Starting on the wolves today...feeling really great about the painting thus far. As many artists will tell you, feeling great about a painting is a luxury! I've still got some spots on the painting that I'm not completely happy with, but overall I think it's going very well. On a painting this large, it's important to stop occasionally and step back quite a distance to study it, so yesterday I took it outside and leaned it up against the garage doors, both to be able to back off 20 feet or so to look at it, and to see it under different light. I also took a quick digital photo of it, and then came back inside and downloaded the photo into Photoshop. I wanted to play around with the values in the foreground rocks because they didn't seem to have "enough sunlight" on them. That's another great thing about the computer technology...you can try out modifications to your painting before actually painting them!
Okay, here I've lightened up the highlights in the rocks, and have been working on the wolves. The left wolf is the farthest along, the right one is the least far along. The right wolf mainly has the major darks roughed in, the middle wolf has some major lights roughed in as well. The left wolf has some color added and I'm beginning on detail. The reason the three wolves are in different stages of completion is because I work on one until it's time to let it dry a bit in order to continue, then go to another one, bring it up to same level, then the third. By that time the first one is ready for further work.
Below you'll see the wolves after another day of work. The left wolf is now getting fairly close to completion. It still needs some further additions to the lightest highlights in the fur, some detail work in the face and paws, and the addition of a bit of the tail between the two hind legs. The middle wolf is less far along, especially in the face. The right wolf still needs a lot of work. One more day of work should see them all nearly complete.
Here I've added detail to the other wolves. The left wolf is mostly done except for the eyes, tongue, nose, and paws. The other two need a few more color glazes and some more emphasis on darks and lights.
Once I get all the wolves up to the final level of detail, it's time for the eyes. People always ask me why I do eyes the last thing. Many artists do the eyes first. But the fact is that I KNOW the eyes will turn out right--eyes are easy. The expression in an animal, like that of a human, is in the facial features around the eyes, not in the eyes themselves. But eyes add a sense of aliveness to the animal. If I can get the facial features right without the "distraction" of the aliveness of the eyes, I 've accomplished my purpose, and the eyes are just the finishing touch.
But people are often freaked out by the "zombie" look of my animals before eyes are finished!
Wolf eyes are various shades of yellow which vary with individual animals, but the irises are always darker toward the center where the pupil is. Here I've added the dark to the iris.
Now I've added the yummy yellow of the outside of the iris.
Now the pupil is added in black. This might be a good time to talk a bit about the artistic license I take in the eyes. First of all, with the sunlight in this painting as low as it is, the light would be hitting the eyes pretty directly, and there would be very little shadow at the upper edge of the eyes. But painting them with so little shadow would mean that the pupil would be entirely surrounded by the bright iris colors. Anytime you do that, the animal (or a person, for that matter) tends to look wide-eyed, almost manic and staring. It's not usually a good look, although I'll use it purposely when depicting prey animals being chased, because it makes them look more alarmed. But here I don't want that look so I add a little more dark shadow than pure photographic realism would dictate, so that when I add the pupil it will connect with that dark shadow area.
The final touch is the little white highlight, which is the reflection of the sun in the eye. I've often seen artists make a mistake here by following their reference photo too carefully. I've seen reflections of two light sources--the photographer's flashes. I've seen reflections of light coming through zoo bars! I keep it simple--if the sun is hitting the animal, it will be a small, white or near white, dot in the animal's eye. In this light situation, the sun is hitting the animals almost directly from behind the viewer, so it would reflect very near the center of the animal's eye. But here I take another bit of artistic license...I don't want that white highlight to be within the pupil. It just doesn't look good. So I move it a bit off center to where it is near the edge of the pupil.
And finally, a quick photo of the finished painting before varnishing. On a painting this large, my photo set-up won't handle it, so I'll have to take it to get it professionally photographed.
In the end, I made a number of last minute changes to the painting. I thinned the legs and neck of the center wolf. Added a bit more color into the wolves as well as darkening the shadow areas on them a bit. Darkened the lower legs and paws a little to make them fit into the landscape better, and added some light highlights in the rocks to better match the lights in the wolves. Added some blue-violet into the rocks beneath the wolves to make the foreground relate a little more to the background. Worked some more on the plants in the foreground. And worked on some edges here and there to better define them, especially the backs of the wolves.
Hope everybody enjoyed this. I'll do it again on a different type of painting with different challenges.
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