Friday, March 29, 2013

The best day in Yellowstone EVER!

Well I might be a bit giddy from it all, and have over exaggerated just a bit. But yesterday certainly was an absolutely FABULOUS day to spend in Yellowstone. I completely and thoroughly enjoyed myself.

3 studies under my belt, balmy temps (it was WARM, not even a coat was needed!)  the place virtually to myself (one painting I literally painted right off the white line, since there were so few cars on the road) and LOADS of wildlife, too.

I LOVE those gorgeous spring days – definitely some of the best of the year…heck, maybe even ‘of a lifetime’!

Warm Creek study - 12" x 9"  plein air  oil   by Shirl Ireland

Lamar River study - 6" x 12"  plein air  oil by Shirl Ireland

My easel with painting set up over the Lamar River. Not a bad spot to 'bask' for a while.
I've always liked the saying "to paint snow you have to have cold feet". But NOT yesterday! These are those days that you can't explain to an "Easterner" - I know, I lived out East in my 'past life'.

Here, in the West, the sun can come out and make it feel just about like a summer day. (You've seen those photos of skiers with shorts on?? They're not crazy - it can feel THAT warm - yes, even on the snow.)

So, I was basking.... Enjoying painting the snow with warm feet and hands. With the warmth of the sun on my back. Ahhhh - I love to be able to get snow studies without the 'winter dues'.

The wildlife must of been enjoying the mild weather too. There was a lot moving around...
Bison - many, many out and about. This one was particularly handsome.

Bighorn sheep - nice curls!

There were about 15 together.
 I couldn't fit them all in the photo.... now that's A LOT of curls!
AND - a mother moose with her calf.

Looks like I will be getting my brushes going on some new wildlife paintings!

Our Yellowstone Zoo
- photos from our windows -
Elk antics....
On the roof last night....
and wading in the river this morning.
There have been A LOT of elk on our property lately.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

My grizzly affair is over

Grizzly Skulls  12" x 24"  Oil  by Shirl Ireland

I finished my painting of the male and female grizzly skulls today. (The skulls are in the collection of the Yellowstone Heritage and Research Center.)

I certainly enjoyed painting this one. Fun to create the form with such interesting colors. The colors in skulls can be captivating to me... and there were spectacular colors in these two! Like I've said MANY times -- white is never really white.

Both grizzlies died in Yellowstone of natural causes. Both were 12 years old. Both were considered "average" sized grizzlies for their gender. The female (on the left) weighed about 250 pounds. The male weighed in at over 576 pounds!

Really - my drawing is correct... I made sure of it. Checked and double checked.... Since portraying the VAST size difference was a big reason for me putting the two skulls together. It really is amazing to see the difference side by side.

Grizzlies are beginning to come out of their winter dens in Yellowstone. Sightings have been reported, although I haven't seen one myself yet. Generally, the male grizzlies emerge first. This news release was put out March 14, 2013 -  

Our Yellowstone Zoo
- photos from our windows -
Mule deer taking a break this afternoon.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The important nuances of EDGES

Not a flashy subject, but a very important one!

Our last painting class in this session is tonight. We're going to finish up with edges and brushwork as our last topic. So it's on my mind.

Not as much talked about as some of the other principles we've covered - but quite important to a work of art. Often if you are a newer painter, paying attention to edges can make a BIG difference in your work.

I'll give you a short tidbit of the class. To keep it succinct for a blog post vs. my class... we'll just touch on edges here. And I'll finish up with references where you can learn more. (Or, of course, take class with us next time!)

Edges occur at all boundaries of all shapes within your painting. Edges can run the gamut from razor sharp to totally diffused – sometimes called hard or soft, or lost or found edges.

A hard edge may mean that the form is turning quickly – the edge formed by the corner of a house where two planes converge at a right angle.

Sharp edges call attention to themselves.
(In my studio painting below in my last post  - notice places where the sunlit stream touches the shadowed ground. You'll see an abrupt change - a hard edge.)

A soft edge could mean the form is turning into the background more gradually - the edge of an apple against the background, it curves slowly as it recedes.

A soft edge is quieter and will be less noticed.
(In my studio painting below in my last post, look at where the steam touches the sky. In most places, it has a very soft feel.)

A lost edge is when a shape of color blends into another so gradually that it is impossible to tell exactly where one begins and the other ends. When lost edges occur, it can help to integrate the objects into the environment of the painting. Look for opportunities to exploit this for artistic purposes!

A lost edge totally eludes the viewer, often giving a feeling of mystery.
(In my studio painting below, look at the very top of the steam where it touches the darker sky. It's hard to tell where one stops and the other begins...a lost edge.)
Being aware of the nuances of edges is a powerful tool.

In general, a variety of edges is most desirable...

- An overload of hard, sharp edges strikes us as harsh, artificial and flat.
- An overload of soft edges will make a painting feel ‘mushy and uncommitted’ and too uniformly diffused.

The way you combine hard and soft edges should be an integral part of the DESIGN of your painting. The way you treat edges should be a combination of what you see observing the forms of your subject and your desire to produce an artistic, pleasing work.

To cover the topics more in depth...

Brushwork by Emile Gruppe , a great book first printed in 1977.
Alla Prima by Richard Schmid has a fantastic chapter on Edges.

Both I've read many times.

Our Yellowstone Zoo
- photos from our windows -
A beaver on the shore!
I posted our sighting of a pair of beavers a little while ago...the first beaver we had ever seen from our property. Yesterday evening, we spotted this one munching on a stick.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Getting close

A lot is culminating this week - painting class and possibly some studio paintings I've been working on for a while. Class has a much more 'defined ending'!

This studio painting has been on my easel for many months and it's getting close to completion. That's exciting!

A while back I discussed and posted a photo of the underpainting/sketch. So it may look familiar to you.

Untitled (as of yet) - Upper Geyser Basin   oil   by Shirl Ireland
It's definitely about color! It needs to glow. I've been fine tuning for a while - adjusting the warms and cools to make the painting 'sing'. Adding some glazes, too. I can almost hear it!

So now, I'll leave it sit - that "cooling off period" I talk about. I even like to turn it to the wall so I can't see it for awhile. After all, I've been staring closely at it for a long time. It will be good to take a break and come back at it with a fresh eye.

One of the old masters said he would turn his paintings to face the wall for a while and then turn them back to face him and "see what monsters were lurking"....good way to put it!

Hopefully, I'll just make a couple minor adjustments before it's all over. But if you can see one of those 'monsters' - let me know!

Painting class culminates tomorrow evening. Our topic will be edges and brushwork. I'll give you a little preview of that art lesson in my next post.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Otter inspiration

Our Yellowstone Zoo
- photos from our windows -

An otter caught a trout and stopped at the shoreline to 'eat lunch' today.

Otters blend in so well with the surroundings, it's hard to spot them. But when you do, they're a real treat to watch.
We watched for awhile as he 'ate lunch' and then was on his way....

The perfect opportunity for a wildlife painting! So I set up my easel on the shore to do a plein air study in oils of the spot where he 'had lunch'.

The composition was really important. I wanted the otter to 'blend into the surroundings' - be a surprise spotting, just as they usually are here.

The Yellowstone River needed to be a large part of the painting. After all, the water is where otters are most 'at home'. Those beautiful water colors would need to catch your eye and draw you in. I didn't want the otter to be the main focus, as you would often expect in a wildlife painting.

I planned where I would place the otter as I was painting and added him in.

Yesterday, I had done a couple water studies of the Gardiner River, so I was 'warmed up' and ready to paint water...

Otter At The Shore - plein air study in oil  12' x 12'    by Shirl Ireland
I'll let it sit in the studio and have a 'cooling off' period. (You usually need to distance yourself from your work to see it more clearly for it's flaws as well as it's attributes.) If it passes the 'test', I'll use this as my study to work up a larger studio piece.

It certainly could be dramatic to paint this piece BIG. I'm hoping it passes!

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Let's talk VALUE

Value has been on my mind. Last night in painting class that was our topic here in the studio. 
Tonal Value, Tone, Value... all the same thing. To an artist that's the term for a grayscale - light to dark WITHOUT color. Black being the darkest, white the lightest. Like a black and white photo.
It's a VERY important concept in painting, but a difficult one for many.
A good way to start the process of observing values is to note the lightest light and the darkest dark in your subject.  With this point of reference, you know that all the other values fall somewhere in between. Comparison is really what value is about.
Color can be so 'in your face' that it gets in the way of seeing the true value. Squinting at your subject can help.
Yesterday morning, before class, I painted this scene of Mount Everts in Yellowstone National Park near Mammoth.
My photograph of the scene.
Look at those blue/purple shadows in the distance - boy, are they captivating! Oooh, it's hard to ignore that color coming at you. But to make the shadows FEEL like shadows, you need to get the right VALUE. Painting them too dark is a common mistake.
Where is my lightest light?  
Where is my darkest dark?
(Think before you read on)
Mount Everts study  12" x 12"   Oil  by Shirl Ireland
The lightest light is the snow in the foreground. The darkest dark is the shadow base of the junipers.

That tells us that the shadows in the distance need to be lighter in value than the darks of the junipers.

Remember, once you've established your lightest light and your darkest dark - everything else needs to fall somewhere in between. It's just a matter of comparison to be sure they all fall correctly into place.

Observe, observe, observe. Learn to really SEE. You can practice anytime. Look around, spot your darkest dark and your lightest light and note how the other tones fall in between.

See if you can 'ignore the color' and focus on just the tone. The more you practice, the easier it gets.

P.S. - I've hiked on the top of Mount Everts too. Fun hike up there and great views! If you want to see another photo of Mount Everts and get more info on visiting the Mammoth area, click here.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Painting in the Park

What a WONDERFUL day to plein air paint in Yellowstone. One of those first warm spring days AND I had the Park to myself.

Well, just about. March is one of the quietest times in the Park. Not many people around at all. They don't know what they're missing!

When it's this quiet, I often paint the 'easy access spots' that can be crowded in other seasons. Today I headed to Palette Spring - right up the boardwalk from Liberty Cap in Mammoth.

It's a gorgeous spot on the Terraces - lots of water flowing right now.

Palette Spring
Look at that beautiful turquoise blue water of the pool.

My palette in front of Palette Spring.

My finished study of Palette Spring

And wildlife was everywhere. Remember, I only live about 5 miles from Mammoth. But you can see a lot in those 5 miles! Here's just a small sampling of what I saw...



Bison scratching on the picnic tables in Mammoth.
Hey, when no one is around, why not?!

It's GREAT when you can finally take the gloves off for plein air painting.
Can't wait to get back out there!

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Bison on cue

Today, I was working on one of the larger paintings I have going here in the studio - of a bison herd in the snow on a very 'messy' day.

This is a detail from the painting in progress.... I want the bison to FEEL like bison, but I don't want to 'get out the tiny brush' and add every hair. Think Fechin. (Check back to one of my recent posts if you don't know what Fechin is)
When, what do you know, my models showed up!...

Our Yellowstone Zoo
- photos out our windows -
It was really helpful to see them moving and try to capture 'their essence'. 

As I was painting, I wondered how many artists are lucky enough to have their wildlife models show up out their studio windows?? And bison at that!

Now, gotta go - time to get ready for my painting class here on Tuesday evenings in March. Tonights topic is color. One of my favorites!

Friday, March 8, 2013

Wildlife smorgasbord

In just 12 hours,
it can be amazing what we see here...
Our Yellowstone Zoo
- photos from our windows -
Yesterday evening, we had otters on the shore of the river.
ALWAYS fun to watch....
They were on the shore digging for a while...
This morning, we woke to a bit of fresh snow...
I'm currently working on a painting of bison in snow, so it's nice to have references right out the windows!
And seeing the elk in the fresh snow, certainly makes the 'wheels turn' on ideas there too. Love the coloring with the dried grasses.
How could 2 artists live here and NOT paint and sculpt wildlife?!

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

A grizzly affair

I'm still painting grizzly skulls at the Yellowstone Heritage and Research Center. I've finished my study of the male grizzly skull.

From my last 'grizzly post', you saw the painting in progress. Here, I added some more form to the skull, a few details (particularly around the teeth and nose to bring them forward), some highlights and adjusted the background a bit.
576 1/2   - male grizzly skull   oil    by Shirl Ireland
Now, I'm planning a painting of the male and female skulls side by side. Being both 'average' sized male and female 12 year old grizzlies - the size difference is interesting to see.


I'm going to forgo the Yellowstone Zoo - for Montana wildlife today since....
the swans are back on the pond!

It's always exciting to see this pair of swans return to this nesting area. (It's about a half hour from our place.) I watch them from afar every year. And rejoice when I see the new cygnets on the pond for the first time with the parents. Spring is in the air! I'll keep you posted.

(If you've been following my blog....This is the pair of swans I referred to when I painted a swan on her nest for last year's Holiday cards - "Miracles Are Everywhere". )

Monday, March 4, 2013

Yellowstone art history lesson

Abby Williams Hill (1861-1943) was an artist who painted Yellowstone in the early 1900's. She was also known for painting other western landscapes and national parks. She painted some florals, still lifes and Native American portraits as well. A very interesting woman for her day.

The railroad companies commissioned artists in that day and age to paint western scenes to 'lure the tourists' out here. Abby garnered four successive contracts with major railway companies which provided extensive periods for camping and landscape painting.

She was here in Yellowstone plein air painting for one of those commissions... bringing her 4 children (who she home schooled) with her. There are photos of them all lounging in their tent together. Her physician husband remained in Tacoma.

Abby was a great record keeper, so there are many many journals recording her adventures. The curator was kind enough to pull her Yellowstone journal for us to see.

She describes her adventures in Yellowstone in her journals...and there are many adventures as you can imagine! On her second day, she has a long descriptive entry and finishes it with "When I try to write it all, I feel helpless. There is nothing like Yellowstone Park and one must see it for themselves."

Most of her work is now in the collection of the University of Puget Sound. We visited with the curator and toured the halls to see the collection last week.
The Abby Williams Hill art collection is here
at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, Washington

I chose a few of my favorite paintings that we saw to post....

Yellowstone Falls (from below)
Yellowstone Falls
String Lake
(in Grand Teton National Park)

To learn more about her and see more of her work, the book Abby Williams Hill is on sale at the University of Puget Sound bookstore. Written by Ronald Fields, faculty in their Art Department - he states in his foreword in the book...
"When I first began my research on Abby Hill, I was so taken by her extraordinary personality and unusual life, that it was difficult to pay attention to the paintings themselves. I trust the reader will also be captivated by this remarkable woman".

Friday, March 1, 2013

Staring down a grizzly

To break up some of my 'art history lessons', I'll squeeze in a post about my current painting project at the Yellowstone Heritage and Research Center. My subjects are grizzly bear skulls.

A male and a female, both 12 years old. Both died of natural causes. The male had puncture wounds to his abdomen.The female was estimated at approximately 250 pounds, while the male was 576 1/2 pounds. The male skull is MUCH larger.
I decided to start with a study of the male grizzly skull this week.

My subject:
This needs to be drawn WELL. It's an odd angle, but it creates some very interesting shapes.
The drawing I do straight on the canvas with paint. You could do it with graphite, charcoal or the like, as I've done in the past. But these days, I'm comfortable just drawing right on there with paint and brush.
Next, I added some color - paying attention to the warm and cool colors that I always find fascinating on skulls and other 'white' objects. And, I played with the background.

Here, I'm a couple hours into my study. Now, I'm letting it dry and may try a warm glaze over all and add more texture to some passages. (Remember, I just came from the Fechin exhibit - so the importance of drawing, texture and boldness are front in my mind!)
Since I don't have the female skull done yet to post, I'll include a past female grizzly painting I did to round it out.
Yes, I've stared down other grizzly in the Yellowstone Heritage and Research Center collection, too...
This is bear 264 - a very famous bear in the history of Yellowstone. I did a post on here way back when.

Bear 264 Study    Oil    by Shirl Ireland
A very well known mother of many cubs, seen often near the roads in Yellowstone. She had admirers. She was known to have a 'sweet disposition' (for a grizzly bear mother). I tried to captured that in my painting of her.

My 'skull paintings' I believe help me with my wildlife work. I've painted MANY skulls at the Yellowstone Heritage and Research Center now. They can tell a story of their lives, if you study them closely. (Did you notice the broken tooth on the grizzly skull above??)

It's always very informative to study 'what's under there' to understand wildlife (or human) anatomy. I enjoy painting skulls, not only for the interesting shapes and colors, but also for the anatomy lesson.