This deer was sitting at the edge of my patio, about 12 feet away from me, for at least an hour. With a photograph to capture her original position and time to sketch, I had the best of both worlds to start this on my canvas. I decided to handle this painting as I would a portrait making the detail of the deer dominant. Using graphite to draw, I established the overall form and positioned the features. I took my drawing further than usual on the canvas focusing on getting a feel for the strokes of light and dark fur and snow patterns with my pencil before I started with the paint brush. Then I started with washes of thin paint, both to set the graphite and to start establishing color values. I established the start of a muted background that won’t distract from the deer.
I continued working on the background giving it contour and definition within the snow. With the basic background in place I could feather the edges of the ears into the background color. There were such intricate shape changes within the very soft feel for the fur of the ears verses the stiffer feel of the coarse fur and frosty clumps on the deer’s head. I wanted to paint the eyes and nose next to establish my darkest darks for comparison as I developed the colors for the rest of the head and body of the deer. My choice of brushes varied from the sable for the ears to the stiff brushes for the head, then back to the softer brushes around the eyes. I wanted to capture the amazing detail I could see in the frosty eyelashes and the way the snow stayed on her face in selected areas.
For this step I begin working on the Deer’s back, sides and bib. For the back area; the deer has dark, stiff fur. The snow is accumulating and clumping more on the back than on the sides. This area has some back lighting and indirect light so I am using some of the far background colors on the snow clumps for contrast to the snow around her. I continue to use the stiffer brushes for this type of fur. For the bib area, I begin developing detail and contrast to define the shapes and separation of chin, neck and chest.
As I am completing the snout and bib, I am also reviewing all other areas of the deer to add additional detail as needed. For the snout, I finished the fur layer adding texture and contrast to give it better shape definition. Then I added the pattern of snow clumps. Using the shapes and definition I developed previously in the bib, I completed this area with the fur colors I had established when painting the snout. As a final step, I went over the whole composition adding detail touches such as additional snow clump patterns on the deer’s sides and highlights to the eyes and nose.
"Snow Deer" is an oil painting on a 16" x 20" canvas.
The development of "A New Beginning"
Using a grid on the photo resolved the problem areas I had in drawing the complicated interaction between the doe and her fawn. My step-by-step begins with the first day of painting. The sketch of the deer was transferred to the canvas positioned it so it would feel as close as I actually saw them in my yard. I loosely defined the shapes within the animals to give them a three-dimensional look. I started with the dark areas using Burnt Umber and Ultramarine Blue reducing the blue in the lighter value darks. The lightest areas are painted with white and varying amounts of Raw Sienna. The medium values are a mix of the same colors. I will correct and adjust colors when all the colors on the canvas have been established. The background is started simultaneously showing much of the elevation that is actually in my yard. I’m using a triangular dark shape behind the roundness of the deer for contrast in color and shape. The distant tree branches on the left upper area that work into the vertical flow of the daisies behind the doe’s back brings your eye to the deer. The movement on the right side is starting to develop. I have added Cerulean Blue and Thalo Yellow Green plus a tint of cadmium red light to my palette.
The foreground is developing shape with a broad triangular spring green color. I am adding shadows and color variations for interest using warmer blues and a tint of cadmium red light and cadmium yellow light. The shadows for the deer are roughed in before I finish the greens near the deer.
I completed the spots on the fawn noting the natural patterns and variations in size and intensity. Now I’m working on the finishing details by adjusting colors, edges, and the overall balance. I’m bringing in more of the reds in the deer and flowers by using burnt sienna and cadmium red light in various mixes. I will add more detail to the near right side foliage to create a better overall balance.
I named the final piece “A New Beginning”. This painting was awarded Best of Show in the 2009 Spring Forward juried show. The jurors comments on this painting were: “Good balance and background”, “Great movement and flow”, and “Technique sets it apart more than the theme”.
"A New Beginning" is an oil painting on a 30" x 40" canvas.
The development of "Don't Fence Me In"
In my step one picture, I had previously determined the concept of what I want the painting to be when completed. Through small sketches, I established the triangle as my main geometric motif. Then I sketched my basic design onto the canvas with vine charcoal. I followed that by blowing the excess charcoal from the canvas and going over my lines with a thinned acrylic to set the charcoal. I proceeded with an underpainting in a thin acrylic to establish the shapes and main value relationships. I selected magenta for the underpainting color because it would be a good base for the rocks and a complimentary color for the green areas. Next, I took special note of the sky establishing the rainbow effect by painting a touch of iridescent paint with white. I was careful to consider the size that I felt would be appropriate for the rainbow based on my sketches. I continued to use the triangle motif in shaping the rainbow underpainting.
Now I have started to develop the painting with oil paint. For this painting I wanted to paint the challenging sky first which will help me establish the contrast with the background meadows and establish a color unity that would be used throughout the painting. I am starting to develop color in the big rock shapes with aerial perspective in mind. I noticed that the far end of the fence is leading my eye to exit the painting on the right middle ground area. I will adjust the fence. I decide that my foreground would be better by bringing the rock color down, so I will add a rock in front of the right trees.
After a week has passed with painting the detail of the rocks, middle-ground, and foreground, my basic design has been developed with color and shapes throughout. Overall I am pleased. Now I am ready for a critical review that will take this painting to completion. The far meadow on the left should be brightened. The contrast within the two main rocks can be improved with strong, bright lights and more strongly defined shadows. Bringing the middle-ground trees on the left higher, between the far left and closest rock, will increase the visual separation and distance. Increasing the height of the middle-ground wild grasses, in front of the left trees, will define the spatial relationship better. Adding a rock in the foreground brought a better color balance. Adding two more rocks with it will increase the balance, break the forward edge of the green area, and improve the overall color shape. More definition is needed within the longer and short grasses in the foreground.
This is the final painting after I made the revisions discussed in the critical review, Step 3. I am very fortunate to have artist friends who are willing to share their critiques and experience with me. This painting, from concept to completion, took me 23 days with a varying amount of hours spent each day. I've shown and discussed my thought process during the major steps of development. I hope you have found it interesting and maybe even helpful. I often get so involved with the process of creating an art work that the most difficult step is to put my brush down and say to myself, "It is finished". When I believe that I have done the best I can at this moment in time and I allow my imagination move forward to a new painting challenge, I can finally "let go" of a work that has become an exciting part of my life!
"DON'T FENCE ME IN" is an oil painting on a 36" x 48" wrapped canvas. The 2" wrapped edges are a continuation of the painting.