Thursday, March 26, 2009

Wallaby Cave - Day 3

Given their good looks and the rugged terrain in which they live, Black-Footed Rock Wallabies are ideal painting subjects.  When Sandi and I ventured into the north-west last year we certainly had a general idea of where to look for them, but it wasn't until the final days of our stay at Yardie Creek that we were able to spot them with any consistency.  They seem to have their favourite crevices and rocks and, once we knew where to look, we were often able to watch them sunning themselves or nibbling on the sparse vegetation along the walls of the gorge.  Although the juvenile in the photograph had obviously outgrown its mother's pouch, it could still be seen suckling from time to time.

This particular colony is used to the daily tourist traffic and were not easily startled by our presence.  Approaching them silently in our kayaks certainly contributed to our ability to get close enough to photograph them too.

With or without rock wallabies, Yardie Creek is one of my favourite places.  When the tourist buses have departed for the day and the sun is sinking over the ocean, paddling our kayaks through the creek mouth and up into the gorge brings on an instant state of serenity which I find hard to describe.  We're at pains to paddle as quietly as we can and find ourselves whispering to one another across the water as if any unnecessary noise would break the spell.

A cave just beyond the end of the navigable portion of the creek turned out to be one of the wallabies' favourite haunts and I snapped some photographs in the last rays of the setting sun with a wallaby silhouetted against the dark interior of the cave. It should make for a dramatic painting if I can pull it off.

As with all my attempts at painting, I bounce between utter despair and mild euphoria and can alternate between these states within the space of a few minutes.  I'm envious of those artists who describe the process of painting as relaxing; they've obviously arrived at a place where they feel some level of mastery over light, colour and composition.  I'm certainly not there yet and I'm finding the path to be a long and rocky one!

Hopefully, the dramatic lighting will become more evident as I refine colours and tonal values a little later on.  I suspect that the interior of the cave needs to be toned down a little to accentuate the rock at the mouth of the cave, and the colours in the upper left corner are a little too intense for my conservative tastes.   Having said that, seeing the work in progress in close proximity to the rich colours in the previous photo of the gorge already has me questioning the wisdom in that course of action.  I'm conscious, of course, that being a slave to what's depicted in a photograph is a well-worn road to mediocrity, if not failure, and that I'm striving to convey some sense of time and place as well as translate my emotional response to what I've experienced into its visual equivalent.

I hope that sharing my works in progress is informative or entertaining in some small way.  It's great to receive positive comments, but I would also encourage any of you reading this to offer constructive criticism - you've all been too polite so far! 

Best wishes

Friday, March 13, 2009

Late Afternoon - Euro

I'm very pleased to report that this drawing is finished, or at least as finished as it's going to get. There's always a temptation to fiddle or add things but, for the most part, such fiddling doesn't seem to contribute anything to the picture.

Late Afternoon - Euro, Conte pencil, 23" x 13"

The Conte worked well, but it's a messy medium and I'm happy to bid it farewell for a while.  Besides, I've procrastinated long enough and my butcher bird painting awaits me!

Best wishes

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Euro - Day 4

There's perhaps only another couple of hour's work required on this drawing, but I'm calling it a day anyway - I know better than to persist when I'm feeling tired or jaded.  I'll add the finishing touches tomorrow and hopefully will be thinking about my next subject by lunch time.  

As you can see, I've continued to model the euro's body and have all but completed the clumps of grass surrounding him. Once I'm happy that the drawing is complete, I'll carefully brush it to remove any loose Conte, then spray a light coat of fixative.  I find that fixative tends to reduce the brilliance of the white Conte so I'll refine and intensify the highlights once it's dry before applying a final coat.

It's only been in the later stages of this drawing that I've felt in control, but overall I'm happy with the results so far.  Regardless of the final outcome, the most significant achievement will be finishing a piece of art after a break of many years.

Best wishes

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Euro - Day 3

With a desire to feature Australian wildlife in my drawings and paintings, I'm often frustrated by my lack of good reference photographs, a collection of which I can see taking some time to accumulate.  With a trip north to the Ningaloo coast planned for May, I hope to make serious inroads in that respect.

Having spent a month there for the past two years, I have a good idea now where the concentrations of wildlife can be found and already have a good collection of photographs featuring red and grey kangaroos and euros.  They are abundant late in the afternoon and after dark to the extent that driving anywhere, even at low speed, is a risky proposition.  They are curious animals and can be approached on foot fairly easily; I know it will be easy to collect all the photographs I want.

Pictured below is a drawing I'm working on featuring one of the many euros we photographed last year.  I was attracted to this image by the late afternoon sun striking the animal from the side which really lends itself to an approach that has worked well for me in the past when tackling portraits.  Using a pastel paper to provide the mid-tones, I use black and white Conte pencils to accentuate the shadows and highlights.  I could also see possibilities in terms of the composition, with the grass clumps surrounding the euro echoing the arc of the creature's back.  I'll emphasise this aspect of the scene to create interest and to unify the image.    

The early stages of the drawing were fun to do, and it occured to me soon after I started it that I was drawing everything but the grass and the euro and was focussed entirely on defining the negative spaces around the animal and the stalks of grass. 

Best wishes

Monday, March 9, 2009

Butcher Birds - Day 2

After a couple of sessions on this painting I've come to the realisation that some skills are retained while others are lost - hopefully only temporarily - if they're not exercised regularly.  As the saying goes, "use it or lose it".

The preliminary drawing went well enough and some areas of the painting were also trouble free, but my perception of tonal value and colour is in desperate need of refinement after a long break.  Mixing the desired colour is challenging enough, but where I'm having the most difficulty is in arriving at the correct tonal value - I hope I haven't overplayed the darkest areas within the painting.

After a rummage through my old art materials I rediscovered this simple but invaluable tool designed for the tonally challenged.  It's a terrific aid whether I'm drawing or painting and I use it constantly to check and compare tonal values within my work.

If your eyesight is as lousy as mine and you can't read the text on the image above, click it to open an enlarged view.
Best wishes

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Productive Dithering

After a solid start on my painting of the butcher birds, I'm still dithering and finding ways to justify being distracted.

Part of the dithering process has involved discovering ancient relics in the storeroom.  The drawing below, of a mature red kangaroo, has been on my list of things to finish for around 15 years!  I know it's been that long because I have photos of my daughter hand feeding it; I'm guessing she would've been around ten years old at the time which helps me date it.

The front paws weren't finished and the reference photos I was relying on have long since disappeared, but with some judicious cropping and minor tinkering, I'm calling it finished.  I guess dithering can be productive after all!  

Kangaroo Study, mixed media, 13.5" x 14.5"

The drawing was done on Canson pastel paper using Lumograph EE pencil and a range of coloured Conte pencils.

Best wishes

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

The Search for Subjects

While trawling through some old photographs looking for useful reference photos, I discovered the following pictures captured during a visit to our very own Perth zoo.   I want always to depict animals behaving naturally, but I can't decide whether the hyaena and meerkat shown below are striking poses which would make appealing paintings - perhaps they're taking natural behaviour too far!  Thankfully, as neither species is native to Australia, they are automatically ruled out as subjects and any dilemma is avoided!

Best wishes