The first painting of 2021 is also the first of its size, and the first using a single source for pigment. But it is my second Brahman cow portrait. ‘Brahman Baby’ was the first. This is my progress page, for those who like to see the progression of how a painting looks from blank canvas to finished work.
Fear of the First Stroke
The first marks on the clean, fresh paper are always the hardest. So I incubate the image I want to paint in my head for a while. Maybe that’s a bit of procrastination, but it gives me time to get to know it better. The more comfortable I am in my head with it, the more I can ‘see’ it in my mind, the less reticent I am about putting the first strokes down. Once the ‘seeing’ is strong enough, I am plagued by a need to begin the actual work of painting it.
Inevitably, I will make mistakes along the way. I’m trying to not fear the mistakes so much in this cow portrait.
This used to really freak me out, but now I know I can try to correct them. If the problem can’t be corrected, then I’ll camouflage it somehow. The very worst possibility is that I’ll have to accept the fault and live with it. And I’ve recently made postcards from cut paintings and found that they work very well like that! So all is not lost on a ‘failed’ attempt at a painting. I can also flip the sheet over and try the other side with a new attempt.
In the very beginning stages, most of the work is just making sure the elements are all in the proper places on the paper and in context with the main subject. For any of the wildlife, it’s always the eyes. For this Brahman cow, it’s the eyes and also the dewlap, ears, and angle of stance.
I think I really like doing cow portraits, though this is only the second one. I’d like to do more in the future, maybe some different colored cows. But Brahmans work really well for the grayscale. Here’s the photograph I’m working from for this one. Even though I use it for reference, the finished paintings rarely look exactly like the photo. I usually change or add things. For this one, notice the final pic has the tail in a different spot and grasses out front. The dewlap on mine is different too, but I used this pic to give me an idea of how the shading and wrinkles should look, even if mine is configured differently.
While I strive for an element of realism, I’ve given up on trying to do a photographic reproduction of a subject. Not only can I just not do it, but what would be the point if all I’m doing is copying a cow portrait photo into a different media? The deviations will be the thing that makes a painting different from a photograph. And it’s okay with me if that’s just a rationalization to make myself feel better for not being able to achieve the exact replica in the first place, haha.
Cow Portrait Pigments
All pigments used on this painting will be bone: bone white, bone black, and bone gray (a mix of the two). I won’t use shale on this one because that would add a different tone of gray than the bone. Shale has a slight brown undertone that shows up in thinner washes.
Here’s how it’s going so far. I’ll update this post until it’s finished. I want to be finished before January 15, so I’ll be working on it daily if possible.
Art in Progress
In addition to starting this painting, today I’ve got a few other things on my to-do list. So I got up at 4 am this morning, brought hay to the horses in the dark. Then started the coffee pot (it was set to come on at 5, but I was up earlier), and then got this part (the first three frames) done before 6 am. In between baking some peanut butter cookies for Rob, and stuffing capsules with turmeric, I’m studying the easel and deciding what needs to be changed. See that summary below.
Some mistakes can be adjusted if not completely erased and done again – and some can’t be helped once the lines are placed. Her head is not quite long enough, so I’ll move the nose down a bit. But that won’t be enough to totally make it right. This is an example of something I’ll have to live with and work around.
Here’s a couple of the things I need to do differently, which can be fixed or changed. After studying what I’ve done so far (at frame 5, above). First, the angle of the head is wrong. She needs to be turned ever so slightly toward the left (if looking at her as the viewer, not as the cow). Her eyes aren’t right yet, but I’ve only marked their place right now. So I’ll fix that later, too. I haven’t gotten to the shadows needed to show the little indication of dewlap on the left side yet (did that in cow portrait photo-5). I haven’t gotten to the rest of her body yet. Before I do that, I’ll give the middle and foreground some dappled color so when I’m ready I can add some grass accents, with some foreground grass at the very end.
When I finished the left ear, that was my stopping point for the day. I was pretty satisfied with it when I went to bed. However, the next morning, I noticed some things about it I wanted to fix.
Calling it Done
*** I finished this painting on a most auspicious day: 21rst day of the 21rst year of the 21rst century. ***
More Progression Posts?
Follow me on Instagram if you like to watch progressions. When I start new paintings, I post updates as I do them. Here are some of the past posts that show progression:
Madison Woods is a self-taught artist who moved to the Ozarks from south Louisiana in 2005. In 2018 she began experimenting with watercolor painting, using her local pigments. She calls them Paleo Paints, and her artwork features exclusively the lightfast pigments foraged from Madison county, Arkansas. Her inspiration is nature – the beauty, and the inherent cycle of life and death, destruction and regeneration.
Her online portfolio is at www.MadisonWoods.art.
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