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Researching for an Art Work

When you are a landscape painter, usually your resources are right in front of you. You can see the sky, the land, the animals… you can record the image and the impression. The same with portraits, cityscapes, anything that is representational. Your knowledge of color, form, temperature, drawing, brushing, etc. pay off big time, but your reference is solidly before you.

Morning Hills - 12" x 6" - Oil
Morning Hills – 12″ x 6″ – Oil

Then there are the works that come from the spirit, heart, mind or history, the Bible or another source where there is no physical example in front of you to resource from. A lot of it is imagination, using knowledge and experience from painting the “real things” that are more present. And there are the paintings that offer concepts that do not exist, but can be drawn from real life.

In the mural segment below, the wings shapes of the vultures and eagles had to be real for the simplified cartoons of the birds to be believed. Many days were spent in God’s word, also learning to lay gold and aluminum leaf, as well as sketching and designing while in the Word.


For example, I am now working on a piece about the 4 Horsemen of the Apocolypse… I wanted to not be too fantastical with an already fantastic subject.

I went to a women’s barrel race, found a position where the horses would charge straight toward me, and took a lot of photos of the horses, with my camera about 3 ft. off the ground. I was in the dirt. It was fabulous. (Those women can really ride, and I appreciate their letting me photograph them.) That was one of the thrilling research times.

Then there are the costumes… what are these beings wearing… the first horse, white, the rider representing the deceit that goes into the world, blinding people to the reality of God’s existence and the trouble ahead. He is carrying a bow… and wearing a “wreath” or a crown. The Parthian bowmen had a different shaped bow, and were expert shooters from horseback, about the time John wrote the book of Revelation. I thought that was a good time period to start from. So this rider is somewhat Parthian. His eyes will be like serpents eyes, yellow, deceitful…

Since the second horseman, war, comes after deceit, I chose a calvary swordsman’s clothes from the 14-1500’s, as represented by Albrecht Durer in his altar piece. The sword is from that time period also. I found this example in a book about the history of swords. His horse will be redder than a normal red horse, but not too fiery.

And so forth. You research in order to make things somewhat authenticated.

In Mr. Floppysocks is Loved, I had to be familiar with the way chickens fly, the way goats move and their body shapes, how rabbits run, etc. The hardest part of illustrating Mr. Floppysocks was doing the “trusty four-wheeler”. I don’t like drawing some machinery, even if my husband does indeed love his four-wheeler. The background was landscape locally, easy enough to suggest.

In the illustration below from Mr. Floppysocks is Loved, the research went into how the chicken’s body flew, the duck’s wings rise and flap, the goat’s tail and body form, etc. Even though the work is simplified and stylized, there was a lot of knowledge required.

Even Henny Hen wondered why Mr. Floppysocks kept a bedraggled beard on his face.


Below, I photographed “Mr. Floppysocks” in order to get the hands on the shovel and sizes relative when I draw him as a cartoon.



Back to the 4 Horsemen, the 4th horseman is death. He has to be sickly yet strong enough to kill. His horse must be powerful, yet sickly pale. I decided to make them look like they are living, but dead. I didn’t know what that looks like, so I had to research rigor mortis, how it looks, the colors of it. It made me feel queasy in my wammy, and I was extremely grateful I don’t have to work as a forensic detective or something. The colors of the condition will mean a lot when I get to painting that horse and rider, I hope I can pull it off. He’s far enough back that his eyes will be small, suggesting a milky appearance covering whatever color.

It takes many years to be able to draw and paint. But there is the constant need of being able to see… inwardly and outwardly. There must be a vision of what you want to paint, somewhat, then the painting takes you where it wants to go.

I wanted to write about researching, it helped me to get past the startling images of rigor mortis.

But when you are working, you must enter into whatever you are working, the work reflects your view and feeling about the subject. Sometimes one must dwell where they may not want to. When I painted the self portrait amidst the lavender and bunnies, that was pretty nice.



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