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Creating the San Diego Zoo Murals – Part Thirteen

This is the third quarter of the modern animal mural with the animals (but not the background and foreground settings) pretty much fully rendered.

I painted the bobcat‘s body twice. The first time I painted the critter, everything looked in proportion. But after better familiarizing myself with bobcat proportions, I realized that the body was too small for the head. Bobcats have very small heads in proportion to the bodies when compared to most other cats. It was pretty simple to bulk him up some more when the rendering was still fairly rough.

The interesting challenge in painting both the bobcat and the tortoise was in keeping their values dark in comparison to the other critters too emphasize the bobcat and tortoise as being in the deep foreground (this visually explains their larger size relative to the other animals), especially because in the reference I shot the animals are both well lit.

I love painting birds, especially big raptors. Depicted here are a turkey vulture and a red-tailed hawk. They are both pretty finished, but I know I’ll be losing some of their hard edges once I finish the sky. Losing the edges will make them more a part of the painting, instead of them looking like they had been cut out and pasted onto the mural.

This shows the animals in the fourth quarter of the painting. Again, the landscape still needs to be finished.

This golden eagle and merlin have what will be a blooming agave between them. Both birds were not on my original list from the zoo. I felt they should be included because both birds exist today in the San Diego region as well as being found in the Pleistocene fossil record.

I also sneaked in this burrowing owl (I realize that every animal depicted in the modern mural has to also occur in the Pleistocene mural — and in roughly the same spot, which makes for some interesting compositional planning).

I had an experience with the coyote opposite to that of the bobcat. Once I had finished the coyote (working from shots I had taken of a coyote who had wandered onto my front lawn one afternoon) I realized I had painted its head too small, so I reworked it.

I also added a badger emerging from its burrow, but there wasn’t sufficient sun to shoot this addition by the time I had finished it.

Here’s how the whole modern mural looks now (minus the badger; remember, if you double click on the images they should present themselves in a larger format):

The obvious next step is to finish the foreground plants (which will take more research) and the general landscape and sky (not so much research). Hopefully, that will all go more quickly than the animals.

Next: Landscape and Plants

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2012 Zombies Calendar SOLD OUT!

Wow! I didn’t expect my new 2012 Zombies calendar to sell out so fast, but it did! I see copies selling for over forty bucks on Amazon and Ebay now.

I hope you got yours when I had them; I’m all out now. Thanks to everyone who purchased them from me. I wish I had about a hundred more!

No zombie calendar next year; the calendar company decided against a 2013 edition, despite the impassioned arguments there by my pal Arnie Fenner. Too bad, as I was looking forward to some more zombie art mischief…

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Creating the San Diego Zoo Murals – Part Twelve

I decided I really needed to repaint the roadrunner. It was too darn big.

Here, I took a thick brush and quickly roughed out the shape of the bird in its proper scale. After I was satisfied it was the correct size in relation to the other creatures in the mural I knocked in the detail:

I’ll worry about the background later.

I had spent about three or four hours beautifully detailing the stag mule deer when I realized that it was out of proportion as well. It was too small relative to the size of the other critters.

The mistake I made was this: in my eagerness to complete the buck, I jumped to my small brush too soon, before I had carefully checked its roughed-in proportions.

Taking a fairly big brush [Note to self (and other artists): When painting, always use a brush about twice the size you think you’ll need. Always work macro to micro] I blocked in the mule deer family, this time making sure all their sizes were correct.

Then, I detailed them:

To be truthful, the first animal I painted in this section of the mural was the California condor.

Note that I changed both the value and the color of the condor’s outspread wings from tip to tip. The wing farthest from the viewer has a blue haze over it, implying that this bird is so damn big that you can see atmospheric haze between you and the farther wing. The change in value emphasizes that as well.

The gray fox was next. I like doing these murals in a painterly style. I haven’t yet figured out how to make peppery coats like that of the fox ring true in a painterly fashion ––– but I’m working on it. I probably need to look at more of my late friend Bob Kuhn‘s paintings.

I really like painting scrub jays, as they are a frequent visitor to my porch while I am painting. They are highly intelligent, curious birds.

A member of the crow family, I once taught one I named “Scrubby” to perch on my arm and take peanuts from my fingers. It only took me a few hours to train him to perform that trick. The problem was, from that point on he wouldn’t leave me alone. He’d pester me and pester me (shrieking and jabbering at me like…well, like a jaybird) until I produced a peanut for him. I learned my lesson that day to leave wild things wild. He still visits me when he’s the neighborhood. Scrubby likes to perch atop my easel, offering unasked for criticism of me and whatever painting I’m working on.

Here’s the second section of the mural with its animals all painted (except for the tarantula):

It’s coming along a little faster now. I’ve got most of the bobcat completed now, too, but it was too dark to shoot by the time I felt done with him. We’ll see if I still think and feel (always remember to both think and feel when you’re painting) he’s finished in the morning.

Next: The Animals in Section Three of the Modern Mural

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Happy B-Day, Edgar!

I have been remiss in blogging as of late. I’ve got my reasons…

I spent last Thursday through Monday in Albuquerque as the Guest of Honor at the Albuquerque Comic Con. It was a great show, very well organized. I met fans from all over the state (and adjacent states as well). Their attendance was up over 40% from last year, so you know these guys are doing something right.

I was delighted to be able to spend time with my old pals Phillip Anderson (a former comic shop and bookshop owner, Phillip now owns a Lubbock, Texas winery. He has been commissioning his favorite comic artists to do his labels!), Randy Pence (a pastor/paleontologist who just named a newly discovered prehistoric shark after me — how cool is that?!) and Patricia Rogers (one of the key BuboniCon folks and a real gem of a woman with an endlessly fascinating mind. Her hubby is no slouch, either!).

On Saturday I gave a very well attended talk with a lot of stories about the adventures I’ve experienced and the films I’ve made. I had a terrific time.

Not So Terrific Department:
My wife, Kent, was recently diagnosed with kidney cancer. Her particular cancer gave her a one-in-three chance she wouldn’t make it through the next five years.

Fortunately, however, she became aware of her cancer very early —- two years earlier than she would have known normally. Finding a cancer in its earliest stages really works in your favor.

She had her surgery yesterday. I spent most of the day at the hospital, bringing her there at about 5:30 AM. The surgery took about 4.5 hours. She had the best urological surgeon in southern California (which is saying a lot).

Her surgery went incredibly well. She was lucky in that the tumor was on the outside of her kidney. That made snipping it off a relatively easy procedure (as opposed to if it had been buried inside her kidney). The margins were clear (meaning that the cancer had not yet spread to the rest of her kidney). She was able to retain 95 % of her kidney. The operation was so smooth and efficient that there was never a point where blood had to be cut off to her kidney. There was very little blood loss. She won’t need chemotherapy, either.

Whew! It’s always something…

I still have managed to find time for my murals, though. I’ll try to put up another mural post tomorrow so that you can see the progress I have made. I’ll tell you in advance that I ultimately felt the roadrunner was slightly too big, so I ended up repainting the entire critter.

Happy Birthday, Mr. Poe!

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Creating the San Diego Zoo Murals – Part Eleven

The detailing begins. I’m focusing on the animals first, as they are the most important elements to my San Diego Zoo client.

I began with the black bear. The umber underpainting really helps to warm up my rendering as it peeks through my cool color scheme of the bear here and there. It looks much harsher here than in the original, as the camera always seems to see and emphasize things that the human eye doesn’t. I’ll have to compensate for that with my final rendering of this animal, as the final display of my murals will be extremely detailed digital representations of them printed full size on a huge tile.

This rendering of the black bear is near completion; I don’t want it to get too tight; I want the execution of the animals to be consistent with my painterly handling of the landscape.

The jackrabbit sort of flew out of my brush with very little effort on my part (that’s not always so, believe me). Working wet-on-wet I got some very nice painterly passages happening here. There won’t be too much final tweaking necessary on this guy.

A roadrunner confronts a southern pacific rattlesnake. I’m kind of carving the animal forms out of paint. At this point I’ll make raw corrections to what is around them (ground, grass, etc.) without concern for the crudeness that surrounds each animal rendering. I can fix that later when I turn my focus to the different elements of the landscape. Right now my main concern is getting the animals — and their shapes — just right and in proportion.

Thinking about proportion brings up the fact that the roadrunner seems a little large in relation to the other animals. This afternoon I’m going to carve him down a little bit to solve that problem. Hopefully, it won’t require an entire repainting of the bird. If I have to, though, I’ll do it.

The rattlesnake was fun; I just happen to love painting snakes. I’ve owned many, so I am intimate with their anatomy. They are not tubes, as many artists have portrayed them. Everything hangs from their spine and their bellies are a bit flattened.

The trick in painting the roadrunner (and the hawks, as you’ll see) is in figuring out how to not lose the bird’s form with all of those complex plumage markings. The key is too simplify where possible and to use the markings to describe their forms.

Here is the cougar (or puma or mountain lion). I wrestled with this one for a while. I was having proportion problems, mostly. Cougar proportions (and colors), like humans, vary from one animal to another. My goal is to distill the essence of cougar, and paint a beautiful, definitive vision of this animal. As I’m painting, I am constantly checking: Are the neck and tail too short? Should I lengthen the body? If I do that, how will it affect its proportions in relation to the bear; i.e., will it then make the cougar too large relative to the bear? Are the eyes too high in the head (originally they were indeed too high, then too low. I think now, as Goldilocks would say, they are just right, although I think that head still needs a little work; some softening, perhaps)?

Unlike the bear, which was very cool in color and needing some warmth, the cougar as painted in my first pass of rendering was too warm. It needed some cool grays to take the bite out of the overall warmth — and, in my mind, to make it look more like a cougar.

I was also having problems with the cougar disappearing into the background. I fixed that by changing the values of what was behind the cougar. Some parts required darkening; others, lightening.

I took those rough brown blobs of my lay-in and turned them into three different species of hawks. There are a lot of delicate patterns in some hawks — like the ones portrayed here. The trap to watch out for would be rendering them too much and not leaving any soft edges. Without soft edges, the hawks won’t be a part of the picture. They’ll look like they’ve been stuck on to the canvas like paper stickers. So, I look for ways to realistically blur some of the edges of these birds with the sky.

Note that the sky (like the ground in the other animal renderings) is not finished at this point. I’ll get around to that later.

Upon finishing my first pass at rendering the animals in this quarter of the mural, I began to suggest some of the distant landscape.

At this point, I could either finish this quarter of the painting or continue down the mural and render the other animals. I think I’m going to do the latter because I fear that rendering each quarter’s landscape separate from each other might lead to some inconsistency in the painting. Better to paint each mountain range all at once, I think.

Last night I did a lot more research on the animals for both murals. I discovered several more creatures that I could include in both murals. Should I surprise the zoo and add all these extra animals? That is typically my tendency — to give my clients 120% or more of what they are expecting. I think it’s one of the reasons I’m successful.

We shall see if time allows for these unscripted additions.

Next: Rendering the Animals in Section Two