Jeff Gandert: Cut to the Chase

Painting wildlife can be fulfilling and challenging no matter what your style. But wildlife painters can limit themselves if they?re too cautious to experiment with their standard painting process. It?s probably safe to say, for instance, that the vast majority of artists (wildlife and otherwise) start their paintings with some sort of line drawing, whether it?s in pencil, charcoal, thinned paint or something else. Therefore, most artists are surprised to learn that I completely bypass this step and start a work by going straight to painting acrylic on a blank panel.

Suburban Wilderness

Once I have the idea for the painting, I either extensively photograph the scene or start painting on location, or both. There?s no thumbnail sketch or predrawing at all. I?ve registered the scene and envisioned where I want the elements, so I?m ready to paint.

The big shapes are the foundation of the painting, much like the foundation of a house?if it?s not right, the whole thing will be unstable. The key is to hit the correct value of these big shapes. I don?t look at the trees for the correct value; I look at the woods as a whole. Also, I don?t get too caught up in color or drawing issues at this point. There will be plenty of time for finesse and refinement later, so at this stage I want results fast. This process takes me 10-15 minutes.

New Growth—Trumpeter Swan

Blocking in a painting in this loose manner also leaves me with a strong sense of command with my paints. If the tree line is too low in the painting, I just paint out the wrong area with the color I use for the cornfield. If I don?t like the position of the deer, I paint it out and repaint it where I want it. I feel there?s no mistake I can?t easily correct.

A native of Tallahassee, Florida, Michael J. Harrell studied graphic design at the University of Georgia, then went on to complete hundreds of watercolor illustrations for national clients before turning to fine art full time in the early ?90s. His award-winning paintings can be found in numerous corporate, public and private collections throughout the United States. He?s represented by the Robert Wilson Gallery in Nantucket, Massachusetts; the Morris & Whiteside Gallery in Hilton Head, South Carolina; which will present a one-person exhibition of his work in June 2002, and the Cavalier Gallery in Greenwich, Connecticut, which will present a one-person show in May 2003.

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