"Buffalo Crossing" 8" x 10" oil/linen
I have plans to add animals and people to my paintings. I say plans because adding animals and people to a painting throws in a whole new design element I have not had to deal with to this point. In order to be effective they have to be properly placed and painted so they look like they belong and with animals, in particular, you have to know enough about the anatomy and behavior to know you have placed the right animal in the right landscape. It sounds easier than it is.
I've had the extreme pleasure of over the last five years to be represented by Collectors Covey which is well known for the quality of sporting art they sell and the artists they represent. Along with that has come the opportunity to share notes with Ken Carlson and Brian Grimm and the collectors who purchase their paintings. Along the way I've learned the reason these guys are so popular is they are very fine painters and they know their stuff. Their research is impeccable.
That's a very long introduction for my decision to add these new elements to my work. I have a painting in my head I want to do of the Tetons and I'd like to include some buffalo in the lower portion of the painting. Hence the need to paint a buffalo study.
The study is done from a photo I took about ten years ago in Lawton, Oklahoma and the buffalo in my photo is walking across a dirt road not water, but he is kicking up some dust which I have decided to make into water. Using thinned down burnt sienna I make a quick gesture sketch. Satisfied I have the proportions correct, I move on to the next step.
In early spring buffalo begin to shed their heavy winter coats so I have decided to depict that time of year. I block in the head and winter coat quickly. I like the fresh and sketchy look to the paint so I decide to do the entire painting in this style. Could be onto something new here! I'm going to paint the entire buffalo then add an appropriate landscape around him.
Things are getting a little trickly. I want to keep the sketchy look to the paint, but I have to slow down enough that I paint the musculature and gesture correctly. I want to paint the cool reflected light that would be bouncing up from the water onto the buffalo's belly and I want the paint stroke to look like it is put down with no thought at all. This is when I typically start to tighten up and I lose the sketchiness.
Satisfied with the buffalo I begin to paint the surrounding landscape. I don't have a particular landscape in mind so I just randomly start putting down the blue water which I think is a nice contrasting color to the warm color of the buffalo's fur. I add a small foreground element in the bottom left which is a design element to keep the viewer's attention higher up in the painting.
I add the landscape of the river going behind the buffalo. I begin to paint the splashing water at the feet of the buffalo and realize I know absolutely nothing about painting splashing water. Put on the breaks...time to go to the internet! I take about an hour to look at some of Bill Anton's paintings of cattle crossing rivers. I look at a few of Jason Rich's paintings and Dan Mieduch's paintings of Indians doing battle on horseback in rivers and then some of Steve Atkinson's recent work of horses running in water. I also recall a series of Marlboro ads with horses running in water. I love the internet!
My first mistake was sitting down to do my research. It's midnight and I'm pooped, but I force myself back in front of the easel and fresh with the new knowledge about splashing water, I take a palette knife, scoop some purplish color and some yellow ochre and some white and with a single swoosh (okay maybe two or three swooshes) of my knife I add the splashing water at the feet of my buffalo.
And there you have it...my very first buffalo painting.