April 12, 2019. Twenty years ago today I became a full-time professional wildlife artist. As this date approached, I have taken stock of my decision.
It would be obvious to look at the tangible results (awards, ribbons, featured artist designations, magazine articles, sales, etc) but in many ways my thoughts are not focused on them.
I'd like to share some "successes" which I believe capture where I am at in my career.
1.) I still appreciate the beauty in other artists' work - and see the shortcomings in my own
2.) A new paint color still thrills me. (This week I tried two of my new handmade oil colors from Michael Harding.)
3.) I still work on trying new things - new colors, new techniques, new subjects.
4.) After more than 800 paintings, I still have fresh new stories to tell.
5.) Spending time in the outdoors is still essential to my work - whether it is Africa or my own yard. I can always capture new painting ideas from direct observation.
6.) Stretching my brushes by painting ranch scenes, museum and cathedral interiors, and landscapes also strengthens my wildlife paintings
7.) My collector base is a gift, not merely an asset. These are wonderful people who are touched by the same inspiration I had while painting the piece. For the piece or pieces they have collected, we speak the same language. What a beautiful gift.
8.) A day of uninterrupted painting is still a good day.
Photos from the past 20 years
Linda and her husband Jim - and our closest neighbors (Note: NOT photoshopped)
Once I completed the snow, the foreground cornstalks looked like they could use some brightening. After mixing a bright golden yellow (cadmium yellow deep, radiant yellow, and a little lemon yellow with titanium white), I added it to the right side of many of the stalks. It looked more natural not having it on all the foreground stalks.
On to the first close-up crane. It was tempting to make her stand out more (eliminate corn stalks in front and directly behind her) but I want the focus to be on the crane flying in. Having a few obstructions around this middle bird will help direct the viewer's eyes to the other bird first.
Now that I have the shadows in, I begin working on the mid-tone snow. I've chosen to paint it on the purple side in the foreground and will move to a more blue color in the middle of the painting. (Note: the lighter shadows in the middle of the painting.)
Generally I would finish all the mid-tone snow color before moving on to the bright highlights in the snow. Since these colors are more intense than my usual palette, I thought I should paint in the "whites" to see if it was starting to look like snow.
I thought painting the broken corn stalks would go quickly. They are abstract blocks of color. However, each one had to be carefully placed. Creating randomness in lines (which mimics the planted rows of corn) took a lot more decision making than I thought.
Time to start playing with the color of the shadowed snow. Mixing this blue took some time. I was struck by the vividness of the color when I saw it in the corn fields. Closing my eyes to recall the color, I would open them and keep playing with the mixing. It seems so bright on my palette (and somewhat unnatural) but I feel I am going in the right direction.
Almost all the time, my wildlife paintings are inspired by seeing a species in the wild. I watch their movements, listen to their sounds, and yes, take in the landscape as a possible backdrop. This time is different.
On my way home from the NatureWorks show in Tulsa, Oklahoma, we diverted to see the sandhill crane spring migration along the Platte River in Nebraska. I have been there on my own when the count was over 120,000 cranes. Their ancient calls echoed from the river and spent corn fields. With this year's current count at 17,000 (a cold winter meant they would be arriving later) my expectations were quite modest.
We arrived in the late afternoon - just in time to stop by the Crane Trust Nature & Visitor Center. They generously told us where the main group was, only 5 miles away. The cranes were a bit far from the road, but we could watch and hear them. Driving up and down the snow-covered farm roads we spotted other groups in the last couple of hours of sunshine. As we passed one farmhouse and silo, I asked my husband to stop. There was a group of sandhill cranes but it wasn't the birds which caught my eye. The blue of the shadowed snow against the golden light on the corn stalks was breathtaking. I couldn't take my eyes off it. My inspiration for this next painting.
Check out the wonderful work of the Crane Trust at www.cranetrust.org
It is an organization I enthusiastically support.