Untamed Land

Untamed Land
Untamed Land

Friday, April 30, 2010

What a Mess

Today, like yesterday, I spent the bulk of my time trying to make the birch trees look right. Birch trees are a bit of a challenge because they have dark, vertical cracks in the bark, and contrasting, light, horizontal flakes of bark. I quickly blocked in the rest of the bear, then I broke for lunch.

After lunch, it was back to fighting with the Birch trees. I also added a few Highbush Cranberry bushes, with some Fireweed. To me the bear looks funky, and the Birch bark is still not right. Experience has taught me that once a painting gets away from me like this, it can't be saved, no matter how much effort I put into it. This is the point where I should just scrap it, and go on to something else. Since I foolishly put this much up on the blog, I'm obligated to give it some more effort. Maybe after the weekend I will get some renewed inspiration.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Bear Progresses

Today was a shorter day spent paintings because I was running errands in Anchorage. I devoted most of my effort trying to recreate the texture of birch bark. There is still work to do because I am not at all content with the look of these trees, although they are not so bad.
At least I was able to start on the bear. I am trying to create an atmosphere that looks hazy, rather than foggy. To that end, there are still so many changes to make to these trees, then I fill in the bear, and finish the main tree. Last I'll build up a carpet of fallen leaves and branches etc. Will it be any good? The fact that it is a bear is a big plus because bear paintings sell better than any other subject. Here in Alaska, Chickadees, Sea Otters, and Puffins also sell faster than other paintings.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Another Day's Work

If you compare this bear sketch with the one I did yesterday afternoon, you will see that I drastically changed the bear's body. This version looks much more natural to me.
Paintings always look like such a hopeless mess during the preliminary stages of applying foundational layers of paint.
I'm not real sure of what I want the background to look like. I just hope it turns out well. So I keep refining the layers of paint, trying to get something good.
Finally there are some background trees, instead of amorphous color.
These major trees are too evenly spaced, and look like prison bars. I think I can fix that by pushing some further into the background.
Two of the trees are tentatively finished. This is the point where I was tired of painting, so I quit for the day. This painting is less than great right now, and might be in for some major revisions before it's all over. It's too soon to judge.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

A Day's Work

This morning I was back to my old tricks by re-working an old painting. It was one that I showed on this blog just a few days ago, the 11x14" Golden-crowned Sparrow. I'm sorry if your tired of seeing it.
This is the old version. I like it just fine, but few other people did. Many people commented that they did'nt like the background color because it was so flat, and monotonous.
All I did was change the color of the background in the upper part of the painting, and I added more stalks of grass in the background as well. At best, it is only marginally better than it was before. I dont think I ruined it, but the varnish now looks more uneven. That is what happens when you mess around with a completed painting.
I shot this photo last fall at Goose Creek. I want to use the birch trees, and foreground in a new painting.
This is my preliminary sketch of a Black Bear on a 16x20" gessoboard. I may, or may not even start this painting. Anyway, this is what occupied my afternoon. It took so long because I made numerous adjustments to the drawing.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Caribou on Comission, second try

Last night I posted an earlier version of this post. For some reason, Blogspot went offline before I was finished refining the post. I'll try to get it right this time.
Last month I was offered a comission to paint some caribou sized 8x20. This past Monday I finally started work on the painting. Last night I completed the piece although I wont varnish it until tomorrow. There are probably some minor adjustments to make before I do varnish it.
This is what I came up with. There are several alternative titles to the painting, but I'm leaning towards the name, Followers of the Wind. The mountains in the background are part of the Alaska Range, near Mt. Mckinley, in Denali Nat. Park.
These are detail photos of the painting.
In order to make this post a little longer, I'll include some older caribou paintings.
Bachelor Pad, 24x36"
Distance, 8x10"
I forget the name of this one, 6x20"
The Brooding Giant, 16x20" The mountain is Mt. Mckinley, the tallest mountain in North America.
The Thoroughfare, 22x28" This is the Thoroughfare River in Denali Nat. Park. I am happy with this painting, and the newest caribou painting. The best painting I have ever done is also a caribou, but I failed to photograph that painting. I do have a 4x5" transparancy of it.
Before I moved to Alaska, I had little appreciation of caribou. I guess they were too far outside my day to day reality. Now that I have had the chance to observe them in nature, and eat them from time to time, I am inspired by their beauty, and taste.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Tales of Ptarmigan

Back in 1997, during my first summer in Alaska, I spent a lot of time exploring the Chugach Mountains above town. One afternoon I struggled to reach the top of a nearby peak. When I finally made it to the top, I sat on the rocks while I enjoyed the magnificent scenery, and tried to catch my breath. After a time I heard a very soft clucking, similar to a chicken. I looked all around me until I noticed some subtly moving rocks.
They were not rocks, they were Rock Ptarmigan. They were actually all around me. I photographed some of them as they foraged within about 10 feet, (3 meters) of me. I was delighted with them.
Since then I have seen them, and the other 2 species, Willow, and White-tailed Ptarmigan on a number of occasions.
This is one of the first Rock Ptarmigans I saw in the Chugach Mountains above Eagle River.
Another moving rock.
These Rock Ptarmigan are in their fall plummage. They were photographed in Denali Nat. Park.
The Willow Ptarmigan is the state bird of Alaska. This bird is also in Denali Nat. Park.
The main reason for this blog post is to show my latest painting. Living Snowballs, 9x12". These are White-tailed Ptarmigan, and they were painted in only a day and a half. The thing that distinguishes ptarmigan from grouse is that ptarmigan turn white in the winter, while grouse do not.

Monday, April 19, 2010

The Recycle Bin

If you have seen very many of my paintings, you know that not all of them are gems,(none of them?). Try as I might, I cannot maintain a strong consistency of quality with every painting. The worst of the bunch go directly to the recycle bin, and are never seen by anyone but me. Others are not so terrible so I hang on to them, hoping to improve them at some point.
This 16x20"eagle painting was one of those. Although I never sent it to a gallery, I showed it to many people. No one responded positively so I reluctantly sent it to the recycle bin to be painted over. This morning I retrieved it with the intent to sand it off, and re-coat the board with gesso.
The painting was'nt wonderful, but it did not deserve to be destroyed, so I made an attempt to make it better.
This is the latest version of the painting. Since I dont remember the original title, I'll change the name, and call it, The Eagle Perch. Is it any better? I cant be objective enough to know.
Since I'm on the subject, I'll include some more borderline paintings. This is a 20x16" Arctic Grayling.

Blue-necked Tanager, 10x8"
Bottomland Wolves, 24x36"
Copper Country, 18x24", (Gray Fox)
Exit Glacier Melt, 36x24"
The Glowing Coast, 12x16",(Black Oystercatcher)
Wet Feet, 16x20".  My late brother Jim, used to be able to glance at my paintings, and tell me what was wrong with them. No one else seems to have the ability, or temerity to articulate the problems these paintings have. I just think they are too good to recycle.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Colors of the Earth

This is what I have been working on for the last few weeks. It is an 11x14" acrylic of a Short-eared Owl. The mood and lighting are typical of the drab light, and rich, earthy colors of Alaska in the fall. I know that the depiction of chaotic grasses and weeds are not the most aesthetically pleasing subject matter for paintings, but I am compelled to return to this theme again and again.
This painting seemed to take forever, and I still wanted to build up the vegetation even more, but I had to stop somewhere.
In earlier years I used to paint with much finer detail, but now I no longer bother.
Since I'm on the theme of weedy fields, I'll include some earlier paintings with grasses and weeds. This is an 11x14" Golden-crowned Sparrow.
Lark Sparrow, 11x14"

Lincoln Sparrow, 12x16"
White-crowned Sparrow, 9x12". Judging by how my sparrow paintings sell, I'm the only one who likes sparrow paintings. I did sell two paintings yesterday, Painted Mud, and Raven Talk.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

More Nostalgia about Mexico

Mexico was the first foriegn country I ever visited. I have spent well over two years of my life there. San Blas, Nayarit, on the west coast is my favorite place. I have been there at least a dozen times over the years. In that time, about three quarters of the tropical forest has disappeared. Many of the magnificent, old trees have been cut down. About 5 years ago, a huge hurricane took the rest of the forest giants. In spite of all that, the wildlife is still there.
All I have are a bunch of old slides. So the quality of the photos is dismal. The bird above is a Black-throated Magpie Jay. They are huge. I saw a captive jay that had been taught to talk, like a parrot.
This photo might be way out of focus, but it shows the beauty of this Golden-cheeked Woodpecker. They are the most common woodpecker in western Mexico.
This is another photo from Singayta. The lower bird on the left, is a Pale-billed Woodpecker. The upper bird is a Linneated Woodpecker. This was the last photo on that roll of film. While I was changing rolls, a Golden-cheeked Woodpecker landed next to them, but all three birds were gone before I was ready to shoot again. What a photo it would have been.
A swamp Raccoon. The fruit at it's feet was delicious, but only mildly sweet.
Common Potoos are a large relative of the goatsuckers,(nightjars etc.) They are so cryptic that they are almost impossible to find without the aid of a local guide.
This Possum did'nt play dead. It bit me and pooped on me. I was 21 years old when I photographed this guy.
Here is another thing that bit me. It's a harmless racer of some sort. Notice the tick attached to it's face covering it's eye.
Indigos are huge, but they seldom bite.
Boa Constictors are even bigger than indigos. This one acted fierce, and struck at me, but never actually bit me, even when I foolishly moved me hand to a few inches from it's face.  San Blas is reknown for it's birds, but it is loaded with reptiles as well. Unfortunately, there is also no shortage of biting insects.
One of the most sought after birds is the Russet-crowned Motmot.
Orange-fronted Parakeets are the most common parrot in the area. Mexican Parrotlets are the smallest. There are also White-fronted Parrots, Lilac-crowned Parrots, and Military Macaws in the hills well above town.
Ivory-billed Woodcreepers are fairly common, especially around Singayta.
Squirrel Cuckoos too.
Raptors are a real tour de force around San Blas. This is a Gray Hawk.
In spite of a real danger from crocadiles, I waded into waist deep water in Singayta to photograph this Collared Forest Falcon.
Laughing Falcons eat snakes almost exclusively. These photos are just a smattering of the photos I have taken around San Blas. From this sampling you can see why I love this place so much. Go there sometime before you die.