…de feet (or in this case, de legs).

A sequence:


 Wow, this looks amazingly awkward with just part of the background painted in, and probably no one can tell what animal this is going to be.


At least the setting is looking good, even if my unpainted unknown artiodactyl ain’t…


Ah! something recognizable. Now, this is obviously the way I drew the outlines on the canvas, but I am so not happy with this. Notice how our big boy is subtly ‘leaning’ on his right side? he’s supposed to be pausing in midstride up the slope, but it just ain’t working.


I am much happier with the placement of de feet / legs. This image is entirely out of my imagination, but based on various reference photos I took in different locations in the Rocky Mountains.

I was after something of the snottily regal nature bull elk have when they know they’re on top of their game antler-wise (and they do know – read Valerius Geist or other researchers on the subject), along with the gorgeousness of setting in which elk are often found.

In any case, the lesson here is…well, geez, sometimes you gotta wrestle with an image and listen to your own twinges of discomfort to keep hammering away at something (even if it means scraping out and reworking, and there’s plenty of that here. Heck, I’m in good company – Carl Rungius did it too).

16 Responses to “The Agony of …”
  1. Susan Fox says:

    I’m doing a multi-horse takhi painting right now, 24×48″ and have been going through the same thing. Did the preliminary drawing, which was fine. Did the graphite transfer, which was fine. Did the re-drawing with a brush and the first color lay in, then, on further review, not fine. Half the battle is figuring out exactly where the problem is and it’s often not the first thing you think it is. I thought two horses were too close together, but the real problem was that the heads were at the same angle. Boring.

    That was on Friday afternoon. I’ll see what I think tomorrow morning.

    Good of you to show how one simple change of one leg makes such a difference. I think it was Kevin Macpherson who wrote that a painting is really a series of corrections. When there’s nothing left to correct, you’re done!

    And yeah, ya gotta listen to that twinge.

  2. Barbara Ivey says:

    Enjoyed reading how you thought the problem thru and the results. Living in the high country of CO , these animals are so beautiful and you did a wonderful job of showing HIS strength.

  3. Julie Chapman says:

    Susan, awesome that you figured it out before you got all the way to final. I thought I was done, but just was NOT happy with the piece. Interestingly, my preparatory sketch had the two hind legs as in the final piece, but I changed it in the transfer to the canvas because I didn’t like it in the sketch. DOH, sigh!

    Barbara, thank you for the kind note. Bull elk really do have a certain arrogance about them that’s fun to try to capture.

  4. Angeline-Marie says:

    Thank you for your thought process!
    I am reminded of the 2008 Summer Workshop! What a great time! You said to eliminate as needed, adjust as needed, and paint, paint, paint.

    Still doing it, and trying to push values, too!

  5. Doug says:


    Great Job! Having that knowledge of anatomy really helps(as I have mentioned
    before) you see where things are off and to make the necessary corrections.
    Again great job!!

  6. Julie Chapman says:

    Angeline – good for you on working on all of that. Miles of canvas = a better painter.

    Doug, thanks for the kind note. Actually, moving the one hind leg forward meant a number of minor corrections to BOTH hind legs in order to make the musculoskeletal structure ‘correct’ for that position. It really would have been enormously helpful to have a photo of an elk in that exact pose and viewing angle…but I didn’t. As Bob Kuhn said, there’s no such thing as too much reference material. I had 3-4 different elk photos and several different landscape photos to put this painting together. A freakin lotta WORK.

  7. Susan Fox says:

    One of the things that I’m finding as I start to work bigger is that scale itself can change whether or not something works. What seemed fine on a sheet of 19×24″ tracing paper can look very different once it’s transferred to a, say, 36×48″ canvas panel. It stalled me out on an argali painting for a few months until I did a couple of other larger ones and could see what had happened. Now I’m ready to tackle it again.

    I think it’s span of vision. It’s easy to see “all” of an animal that is 8″ long, but takes an adjustment, or has for me at least, to see all of one that is 18″ long. Have you found that to be true, Julie? Anyone else?

    You’ve also demonstrated how necessary it is to be willing to make corrections at any point in a painting, even when one thinks it’s done. It’s so easy to make mental excuses and try to pretend that it’s all really ok. I used to do that and had to get over it to really move my work forward. Wiping out finished areas ended up not be an painful as I thought it would be. Mostly.

  8. Shrode says:

    Does the position of de feet make mai butt look big?

  9. Julie Chapman says:

    Mary – LOL!!! sure do for me.

    Susan: absolutely – scale really changes the difficulty and challenge of a piece. Sometimes a smaller work (less than, say, 14×18) allows me to get away with more suggestion (via loose brushwork, or color) than a larger piece. And while this painting is only 24×18, the elk in it is obviously more like 18″ high than 8″. It requires a lot of walking away from the piece to get it all in. That…or take photos of it – somehow scaling a piece down to the LCD on the back of my camera makes flaws really jump out at me.

    Wiping out finished areas still hurts. Or maybe I’m just a wimp.

  10. Susan Fox says:

    Taking a photo is a good idea. I’ll try that next time I need a new look at what I’m working on.

    What I do have is a venerable full-length mirror propped on my old easel and I use it constantly to check the drawing and well, just about every element. Plus making sure when I designed the studio that I could get at least 15 feet back from the painting.

    There was a story that a sitter told about having her portrait done by Sargent. He would stand waaay back from the canvas and look back and forth between it and his subject. Then he would quickly stride forward, lay down a couple of strokes, turn and walk away again. Over and over and over and over and……

    Wiping out hurts. Especially when it’s the part you think you really nailed. It’s like you have to kill the thing you love.

  11. Larry jewett says:

    “he’s supposed to be pausing in midstride up the slope, but it just ain’t working.

    Nice painting.

    …but (and forgive my asking) why is he headed uphill (toward the summit?) in the dead of winter?

    Most elk that I know (and I have made acquaintance with quite a few over the years) head down-hill (toward the valleys) when the snow flies.

    Tell the truth: is it because he is being chased by an artist with a camera?

  12. Larry jewett says:

    ps i never realized that “scraping” was indicative of being in “good company” (artistically speaking, at least)

    The few oil paintings I have done are really more “scrapings” than they are paintings (so I guess I’m in good company too!)

    Though I must admit, I am willing to leave the good company for acrylic if it means I can paint over something immediately without all the scraping (and believe me, there was a lot of it).

  13. Julie Chapman says:

    Larry, this was just a little slope the guy was trundling up (did see that part – a bull browsing along up a small hill). Interesting that this suggests he’s actually summitting or something…

    Yep, with acrylic you can overpaint (almost) immediately. Ever seen one of Bob Kuhn’s canvases in the flesh? lots of texture buildup as he knifed on paint layers.

  14. Marti Millington says:

    JULIE! WE MISS YOU!!!!!!!

  15. Crista Forest says:

    Oh, I understand leg issues. I’m struggling with that same thing on a deer painting I’m doing. But you figured it out and got it right. He now looks perfectly solid and well-balanced!

  16. Kiko says:

    AAAAAARRRRGGGGGGHHHHH!!!!!! Been trying to paint all day and NOTHING is working.

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