So was I ready? Well.. I didn't get to actually paint, but I planned.... and feel inspired to paint. That's a huge step forward.
I walked to the studio (6 minutes away) and faffed about a bit doing a few little unimportant jobs to start with.
On the studio wall…. hanging there for two years is a blank box canvas that I had ear-marked for an elephant painting that I never got to do for the 2015 exhibition. Whilst coming up with ideas for the show paintings, I had been inspired by a photo I had seen on the internet.
Unfortunately I cannot credit the photographer as I do not know who it was. But the image made me think of a particularly rambunctious young bull I had seen in the Okavango Delta back in 2011, on my exhibition reference gathering trip. I had seen him on one of the dry areas of land; but wouldn’t it be great to paint him in a water setting, being all ‘teenagery’ and full of attitude with something….. as a kind of homage to the older bull in that photograph.
That was the ‘spark’ for the painting, but it never progressed beyond the initial concept idea, roughs and reference gathering, as I ran out of time in which to do it back then. But now as I looked at the canvas and computer print out I had stuck to it to remind me of that idea… I thought… now is the time to finally paint it. All the initial planning is already done… it’s just tidying ideas up and changing a few details and we’re ready to go… Let’s do it!
And as I looked over my roughs, references and played with a few changes and additional ideas I thought… hey.. I haven’t done anything on my blog for ages.. If I’m gong to paint this, how about telling the story of its concept and production? And rather than feeling that ‘anti- art’ thing emerge, at the thought of that, like it has for the past couple of years.. I felt good about it…. almost like it is a natural part of the process of getting this painting done.
So this is where we find ourselves now…. We begin the journey of this painting with no finished product in sight. I don’t know if it is going to turn out well or not… I guess we’ll just have to trust that it does. I hope you'll enjoy the posts I do following my progress on this piece.
So how about a little more background on the inspiration...
I had seen how young bulls, like the teenagers they are, sometimes act like they are taking on the world… full of their growing sense of strength and boldness. That one bull I have already mentioned was one - standing tall, head up high and posturing with all the bravado of one who is acting maybe a little bigger than his boots, whilst at the same time being confident his boots were a lot bigger than ours and so he could get away with his elaborate gestures.
Who’s to say that on another day he could chose to aim his rambunctiousness at one of his fellow Delta neighbours instead of nosey human researchers and tourists. What if he chose to chase off another smaller species, not with any malicious intent, but just for the sheer hell of it… just like young calves do.
So I had toyed with this idea and plumped for a large wading bird as the 'victim' of his boisterous mood… something he could shoo away from the edge of the water with no threat to himself. There were an array of egrets, storks and herons to choose from, but I decided on a saddle-billed stork, as that would add a nice bit of colour.
With that concept in mind I had looked through my landscape images from the Delta for ideas and references for the scene I had in mind. I wanted a setting that had a backdrop line of trees, a stretch of water midway and a foreground of sandy soil and grasses… this would be where the elephant would be and from where the stork would launch itself from.
I found two images from my trip that I can pick elements from to make my setting for the painting.
I want to create a setting to suit my idea, but that is also true to the area. So whilst the basic layout of the top image suits… I will move trees and plants around to a composition that I like, mixing elements from both to hopefully come up with something that is different from the photo’s but the same layout and feel. The same but different… that makes sense, right?
This is the young bull in question… as you can see by his posture, he was quite full of himself and although he was a youngster, he was still a sizeable animal and could do a lot of damage, if he chose to. Luckily for us his initial startled reaction, when we happened upon him in the bush, was short lived, and he carried on his way not looking to tangle with us pesky humans.
That’s the basic elements - setting and story.
This is the rough I’m did, pulling my references together. Roughs don’t need to be detailed or precise.. they’re all about ideas, and as I thought about what I wanted to do with the panting, the story I wanted to tell, I added some more ideas to the rough - like having the dust around his feet to create that sense of drama as he pulls up short in the dry sandy soil. Also choosing that one of the two storks to be lower than the tops of the long grasses/reeds at the waters edge… creating some depth in the image. My original idea had it higher and clear of any foreground vegetation. I’m sticking with a line of egrets flying over the water away towards the back of the scene (depth and movement) but have yet to work up their flight positions.. I just know I like the idea of them skimming low over the water’s surface.
Here’s a couple of ref images I have for the birds…. again photo’s taken by me in the Delta on the same trip. I might add some distant birds to the tree tops at the back of the painting… representing open-billed storks. I had thought about having a few francolin’s running for cover at the front, back in 2015, but had soon discounted it at the time thinking that it might look too busy with them in. But that is open for change… I’ll see how the painting progresses and whether it could cope with them as an addition to the fray.
As for the elephant… I’m going to use one image as the basis for his posture, but I have been playing about with his head, trunk, tail and leading foreleg. I need to ramp up his intent, so will bring his head up higher, put more emphasis in the trunk curl, bring his tail round to add to the tension and lift his leading foreleg slightly. I don't think I have got it right yet.. so some more adjusting to posture to come.
Sometimes, to help me visualise where I am going with a piece in the planning phase, I will use the computer to piece the elements together and then print it to get a clearer picture of how it all comes together, where I could go with it and what doesn’t work. This is what I had put together back in 2015 and what has been on the canvas on the wall reminding me that it could be a painting to do someday.
Well that day has come and the inspiration still feels fresh… I’m just ready now, I think, to paint it.
But I have to wait until Friday or the weekend now… back to work at the zoo on tomorrow (Monday) where I have an epaulette shark to illustrate.