Adding Wildlife to Your Paintings
People who know me know that I love painting Wildlife en Plein Air. Sketching animals and birds in their natural habitat is a favorite painting activity of mine and I always look forward to the challenge. I find that painting on location enhances my perspective and understanding of the scene that I want to capture on canvas. Often I imagine what the composition would look like if a magnificent Ram passed through my line of sight and I had the opportunity to paint him into my composition. In this piece called “Bighorn Sheep On the Edge,” I was painting Mount Shasta after a snow storm, on a pass called Military Road.
At one time Bighorn Sheep inhabited Mount Shasta and the surrounding mountain slopes near Shasta Valley. Knowing this makes it effortless to imagine that a magnificent beast like this bighorn sheep could walk by. The best time to add wildlife into your plein air sketches is at the time you find them and are watching them. You can actually capture the proportions and movement by drawing a few shapes indicating a back, head and legs on your canvas or sketch pad. These shapes help the right side of the brain fill in the rest, much like looking at clouds passing by and noticing how the shapes become objects, animals and people, etc.
After studying the anatomy of animals for quite some time, I noticed that wild animals have anatomies similar to a common cat, dog or horse. Also, if you take photos of animals and wildlife, you get study them in the studio and use them to create some of jester lines, muscles and fur that make the animal look like the one you observed in the field. When you are painting a wild animal in on canvas, one does need to understand the environment where the animal lives. However, be sensible with your choices and don’t put an elephant in a Vermont pastoral scene when a moose would be more appropriate.
Next time when you are painting on location, try to imagine a moose, elk or a bighorn sheep passing by your easel, giving you an opportunity to paint it into your sketch. You will be amazed at how interesting the experience can be.