Every September I spend a week or more in the Teton National Park and Yellowstone Park gathering reference for my wildlife paintings. This year when observing a cow moose feeding in the water near Wilson Road, just outside the entrance to the Park, I was drawn to how the reflections of the dead trees created a great design with all the fingers on the tree images pointing to the moose. I took a lot of photos of the cow moose and the scenery. (Click any of these images for an enlarged view.)
I have a great library of my own photographic animal references after more then 30 years of these fall visits to the Teton and Yellowstone Park. That's one reason I like painting wildlife, it's so much fun to spend time with these majestic animals observing their behavior and taking in the beauty of the environment they live in.
Starting the Work
When planning the painting, I knew I wanted a large bull moose, not just a cow, as my subject. I started the design with thumbnail drawings. These are very simple thumbnails, because I knew in my mind what I wanted to do, except whether to have a cow and bull or just a bull.
I decided on the middle one and, after looking through my reference photos, found a good bull reference and he was facing the other way, which I liked. And I liked the high horizon with the reflections being the predominate element in the painting.
I really like the greys of the dead trees reflecting and knew painting them would be fun. Greys have a lot of hints of other colors and I enjoy mixing colors to make different greys that bind the painting together. The brighter orange of the meadow grasses should make a beautiful statement.
At the Canvas
These were the only preliminary drawings I did. Then I went to the canvas and drew the bull first, with thinned down paint, just enough paint to draw and wipe off to correct. The animal needs to be drawn very accurately with necessary detail. The foreground and background not so much, just a few lines for a guide and then I block in color and pay close attention to values. I like paintings like this, there's no doubt what the center of interest is, the bull moose.
At the stage shown in this photo, I'm establishing the drawing and blocking in color without getting too detailed, moving along until I get the entire canvas covered; making everything as accurate in drawing and color as possible, so there isn't much correcting as I go back through and finish.
I'm never sure how long a painting will take to finish. I'm a perfectionist, so that sometimes gets in my way. I also usually have more than one painting in progress at a time. Painting is such a problem solving adventure that it sometimes helps me to set the painting aside and come back to it later with a fresh eye and renewed enthusiasm.