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Painting a Bison Totem

This is the latest in my series of whimsical wildlife paintings, the Bison Totem.  As usual, I have the most fun when I’m working on this type of painting, especially since each one presents its own unique challenges.  With this one, it was trying to get the ‘wool’ to look right, and it took some trial and error.   One of the great reference photos I worked from, was courtesy of one of my favorite wildlife photographers, Moose Peterson.  I also used a couple of other photos I bought from a stock photo company, so it wasn’t such a problem seeing the great detail, as it was to replicate it with brushes.

One of the things I’ve learned from working on these animals, is that I could spend weeks painting every little hair that I see in the photos I reference, but it would be a wasted effort.  For one, these animals are caricatures (although not extremely exaggerated) of the real thing, so replication is not the goal.  But also, people aren’t looking at a painting in actual pixel size, so nobody really cares if every hair is perfect, and they’re not holding up the three photos I used for reference to compare them inch by inch.  If they are, they should really get a hobby, because that energy could better be spent elsewhere, like cleaning out the garage or something.

I do obsess about the details, though.  It’s part of my nature (ask anybody who knows me well), and I use it to my advantage in these paintings.  That being said, there comes a point in every painting when any further detail is a waste of time because the viewer won’t see it.  It has to look great at full size, but zoom into any painting close enough and it just becomes a mosaic of pixels and colored noise.  I really do enjoy it, though, painting all those little hairs, music playing in the headphones, just being in the image.  Most of my perfect moments in life, those instances of peak experience (read Maslow), are when I’m painting.

If you’d like the technical info, this painting was done on a medium sized Wacom Intuos5 tablet in Photoshop CS5.  No idea how long it took me, but it was many hours.  The full size painting is 18″X24″ at 300ppi.  Something different this time was that I switched out the nib in my Wacom pen.  Having always used the standard nibs that came with the tablet, I read a blog entry by Wacom’s Joe Sliger about the different nibs and figured I’d try the flex nib for this painting.  That’s the one with the little spring in it.  While it had nothing to do with what the painting looks like, I absolutely loved painting with this nib.  Had a little bit of give to it and while I got used to it quickly and didn’t think about it, I really think I’ll be using this nib more often.  Just feels better in the pen.  Here’s a link to Joe’s article if you’d like more info on the different nibs.

While working on this painting, I saved the image at different stages so that I could make the following video.  It’s a time lapse of different stages in the painting, this being one I’ve been planning for quite awhile.  I’ve had the reference for the bison for over six months, and the music, bought specifically for this painting, for almost as long.  As a big fan of movies, I love soundtracks and this dramatic piece just seems to add something to the video.  It was fun to put together.

Thanks for stopping by to see the latest piece and for reading my thoughts on it.  I feel privileged to be able to paint these creatures and I’m pleased when others like them, too.

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My wife and I watched the Disney film ‘Tangled’ again last night.  I bought this DVD before I’d even seen it which was rare for me, but there was something in the trailers that told me that even if the story was weak, the artwork would be worth it.  I wasn’t disappointed in either.  I posted on Facebook that ‘this artwork makes me high,’ and I wasn’t kidding.  There’s something about cartoons with a lot of life in them that just gets me excited.  While Disney may not do it for everybody, and I’m not a huge fan of every one of their movies, this style makes me want to be a better artist.  It makes me hungry to sit down and draw.

No matter what creative avenue you’re strolling down, if the scenery isn’t doing it for you anymore, and you’re bored, find something that will reignite that old passion and put a spring in your step.  I have a few go-to books and movies that do it for me.  Tangled is now added to that library.

I’ll often get people asking me if I want to animate, and the answer is a flat out ‘No.’  A number of years ago, when the general consensus seemed to be that Flash animation was the next step in editorial cartooning, I did create a weekly animated editorial cartoon called ‘Beaver Fever.’  Sort of a Rick Mercer/Jon Stewart wanna-be cartoon beaver with guests and commentary, that sort of thing.  A lot of people liked it, including some big media outlets in Canada, but nobody wanted to pay what it would take to keep me doing it, so I scuttled that ship.  I didn’t enjoy the work.  It felt tedious and mechanical.

Knowing what you want to do is essential in any career, but equally important is knowing what you do not want to to do.  I do NOT want to be an animator.

But I love movies.  I mean, I REALLY love movies.  I’m not obsessed with them, by any means, but I can watch some movies over and over again.  Tangled will be one of those.  I would love to work designing characters for movies one of these days.  Not full-time or anything, just a commission once in awhile.  It would be great to see some animal I created brought to life on the big screen.  That’s one of those things I regularly throw out there into the ether, because it seems to have worked well for a lot of other dreams that have become reality in my career.

Never underestimate the power of passion.  Glen Keane has worked on some of the best animated movies out there, often as Supervising Animator.  I’m talking about Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid and of course, Tangled.  There are many others of course.  Those who followed the comic strip, Family Circus, as I did growing up, will be interested to know that Glen is the son of cartoonist Bil Keane, and was the model for the character Billy in that strip.

While I have known and admired Glen’s work for years,  I am most in awe of an artist who has been working in the field for as long as he has, a man who has done and seen it all in the world of animation, and yet still has that passion in his voice for his craft.  You can tell he is still excited to be doing what he’s doing.  Watch this video and you can see it.  Listen to how he talks about this character.  To Glen, she is real, she has life, and most importantly, she has passion.