At my workshops (most recently my winter one, Feb 14 – 17), one of the exercises to which I subject my participants (along with various other forms of torture) is drawing from life. This is guaranteed to be mostly frustrating, since the animals are anything but cooperative models and haven’t the first idea about holding a pose; however, if anything at all gets onto the paper, the exercise can also be very rewarding. This page from my sketchbook came from the afternoon we spent in front of the nursery room for a young cougar – who spent the entire time rolling, leaping, and wrestling with her tug toy – and a large crate containing a small raccoon, who spent the entire time trying every clasp, wire, and other apparatus on the crate.
So why do this? why draw from life, when we’ve already taken hundreds of photographs of similar animals earlier in the day?
My workshops focus on drawing … which really means they focus on seeing. One of the things we discuss is the distortion that various camera lenses introduce; knowing an animal’s anatomy means we can compensate. We also talk about the characteristics of a species – the roundness of a wild cat’s head, the sinuous spine of a cougar, the triangle made by the mask and nose of a fox, how a snow leopard’s tail is as big around as a python. All of this understanding – all of this SEEING – informs an artist and frees her to focus on her own vision, while still ‘getting it right’ – capturing the key elements of cougarness or raccoonness.
And I have found that every artist who paints animals does so because he or she loves animals – loves their beauty, their behavior, their complete otherness. Even though the life drawing is very hard, I never have to persuade my group to spend an hour in silent, loving observation of the animal.
Tags: art workshop
, life drawing
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A recent issue of Wildlife Art magazine interviewed an artist whose vision I’ve admired, whose work I find intriguing and original. She paints in quite muted tones, and the article said, in part:
She frowns on fantasy displays of color, believing them false. “I don’t have color getting in the way of the composition. Here are the colors in nature; how can I improve on that?”
I was surprised and puzzled at her comment. I do not know which artists she was thinking of … but surely one of the joys of the art world is that we all see in different ways. She has painted ravens, in quiet black and ochre tones – yet, when I depict a raven I see beautiful blues and purples in its plumage, and to paint it otherwise would be untrue to my vision. Cadmiums and carbazoles and ceruleans are essential to the passion of my process. And color IS part and parcel of my composition, most especially when it comes to those damnably frustrating and – if they work – satisfying abstract backgrounds.
The diversity of human – and art – experience is something not to judge, but to celebrate.
Painting: “Raven Study #2″, 6×8 oil on handmade muslin panel.
Visions West Gallery (Bozeman/Livingston, MT) 406.222.0337
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I am an artist. I have always been an artist, despite a 22 year detour through engineering college and a high-tech career in California. While I’m not at the beginning of my art career, I’m beginning this blog to share with you – art collectors, artists, and others – the many thoughts, questions, and musings that surround this wonderful, perplexing, passionate journey.
I will continue to publish my monthly Artzine with news, events, new images, etc. in a tidy email package. This blog serves as a place for us to discuss art in a messier, less digested form. I think about art, my paintings, and what the hell I’m doing (often with question marks) at least 600 times a day…there might be a nugget or two a week that will interest others as well.
Painting: “Illumination”, 20×30 – winner of the 2002 Arts for the Parks $50,000 Grand Prize, and my kick in the butt from the Universe to become a full time artist.
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