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Bear eyes. From my painting, The Forager.

The Making of “The Forager” Painting | Black Bear

It’s sleeting on this chilly January morning as I gather my board and easel. I’m about to get started on The Forager painting. The subject is a young black bear munching on wild grapes.

Note: ‘The Forager’ will show in Watercolor USA 2022 exhibit at the Springfield Art Museum on June 4 – August 28, 2022. Here’s the address: 1111 E Brookside Dr, Springfield, MO 65807. Hours: 10 – 6 pm, Tuesdays through Saturdays.

The original is sold, but archival prints are available. 12 x 16″ print is a limited signed/numbers editions of 100. Smaller sizes available as open edition prints.

Here’s the image I’ll be using as a reference. I had to do a bit of foraging myself to find a photo that captured the intent of this painting. This one is perfect. I’m using it under a licensed agreement with Rick Thigpen, the photographer. Check out his feed over at Instagram. Once I’m done with the Forager painting, I’ll come back and add the final pic to this section of the post.

Reference for The Forager painting by Madison Woods. Photo © Rick Thigpen
Photo © Rick Thigpen

Planning to Paint The Forager

Before I can begin even the first step of outline, there are a few necessary preparations. First, check my paint. Do I have enough to finish the whole thing, or do I need to make some more. For this one I’ll need a lot of black, green, and yellow. And brown. Second, do I want to paint on paper, or paper that has been attached to a cradle board?

I decided to go with the board, because it’s a lot easier to frame them. And because it’s on board, I can varnish it when I’m done and do away with glass in the framing. So that was a small project within itself, after the gathering and evaluating my paint supply. I make my paints from rocks, clay, bone, and a couple of plant pigments. But the black I’ll be using came from soot gathered out of our chimney cleaning task before winter began. The soot made a very nice, smooth, and deep black. Perfect.

Mounting Papers

To mount the boards I applied gesso to the surface of the board and the backside of the paper. After those dried, I applied more gesso to the surface of the board and then put the paper on top, gessoed side down. The paper won’t stay attached if there’s not an impermeable surface to attach with. That’s what the gesso does. It gives a layer of something that will stick. Once it was all put together, I put weight on top to keep it in contact. The trick is getting the bubbles out from underneath the paper. If you’re using a heavy paper (640 gsm) this is not so much a problem. But I wanted to use hot press for The Forager painting, and I could only find 300gsm in the 16 x 12″ size. That’s a lot thinner and prone to making bubbles.

Getting Started

Putting the first marks on the paper is always the hardest part for me. This is where I’ll get a good idea of whether or not it’s going to turn out good in the end. So once the easel is set up and the reference is hung alongside it, I usually just let it stay there in the kitchen on the table where I work for a few hours. As I see it, I think about it and ‘get to know’ the subject better. I get ideas and eventually, I’m ready to make the first marks – the outline.

Once the outline is there, it lets me know if I have the proportions right. Are the eyes in the right place, is the head and body shaped right, and what is the background going to look like? It takes another while for the answers to come, so it stays again in place, doing nothing. Except in my mind, I’m not doing nothing. When I look at it, I see if I need to make any changes. I use a color of paint to do the drawing part, a color that’s easy to move or lift if I want to change anything. In this case, so far I think it will work. It has a good balance and I can imagine the edges. The eyes and body proportions look right. Tomorrow morning, I’ll start adding color if it still looks right.

The Eyes

If you’ve watched any progress on other animals I’ve done, you’ll know that the eyes are the first thing I’ll work on once the painting has been blocked in with shapes and maybe a little colors in the background. For this bear, it’s no different. And as usual, I had trouble with one of the eyes and had to erase it completely and start over on it.

I’m almost finished with it now, and the next update will be the final picture. This cute little black bear original painting is no longer available. I will have archival prints, and stationery. It may be a while before I get it listed. If you’re interested in any of the above, please email me at madison@wildozark.com. Thank you for following along!

The Finished Painting

A black bear painting in Ozark pigments by Madison Woods.
Pigment sources: black from soot, gray from shale, blue from petals of Asiatic dayflower, all other colors from sandstones. All locally sourced in Madison county, at or near Wild Ozark in Kingston, Arkansas. All colors are permanent and lightfast except for the blue, which is light stable but has an unknown permanence. The blue was stable for four weeks in sunlight in my lightfast tests.

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