I’ve been working on a dummy book involving tigers, lately and it’s been hard to arrive at a style of illustration for this on that I’m happy with. It’s a story with a slightly more dramatic turn and so my usual stylized look didn’t quite fit the bill. Still, I didn’t want to lean fully realistic, so I’ve been doing a little experimenting.
Zoo sketches, lots of reference studies, lots of false starts. This has led me to the conclusion: tigers are very complicated.
On the one hand they’re lean and mean predators, but on the other they’ve all got that baggy tummy pooch, and those fuzzy wuzzy mutton chops. It’s a subtle balance of rough and fluff.
I also gave a lot more thought to color in this one than I usually do – I wanted the changes in color to match the changes in tone and mood. I may have overdone it in the orange department, but hey, a tiger’s gotta tiger.
One of the great things about plein air painting is that you get to see the space around you in a whole new light – instead of just rolling down the highway, passing by fields and forests and vacant lots, you’re on the lookout with beauty all the time, everywhere.
So, since it just happens to be America’s birthday, I give you: America the Beautiful – En Plein Air.
O beautiful for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain’s majesty
Across the fruited plain,
America, America, God shed his grace on thee,
And crown thy good with brotherhood,
to shining sea.
This was a Christmas commission for a friend’s mom, whose favorite birds are owls. That suited me – I’ve always wanted to try painting barn owls. They’re so aesthetic, I wonder if they know it? Really, some owls are cute, some are intimidating, some are downright goofy, but barn owls are like the vogue models of the owl world.
I’ve heard people complain that Texas is not very pretty in the fall. I would like to submit, in its defense, this piece of evidence. Texas is not showy, but it is certainly pretty. You just have to know where to look, and what time of day to be looking.
So there’s this stand of trees in the field where I paint that are some of the tallest, prettiest trees I’ve been able to find in my little corner of suburban Texas. I don’t what kind they are, but they’ve got lovely white trunks and these big, round leaves that make clapping noises in the wind. Anyway, I love them. But numerous attempts to paint them have shown them to be elusive models. They’re not very full trees, so it’s hard to catch the form of them in paint – and their leaves are so big and individual, broad brush strokes just don’t catch the feel of them. So you have to try and wrestle thin branches, big leaves, a mess of lights and midtones and shadows all in the same place while still keeping the overall anatomy of the tree in proper order. It’s a tough puzzle to put together. This painting is the closest I’ve come to capturing one of them. It’s still not quite there. It doesn’t capture the airy quality in the leaves, or the dappling effect they make when the sun is on them. But it catches the spirit, and that will have to be enough for now.
I was pretty content with this little scene I was painting – it had a nice play of light and shadows, the branches were interesting. Then about 20 minutes in the sun started breaking through the clouds overhead and lighting up the leaves like ..like what? Like glitter, or Christmas lights or some other mesmerizing thing. And in those situations, you always have a choice – do I chase the will-0-whisps deep into the forest of you-changed-your-lighting-now-you-have-to-repaint-everything or do I stay stolidly on the path of this-is-my-painting-and-I’m-sticking-to-it? Change the lighting and you mess up your value and color relationships. But stick to the path and the magic of the incidental light is lost forever. I strayed a little – tossed in some bright yellows sparks of light. It was fun, but I think the painting suffered from it – got too confusing and fussy. Ah, maybe someday I’ll learn.
Purple trunks and yellow hazes – I’m really liking this whole fall thing. I was a little frustrated in the spring with how overgrown the field where I paint had become. It used to be a field of mostly short grass, with a nice view of the trees on the other side – but now it’s blocked up with big bushes. Impossible to see through. But it turns out the bushes are mostly baby trees and have turned a beautiful shade of speckled yellow and orange. So I forgive them for blocking the far trees. They make a beautiful enough backdrop themselves.
Some trees just have their moment – this one’s moment is about an hour before sunset, mid-fall, on a after-the-rain sort of day. The way the sun was catching the leaves was just mesmerizing – I didn’t want to leave even when my painting was done. I don’t know, maybe it’s the fact that the weather’s nice, the bug population has taken a hit and I don’t have to wade through the summer sticker grass, but the field has just seemed particularly beautiful the last few times I’ve visited. All the distant trees turn a kind of faded turquoise and the sunlit leaves are bright chartreuse. I’m going to be sad when winter comes and it’s all grey and brown again – and cold. But that’s life.
We’re getting our fall showers – I love how much of a difference a little moisture makes on the color scheme of a landscape. Everything is darker and more saturated. And the grass in this field just sprung up spring green. I came home with two complimentary inches of mud on each shoe, packed tight with straw and grass.
Every time it rains I want to be able to go out and paint. I guess I could try it – grab a big umbrella and try and find a dry spot. Its not like the water would streak the paint. It just seems like such a rare sight in Texas, I ought to be recording it.