Monday, May 9, 2011

Persephone and Calf, Poplarville, Mississippi

I promised I would post a sequential progress series for my latest large cow portrait, which I just finished in time for The Mama Lisas show. This is a portrait of a cow and calf, taken from a photo provided by my friend and former co-worker Katie, who grew up on a farm in Poplarville, Mississippi. Katie raised cows for show as she was growing up. She says that the mother cow in this portrait is named "Persephone" - as she puts it: ". . . as in the Queen of the Underworld in Greek mythology; this calf was hell on wheels, just like her momma!" I was tickled by this story and I tried to capture their personalities in my painting. I am hoping that I was able to capture the mischievousness in the young calf - the third generation of "hell on wheels"! So here is my progress series for this portrait.

1. Free-hand drawing onto toned canvas.

There seems to be alot of controversy nowadays about free-hand drawing versus projections and tracings of images. I am of the "old school", I guess, because I really love to draw and somehow think that tracing a projected image would result in a stilted drawing. However, I actually do often use a crude grid system to help with placement and proportions in my initial drawing. In this case I gridded the 36" x 48" canvas into one-foot squares, used that for working out the relative proportions, and then free-hand sketched in the cow and calf, making appropriate adjustments based on my "aesthetic" eye. The sketch is using a one-inch flat brush with a thinned combination of burnt sienna and burnt umber acrylic paint.

2. Block out background and begin to wash in blocks of color in acrylic.

I washed in the light blue background (cerulean blue + cadmium yellow light + titanium white); and blocked in the green grassy areas (cerulean blue + cadmium yellow light + yellow ochre + naples yellow), adding a touch of cadmium red to the green mixture to hint at shadow under the cow. Blocked in some white areas on face, neck and horns, adding some cool shades of blue and violet to establish some forms and contours.

3. Build up color and mass in the mother cow figure.

I began building up layers of color to establish the mass of the cow - my palette here is primarily burnt sienna, yellow ochre, cadmium red, alizarin crimson, burnt umber, ultramarine blue and cerulean blue. I like using a relatively limited palette with lots of the earth pigments included. I apply glazes and swatches of color in a painterly and almost abstract fashion, hoping that the shapes will eventually emerge. The beauty of acrylic paint for me is that I can paint in glazes, and if it doesn't suit me, I can build over it with more glazes. The challenge is to make any "paint overs" still look fresh.

4. More layers and begin to define the face and ears of the mamma cow.

5. Further refinement of cow's face. Block in masses of color and shapes to define the calf. At this point I also tried to make sure I captured the expressions and personalities of both subjects.

6. Further refinements. I made some adjustments to the cow's rear legs to weight them more evenly to the ground, and deepened the shadow under the cow. Also filled out the calf's legs. At this point there was something not quite right about the cow's right front leg.

7. Final adjustments to front legs and hooves, addition of highlights, and worked up layers of texture and suggestion of vegetation in the grassy area.

8. Final adjustments and highlights and a coat of varnish - and it is done! Come see "Persephone and Calf" (acrylic on canvas, 36" x 48") at the Mobile Arts Council this month, during The Mama Lisas - Young at Art exhibition.

1 comment:

Jami Buck said...

I love seeing the progress of the painting, Joanne. One of our friends stated that, although she never thought about cows as a subject to interest her, after seeing your painting she would have that in her living room. She LOVED it. So do I.