Posted on

Orca

This Orca painting has been a long time coming. I remember a particularly vivid dream about an orca I had in the mid-nineties. I kept a journal at that time and often included dreams. This was before I had ever done any professional artwork, even before my first editorial cartoon, drawn in 1998.

And still, a lot of those dreams were about animals.

While painting this piece, I thought about that orca dream , went back through the journal and found that entry. It was right after the dream I had about the symbol that became the basis of my tattoo last year, which is now my business logo as well. Considering how that past seems to be informing on my present, it might be worth reading those old journals to see what else I might find.
Shonna and I had a great time out with Eagle Wing Tours in Victoria while on Vancouver Island in December. We were thrilled to see orcas in the wild and I did get some nice photos of them. Unfortunately, none of those were good enough to paint from, especially not in my style that focuses on the face and the eye(s).

While I like to get my own photo reference wherever I can, I’ve relied on the kindness of photographer friends or purchased stock photos for some of my creature paintings. If memory serves, I started gathering the reference for this one four or five years ago, adding to the archive whenever I saw an image I thought would help me do a better job of it.

The challenge with painting marine life underwater is avoiding having it look like the animal is just pasted onto the environment. Water has a different look and it affects everything around it.
In this case, the eye and mouth are somewhat detailed, but everything else is rather soft in focus. The tail is fading into the background to suggest the depth and the whole thing has a blue look, even the black and white whale. Some of these choices were made ahead of time, but many of them were done on the fly, to adjust for things that just didn’t look right.

Each painting presents its own hurdles and this one was no exception. Most important, it was a case of leaving well enough alone. Painting a lot of detail adds a lot to the realism in many of my paintings. In this case, it would have ruined it. The light reflections on the whale’s back were fun to mess with and I had to stop myself from going too far with that as well.

Because it was soft focus, and devoid of any great detail, this didn’t take me that long, right around ten hours I think. The image will be available through my licensing clients shortly, but I won’t have prints available until sometime in the New Year.

Cheers,
Patrick

If you’d like to receive my newsletter which features blog posts, new paintings and editorial cartoons, follow this link to the sign up form.

Posted on

Great White Shark Totem

SharkFinalFBWhile I’ve wanted to paint a Great White Shark for quite some time, I honestly didn’t think I’d be doing it right now.  It was suggested to me recently and after thinking about it, I thought I could indeed do it justice.   I’m pretty pleased with the result.  This was painted in Adobe Photoshop CC on a Wacom Cintiq 13HD display and a Wacom Cintiq 24HD display.  Photos were only used for reference, and all of this was done with brush work.

I’d love to say that this was a lot of fun the whole time, but editorial cartoons, year end bookkeeping, and a sudden short deadline video project popped up, so my painting time kept getting put aside.  It got to the point where I just wanted to get this done as it seemed it was never going to happen.  Thankfully, as is the case with finishing many of my Totems, I had a Saturday morning free of obligations which allowed me the time needed to finish it, which did end up being very enjoyable.  If you’re familiar with these posts and my work in general, you’ll be aware that Saturday mornings are my favorite time of the week.  I still get up at 5AM, but with no editorial cartoons sent out on weekends, I have four or five hours of music in my headphones, a few cups of coffee and nothing but painting.

The big challenge with this painting was the detail.  I thoroughly enjoy painting hair, fur, and feathers, but with none of those anywhere on a great white shark, it was  challenge to paint that leathery looking skin with enough detail to achieve the realism I wanted, but not so much that it looked completely out of place in water.  I also was afraid of overdoing it.  The environment is what made this one difficult.  I didn’t want to blur out the tail and fins too much, even though in darker water, they might just be shadows.  Then again, they couldn’t be too sharply defined, textured or brightly lit.  It was all a compromise and while another artist might have made different choices, I’m content with mine.  I’ve painted a Humpback Whale Totem before, but having painted this shark, I now think I could do a better job of the whale, if given another shot at it.  I think every artist can say that about past work, though, so I’ll just let it be, take the lessons learned and move forward.
SharkCloseCropI take a lot of liberties in the anatomy of my work, which should be rather obvious.  While I do need to know what the real anatomy looks like, my animals are caricatures of the real thing.  For example, in real life, a great white shark has rather black looking eyes, not a lot of life in them. My Totems, however, are all about personality, with my distinctive style of eyes a defining feature of the look, so I completely disregarded realism in that regard.  That little white catch-light in the eye would not be visible underwater, it’s physically impossible.  But remove it, and a lot of the life goes with it.  Again, these are the choices I make.

After I painted my Fox Totem, somebody said on my Facebook page, that, “Foxes have cat-like eyes.”   Clearly he doesn’t get my work, so I tolerated what was essentially a drive-by comment and moved on.

My wife has a thing for sharks, she has for as long as I’ve known her.  She’ll watch any documentary or read any article about them and has become quite knowledgeable as a result.  Her life long dream is to go cage-diving with great white sharks and I’ve resigned myself to go with her.  I plan to drag her along when I go swimming with humpback whales in Fiji someday, but you’re less likely to meet sharp pointy teeth with a humpback.  Of course, no matter how gentle an animal, if a bus rolls over on you by mistake, it’s the same result.  Neither of these dreams will go unfulfilled, I assure you.

Great white sharks are largely misunderstood animals.  I have a love/hate relationship with the 1975 movie, ‘Jaws.’  I do love the movie as it stands alone, for the actors, the script, the storyline.  I’ll still watch it again when it comes on TV and I can be counted on to let loose with a quote once in awhile.  But in the real world, Jaws has single-handedly caused the deaths of countless shark species, especially great whites, by justifying killing these monsters, as the general public thinks of them.

Shark hunting tournaments and the slaughter of these erroneously labelled ‘man-killers’ irreparably harmed the reputation and populations of great whites and every other shark species by association.  The author of Jaws, Peter Benchley said twenty years later, “I couldn’t write Jaws today. The extensive new knowledge of sharks would make it impossible for me to create, in good conscience, a villain of the magnitude and malignity of the original…. If I have one hope, it is that we will come to appreciate and protect these wonderful animals before we manage — through ignorance, stupidity and greed — to wipe them out altogether.”

There is a barbaric practice known as long-lining, which is often used only to take the fins from the animals, leaving them to die a slow death as they are thrown back still alive after the fins are removed.  Long-lining also harms countless other species of marine life in the process.  More and more conservation groups are shining a light on this and as a result, it is becoming poor fashion to serve shark fin soup in many places in the western world today, although it still happens in the Chinese community.  It is also still popular in China as a delicacy.

I realize it’s not my usual practice to use a blog about my latest painting to climb up on a soapbox and talk about animal conservation, but I’ve learned a lot about sharks over the years, largely because of my wife’s interest, and I’d like to see more awareness of the beauty of these animals and their valuable place in the ecosystem of Earth’s oceans.  We have done infinitely more to harm sharks than they could ever do to us and even though Jaws scared a lot of us senseless as children, it’s about time we grew up.

Thanks for reading.

Cheers,
Patrick

If you’d like to receive my newsletter which features blog posts, new paintings and editorial cartoons, follow this link to the sign up form.  Thanks!