I’d been wrestling with the idea of not taking the theme literally but instead thinking of it as a prompt.

“From my studio” I :

  • imagine dreamworlds of abstract patterns and shapes
  • reach into my memory and paint from images past
  • travel to far countries via my photo records
  • dip into my sketchbooks and reinvent a scene

but somehow this time I did want to represent something literally seen from my studio. It’s been niggling away at me and I just couldn’t make up my mind so on Saturday when I was tidying up my photos on my laptop I came across some great sky photos – they were taken outside my studio and I can see that sky through my window! 

Smoke filled sky from outside my studio window

It wasn’t enough on it’s own even though I liked the pattern of the trees against the sky so I gave it some more thought as I sanded back an old frame I’d just bought home from the recycling centre. I decided to use the frame dimensions as the painting dimensions and to do it in pastel. So there I had the bones of an idea, the format, the medium and size worked out and now I needed to flesh it out a bit more.

The format was a bit unusual ( 2:1 ) and it presented a few challenges. First I needed to crop my sky photo to fit whilst keeping the feel that had attracted me in the first place.

Cropped to fit the 2:1 format

  I felt the foreground would need something of real interest in it to make the painting work  and that a few diagonals would help to lead the viewer up into that wonderful sky. It must be interesting , be able to connect the strip of grass in the foreground with the trees in the middle and distance , fit in a narrow space and importantly , it must thematically connect as an idea with the sky- not a lot to ask right! One of my students had used a reference photo of mine with an old fence post during Friday’s pastel class and I’ve used that post before so I pulled out the photo and used it to block in a post on the bottom left which would stop the down hill run out of the corner as the eye followed the diagonal line of the sloping paddock ( we live on a fairly steep 5 acres). 

I did a little value study to see if the shapes would work and decided to add in a little extra grass in the foreground.

Value thumbnail

Having kept the viewer in the painting I really wanted to reward them for staying with me! There are a lot of birds around our place and they’re a constant joy so a bird seemed a good idea. I have a collection of reference photos I’ve taken  but none of them seemed right. The Black Cockatoos were big enough, I had photos of them in flight but they seemed too dark . The parrots were too small and too bright. Then I hit on the idea of a wedge tailed eagle , wings outstretched , landing on the post. I did a trial sketch of the eagle, thought it looked right and started on the painting. 

Wedge Tail Eagle sketch

My first go at the eagle wasn’t a success! It looked the right size in my sketch but when I blocked it in with charcoal I could see it was too small. There was no real connection between the grass and the trees..so out it came! 

This eagle is too small!

 In my final version I removed some of the trees behind the eagle so I could highlight it against the golds of the sky, the tail connects to the grass, the head to the sky and the wings lead up into the trees and onto the sky. I feel I’ve set up a good dynamic ,flow and counterpoint using the diagonals of the post, paddock, legs, wings and treelines. The old post stops the viewer from leaving via the bottom left corner. Although the eagle is fairly dark against the trees there is enough light and contrast from the white feathers and the golden glow of the back feathers so that he is easily seen. Looking at it now I can see that perhaps I’ve split it too neatly in half with the light and dark values but that’s a lesson learned for next time!

The Eagle’s landing

And that’s how I was able to come up with a concept to fit the brief, paint it, frame it and deliver on time. From the initial idea to the finished framed painting took me 6 hours and I’d been procrastinating for weeks! Sometimes it happens when it happens!

It’s been awhile…

Here is why it’s been awhile between posts…

I’ve been

  • inundated with Christmas painting commissions,
  • am taking a pastel class
  • and a workshop for beginners,
  • am on the committee organising the annual Etsy Made Local Christmas market
  • as well as trying to make stock for the market itself
  • and trying my hand at eco printing – some new experiments going on

 

Life has been super busy and blogging has taken a back seat. So here are a few photos of what I’ve been up to… in no particular order. What have you been doing ?

 

 

How much is that doggie in the window?

This was an unusual pet portrait commission but a lot of fun to do. I love the little wooden bird in the window . Looks like he’s having a chat with the dog. I don’t paint many interiors so I enjoyed the challenge of making interesting colour washes for the shadowed walls and capturing the highlights on the edges.

The pre historic artist.

It’s difficult to put into words how and why some art moves me so. I’ve often seen reproductions of pre historic cave paintings and found them interesting. Interesting is such a bland kind of word and accurately describes my reactions to these reproductions. I admired the semi accuracy of the bison and horses, I idly wondered what pigments they used and assumed they painted what they saw in their daily life.

It wasn’t till I visited my first cave with pre historic paintings that I experienced a visceral reaction to the dimly lit animal outlines painted as they were reverently introduced and illuminated by the guide. It surprised me and excited me. It caused me to speculate on the how and why of these ancient works of art. It sparked my imagination in a way I hadn’t expected.

This first cave I visited was Pech Merle and the visit was so memorable  because of the art but also because the guide was the grandson of one of the two boys who rediscovered the cave in 1922 . It was obvious by his reverence for the paintings and his patient attention to seeing that every visitor got a good view of each  that he felt a special connection to the place and the artwork

Image result for pech merle spotted horses

Since then I’ve visited several caves and each time I find myself inexplicably moved by the simple renditions of animals. I wonder what drove ancient man or woman to make torches , grind and mix pigments and then walk deep into a dark cave, using valuable time and resources to carefully create an outline of an animal. To seek out and use rocky contours to suggest the flank or shoulder. To re emerge from the darkness and leave their artistic expressions without an audience.

Cave art in Europe was not done as decoration for living quarters. They didn’t just think ” that wall could do with something to brighten it up” and mix up some water and ochre pigment from the floor and get the kids to do a bit of finger painting. There has been no evidence of occupancy of these caves. So was it for some kind of ritual, part of their spiritual life? Some cave art depicts animals not found in that region at the time the painting was done. This prompts the thought that art knowledge must have been passed down from one artist to another – to accurately depict an animal never seen would be a very difficult task. Was the artist an important member of the clan? Was the art part of initiation ceremonies? My list of questions goes on and on.

I paint for many reasons. In response to a particular light effect, because I want to capture a feeling, to express gratitude for this wonderful earth, to calm my racing mind, to create someting of meaning, to bring joy to self and others. My most burning question is what motivated the pre historic artist. Do we share the same artistic DNA? As I visit each new cave I find it easier to believe that the people who created these paintings were artists foremost , no matter what the role of the art in the social, ritual and spiritual life of their clan. The paintings reflect a delicacy, thoughtfulness and immediacy that I associate with art rather than design.

I imagine one artist teaching another to draw with sticks in the sand, to mix pigments and to make their first treck into a cave . They must have practised many times before their first cave painting as there is an economy of stroke that is only accomplished through repeated practice. Was the artist born or chosen? Was it the role of women or men or was it open to both?

I know the stories of Van Gogh, Da Vinci, of Rembrant and Vemeer and it adds context to their paintings. I long to know the stories of these pre historic artists and in their absence I make my own stories. One day maybe I’ll flesh out my stories and fill a book……

Portrait of a cow.

I had a request from a client for a large impressionist portrait of a cow with horns last week. He wanted a bit of collage as well and for it to be colourful and loose. This is not the sort of subject I usually do but I was up for the challenge!

I couldn’t find any patterned paper that I felt was right for the piece so I created my own by printing out info about cows ears and then ageing the paper with a mix of sienna and yellow ochre inks. I used the paper inside the ears as well as on the flanks.

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I knifed on the paint after mixing it with some modelling paste to give it extra thickness and texture but the background I left smooth for contrast. Then I mixed up some pinks and reds for the nose and mouth and added a splash of green at the side for a bit of zing.

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and here it is all come together….

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Waiting now to see what the client thinks – there may be a bit of revision to come!

 

Winter sledding- capturing movement.

I’m having a bit of a snow theme lately with my commission work! My client asked me to capture the excitement and movement in this winter sledding scene.  It was a bit of a challenge for me as I’ve only ever painted dogs once before….but then that’s one of the reasons I do commission work– for the challenge of subjects outside my usual comfort zone!

Creating movement

As with any painting I can see areas that are less than perfect but there are also passages I’m quietly pleased with. I like the sense of movement from the different leg positions of the running dogs, the way the fur on the lead dog is being swept back by the wind and the lolling tongues that suggest they’ve been running hard. The lead husky looks a bit wolf like but that’s really how he looked in the reference photos!

Huskies in harness
Huskies in harness

Research always helps

I did a bit of research on husky sled harnesses so I could understand how the harness wrapped around their bodies as it was difficult to tell in the reference photo – this really made it easier to paint the fur as it moved around and over the harness.

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I was saved the problem of painting facial likeness by the fantastic reflective visors! I like the way the man is leaning as they round the corner – it helps that feeling of movement. I added the flakes of falling snow for another touch of movement and a feeling of cold and fun as they sled through the swirling snow.

Practice makes perfect

So now I’m going to practice some dog portraits – I’m determined to get better! A workmate has clumber spaniels and St Bernards so I’ve offered her a portrait if she will give me an honest critique. I wonder how that will go?

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