I'm back in the studio and at it. I've lived with a sketch I just have to paint!
I'll post some pics soon, but I have several upcoming reference trips. I can never have enough reference. Back in 1990's when I began my art career in earnest, I used a 35mm film camera. I couldn't afford a long telephoto lens, but I made do. I mark those print photos among my most treasured possessions!
Texas Masters Show at InSight Gallery, March 2, 2018
"La Gran Sombra" (The Big Shadow) 22" x 28" oil/board InSight Gallery - Texas Masters Show
This painting is of a South Texas whitetail from a friend's ranch near Cotulla, TX. Two items set this painting into motion, the whitetail buck and the large acacia tree, (Huisache) he is emerging from behind.
The largest of these bucks instinctively hug the shadows of very early morning or late day, when the shadows become great. The thick expanse of brush south of San Antonio offer ample cover.
I really enjoy the raw beauty of the Brush Country. There is a peace that comes over me sitting in the stand and yet when an animal emerges my heart races with excitement. The camera captures the details and my paint records in sketch, the energy and emotion of the moment.
I can't tell you how many times I revised the drawing for this buck. I took it to different easels, different rooms, in the frame and without. After a break, I'd go back to wipe him clean and begin again. I was determined not to begin painting until I was fully satisfied.
One slight shift of the leg and he was too tense. After much tweaking, I was ready to paint!
"Ridgetop Morning" 9" x 12 oil/board
Just crated these for Settlers West American Miniatures Show. The Mule deer is from a recent research trip. Light is an important factor in my paintings. On this one, my aim was the morning light. I had followed this buck and sensed he was getting impatient with his quest for the does. It made sense he was going to crest this hill. The lighting was great, my model was superb and I was in position. The does meandered down the hill and out of view, but their addition to the scene was crucial to the painting.
"Jumping Jack" 9" x 12" oil/board
I am a fan of these fierce little rascals. They are able to thrive in the most inhospitable of areas of the American Southwest. Although correct to my reference, (I measured multiple times!) I decided this hare's ears were not long enough to convey the iconic jackrabbit look so I lengthened them.
I have several larger paintings in progress, so I set this up in a corner of the studio. I am simply working nuances at this point and picking at things that later would irritate only me.
As it turned out, there is a subtlety that I get a kick out of. I left it. There was an energy in my paint stroke when I laid in the paint between the rabbit's ears. I'm not one to get overly analytical but these light "squiggles" that happened by pure chance, delight me. The spontaneous energy, like an old tv's rabbit ear antennae seemed absolutely appropriate for the painting. I thank God when these happy gifts happen.
I'm keeping several paintings under wrap. I'm doing this more lately...living with them. Getting to the point without forcing. Letting the painting slowly develop with careful editing. It's an easier thing to do now at forty-nine.
"Gillespie Gold" was such a painting.
"Gillespie Gold" 22" x 35"
Another example that I held on to before releasing was "Timber's Edge".
"Timbers Edge" 24"x36"
I currently have three paintings I have been toggling. Not ready to show; they're months in the making. I rack myself making certain I won't later regret them leaving my hands. This is more than income. Art represents beauty, order, nature and all that is good. I deeply regret when I don't hold up my end in some small way. Comment and critique are for others to decide merit. I have to hold to the standards I set. To pull from a previous post, "run the good race".
Inspiration comes from the strangest of places! Recently I found Valisa watching harness horse racing on one of those upper cable channels. It was unusual enough to stop me. In 14 years, I have never seen her do this. Valisa grew up in Florida and her dad liked visiting the racetracks and jai alai. She was caught in a nostalgic moment.
These horses are incredible athletes with graceful long strides reaching speeds of 30mph. The race went the first lap without a break-away. The jockeys (called drivers) were obviously holding back. One name stuck out, Major Masterpiece. Very cool name! By the second lap, I found myself rooting for this horse on name alone.
That is what we artist yearn for, Major Masterpiece! If we paint it all the better, but someone, step up! Paint, make it count!
Lost in the moment I thought, "GO!"...Major Masterpiece was well behind but in a flash bolted to the lead. He was flying. The announcer was hyped with excitement as Major Masterpiece crossed to win. With the quintessential snap of a 1940's radio announcer, he proclaimed, "Major Masterpiece has fled the scene!"
It all resonated so well! Such a springboard of inspiration from such an unlikely source. I remind myself, good things are worth waiting for. With fresh eyes and renewed spirit, I go back to the studio.
"Fall Forager" 11" x 14" Holiday Miniature Show - Legacy Gallery
A couple of posts ago I mentioned I had put aside a couple of miniature paintings. Reworked, a couple of answers later and this is the result. Each painting really is a journey and I enjoyed where this black bear lead me.
"Tadai" 10" x 15" Holiday Miniature Show - Legacy Gallery
Transitioning from the miniatures to a 60" x 45" painting is stimulating! Just right outside of my studio window, the whitetail are in all-out rut. Our frequent red fox is in full coat. I harness my enthusiasm and settle in to paint; I have a long list and time is always too short. Cooler temps and fall colors. Opportunities are endless, stay tuned!
I received the nicest of emails from Southwest Gallery concerning a recently completed commission for one of their clients. It was of typical size, format, etc, but it was of the collector's prized alpacas. I had never painted alpacas and jumped at the opportunity to spend time learning about what sets one apart from the next.
It was a blustery cold day when we traveled to the ranch. The collectors already owned a large painting of mine and after viewing it hung over the fireplace of their main home, we set out to view the alpacas. I found them living up to their star status. These are prized show animals, traveling about in comfort matching Kentucky thoroughbreds.
I gathered reference of the animals and the desired view of the ranch and set to work. I admit, it was something I never expected to paint.
I always wanted to paint but growing up on a farm in Central Texas, I thought my subjects would be cowboys. I started painting in watercolor because it was gifted to my class by my high school art teacher, Dr. John C. Oliver. The art department at Elgin High School had few resources in 1987 except for one valuable asset, Dr. Oliver. He traveled from Austin each day to gift us with a better understanding of life and art.
Dr. Oliver made a difference! Our 1987 senior project was something along the theme of "Race of Life". While we worked on the project, Dr. Oliver brought in watercolors and I'll never forget, Arches Watercolor Paper. Nice stuff! We knew it was expensive and seemed like a luxury beyond reach for us. He had purchased this for the class from his own modest salary. He stressed that it was expensive and to MAKE IT COUNT!
My project was something of a skeleton falling down and a body going through a ribbon at a finish line. It probably can be viewed as very 1980's today, but I don't know for sure as Dr. Oliver bought it from me. I can't remember what he paid, maybe $15, maybe as much as $40, but it was my first fine art sale and a catalyst in my life.
This month's trial is micro-formatted. I'm now on my third painting of two for an upcoming miniature show! The first two were simply not good enough. In fact I seriously pondered taking my ax to relentlessly hack them into sawdust. As they say, third time is a charm. I have put aside the other two for a later time. They have redeeming value, but to be honest, I let my head get in the way. Good design, but something else went awry. This is the good fight...to remain positive.
I can get jacked up when I come across a great looking animal just doing its thing. This happened last year while on a reference gathering trip in Montana. I returned from a hike and was driving down a gravel forest road towards town when I spotted a great looking grizzly across a ravine. He was digging through timber looking for insects. What an opportunity! I stayed well after the light dimmed just enjoying. I must have spent over an hour with that guy, snapping pictures and sketching. It was just me and the bear. Golden moment. The ravine was deep but the distance across to him was incredibly close. What a great end to a beautiful day!
I later worked this oil sketch using photos from my encounter with this fine grizzly. I have always counted myself fortunate to encounter animals in their natural habitat. Although there is nothing wrong with using animal handlers, I prefer to paint animals I have experienced in the wild.
And so back in the studio, this is the challenge for a wildlife artist! I think most of us would simply prefer to be out there in this awesome beauty that's a rare privilege to view and paint! Wildlife artists have some add-on requirements that make our job, I think, a little harder. We are required to remember all the fundamentals of great art, but in addition, we must have anatomy, gesture and scientific environmental facts correct. Unfortunately, our live models do not hold a pose for us. We must know what animals forage on and when, what they look like during different seasons, their habitats and seasonal foliage. The list is long and it's rather easy for something to go amiss.
I have been told art is a life endeavor. I believe so and that makes two small paintings not coming together as effortlessly as I envisioned a little more tolerable.
In the studio and attempting to not get distracted by the whitetail fending off deer flies outside the window and the marvelous hot day we are experiencing. I like the heat, but this day I'm going through ideas based on cooler climates.
Now back to the work at hand, I flip through rough sketches I did at that time and instantly sparks fly. Ideas that were doodled out form much clearer. Direction is a powerful tool. Proof is always in the painting. Legendary wildlife art dealer, Bubba Wood stressed to me, "You're only as good as your last painting." I guess you could take that as a compliment or an insult, but I always took that as a challenge.
Time to let go without letting go and let the art fly.
On occasion I remember to keep it simple. I have an old paint box that I use for plein air studies. Back when I began in earnest around 2000 I crafted it to fit my needs. It is simple, nothing fancy. It connects to a tripod, is lightweight, sturdy and frankly not the best looking.
I could get a new one, not retrofitted, more adjustable maybe with more options for convenience. My wife wants to get me a new one each Christmas. But I can't part with this "old box". This companion has traveled many miles with me. We have memories, a history together creating many souvenirs of experiences in nature. But more importantly it is an important reminder that it really is about the art, the paint and the artist's vision. My vision.
Western artist and fellow resident Texan, Roy Anderson once said, there are no art police. Not an exact quote, but the fact stuck with me. The easel is not going to make your idea any worse or better. It won't improve the quality of the painting. My trusty old box reminds me of these truths. Although I do a lot of studio work these days, I always look forward to weekly dates with my old friend.
Painter of western wildlife and landscapes, constantly seeking to balance impressionism and realism sans trickery. Brian works as a full time artist in Central Texas. Exhibited at Rockwell Museum, Briscoe Museum, National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum, and National Museum of Wildlife Art.
March 26 - 28, 2020