Saturday, March 5, 2011

Wildlife -- How to Tame it on Canvas

Most of my wildlife paintings and drawings come from real-life scenes I’ve photographed. I usually make a quick sketch or a more developed one before I incorporate it into a painting. I also study the birds and wildlife and get more information online about their living habits and behaviors.

I’ve seen some people plop a bird or the hint of an animal into a scene as an afterthought, and sometimes it either looks out of place or out of proportion.

I heard one artist comment that a former instructor told her that people in the distance of a painting could be made lifelike by turning their torsos into small carrots. Sounds like a winning idea since too much detail brings the figures closer. The focus of people or wildlife should be on the outward shape not the details, depending on where they are placed on the canvas.

I try to get photos that cover a particular animals seasonal colors, feathers or fur. It adds to the realism. If you’re going to feature a heron or egret in spring, then you’d better add the extra feathers and plumes of the mating season. In fall and winter, backdrops would be more drab, the plumage or fur more ordinary.

Unless the artist is doing an edgy or unconventional piece, placing a bird or animal in its natural environment is vital. Research and personal experience is the key. Taking an animal and putting it into the wrong environment or background is like painting a fish out of water. Again, there’s a time and a place, depending on the purpose of your painting. Abstracts, whimsey, or fantasy are a whole different subject.

Practice, practice, practice makes perfect! Sketching and drawing frequently makes you aware of the subtle nuances that create character and believabilty. It’s a lifelong habit that enriches credibility, and keeps your paintings and drawings fresh and alive.

Even drawing and sketchiing charicatures is not only fun, but it can help you define all the details that make an animal unique.

 The drawings and illustrations in my blog are good examples of how I use all of these principles in creating a painting.