I took this shot a few years ago while taking part in a cattle drive on a working farm by Gunnison, Colorado. True to her herding instinct, this dog couldn't take her eyes off of the mare's heels.
I've spent the past several days processing and preserving the four bucks that friends brought us this hunting season. During this time, I was also in the process of beginning a new painting. I was fascinated by the beauty and gracefulness of these animals, and I realized I've never drawn or painted them before. I decided to pick out a piece of metal, and find a good photo from a magazine to paint.
As I sketched and visualized from the images I found, I wasn't inspired. I thought that no matter what I painted, it would feel trite and preconceived, because there is so much wildlife artwork out there, and in my opinion most of it is sort of saccharine.
As I sat and stared at the rusted, bent metal, I began to see an image of the deer emerging from it. I first saw it's eye, then antlers, then the form of the body in the bent areas. The more I looked at it, the more it felt as if the deer was telling me where it needed to go on the surface.
I've studied ancient cave paintings, one of my favorite documentaries is "The Cave of Forgotten Dreams" by Herzog Werner. The original version of the film is in 3D, because the artwork on the cave walls weren't simply two dimensional images. Each figure (mostly animals) was intentionally painted where it was because the shapes, curves and bumps in the body of the animal were reflected in curves and bumps in the rocks. The artists' had chosen to paint the animals where they did because they fit on that particular part of the rock surface, creating a 3 dimensional representation of the creature that almost seemed to come to life as a light was moved back and forth.
The documentary speculates about what inspired and motivated the artists I can attest that it is a pretty powerful feeling when, as I sat quietly with thoughts of the deer swirling through my head, the image of the deer almost seemed to walk out of the metal and look me in the eye. By disconnecting my logical mind and allowing my imagination and 'muse' to take me by the hand and lead me, I simply followed and tried not to get in the way..
As I painted I noticed that if I let my analytical mind get in the way, it began to look and feel contrived. I replaced "A deer is supposed to look like that" with, "look at this interesting bend in the metal, it is following the line that I want to take. I think I'll follow it and see where it goes." When I felt like I was getting off track, I pulled my thoughts back to the deer. How grateful I was for the deer that will feed us this winter. How beautiful they were, even in death. How soft their fur felt, and the interesting curve of their little nostrils.
In the end, this is what I aspire for my art to be about. Not contrived images that any good artist can paint on a canvas. I want both the subject and the medium to speak to me, and I want to be able to step back and let the artwork happen.
I've been excited to jump in and start painting horses on the rusted metal. A good friend of ours, Emma Brown, is an amazing photographer and gave me permission to use some of her photos from her time with her horses. The photo I worked from with this piece is of a horse named Rocky, who they rode on a ranch doing cattle work this summer.
Usually I will spend a few days thinking about a design and how I want it to look. I really liked this photo because the focal point was on Rocky's nose, and I wanted to put a lot of detail there with the background being more of a suggestion than perfectly rendered details. I love the textures and colors in the rust, and wanted to use those to my advantage in the piece.
Working on the rusty metal is a bit of a challenge. If I use anything that is waxy or oily for sketching out the design, it is permanent. So I settled on vine charcoal at first, then as I had the image mapped out better I used a white colored pencil.
After deciding where the image would lay on the metal (deciding which textures and colors that were already there would interact with the design), I picked colors based on the colors that were already there. I wanted them to blend in with the background to some degree, but I also wanted contrast so that the image would pop out. I began with oil pastels, filling in colors and shapes.
I found that they made a very rough line, so I took turpentine and lindseed oil and a paintbrush, and used the brush to fill in my details. The blacks weren't black enough and the whites weren't white enough, so I used a little bit of oil paint to define the details in the foreground.
I don't usually like using black, but in this case it was necessary to create enough contrast. I did use purples and blues for shadows and depth as well. I the end, I was pleased with the initial focal point being his nose, and then the stirrup to the left. There were two big bumps in the metal (I don't know what they were for originally) that I was able to incorporate into the design, particularly the stirrup. It is hard to see the depth and dimension from a photograph.
My current body of work involves using mixed media on rusted metal and found objects. I’ve been inspired to incorporate the things I find on our farm into my art. We recently cleared off the scrap metal and old equipment from the original homestead farm quarter. There was an old barn, a few out buildings, and an incredible amount of antique and broken farm machinery. We hauled it all to the scrap pile on the farm that we occupy now, with the intention to go through it one more time and eventually sell most of it for scrap metal.
There were rakes, seed planters, tillers, plows, wheels, a bit of everything from different decades. As much as I enjoyed sorting through these old treasures, I had my eye out for large flat rusted pieces of metal, which I found in abundance. The old barn had been sided with sheets that were originally oil drums that were cut and flattened. There were several access panels from old combines and machines, and pieces of windmills. I was fascinated with each thing I found, wondering about it's history. Who used it? What was life like then?
Not much was thrown away on either farm. What wasn’t re-purposed was dumped over the side of a ravine, and there are a couple of these dumps on the properites. Sheets of half-buried metal from roofs and old farm equipment abound, each in a different state of rust and decay. I’ve found some old metal that was probably used as a ceiling in the original farmhouse, with the square designs pressed in relief and most of the paint gone.
The next step was to choose a few panels of metal and take them to the shop in town. Alec has a big metal and machine shop, so I have every tool I need at my disposal for working with this stuff. I used the power washer to clean the dirt and goo off, I then took a sledgehammer and flattened them out as much as possible. Finally, I cut rough edges off and cut the pieces into rectangles and squares, trying to leave some rusted edges and leaving the personality of the metal intact.
I really have no idea what I will do with each one piece. I just know it's at the beginning of the next stage of its journey after the long years laying out in the elements.