Lance Rudegeair is our April 2012 Artist of Month. His mixed media painting, Don’t Be a Chicken, was a finalist in the animal/wildlife category of The Artist’s Magazine’s 28th Annual Art Competition. “I’m inspired by an appetite for seeing color placed in unusual ways and by creating aesthetic—bringing beauty to the world in the way I see it,” says Rudegeair. “I also find it more valid to use my talents to record the beauty of nature, not necessarily with photographic realism, but by making an aesthetic feeling through the use of paint and other artistic media—making it come alive.”
My realistic work is usually done in designers’ gouache on paper—I focus on endangered species almost exclusively. My abstract work is in acrylic paint on canvas using torn paper and mixed media to create organic life-related imagery.
I entered a Yellow Spring art show that required me to paint local subject matter. Many of the residents raise backyard chickens, which sometimes roam the streets, and are chased by dogs.
This gave me the opportunity to divert from the endangered species theme. I always wanted to paint chickens, but didn’t want to take the time away from my main artistic path. I feel there is more validity in exposing people to the beauty of the endangered animals than doing more common species.
With each feather in Don’t Be a Chicken, I used a particular brush called a calligraphy liner, which produces a variable line, from very fine to heavier in one stroke. When doing transparent feathers you have to paint the feather that is underneath before the one on top. If you make a mistake with the bottom feathers and don’t see it, you have to erase both and start over! My favorite part was looking at the composition and realizing I had portrayed my grandfather and myself in rooster form. Of course, I am the scared rooster in the foreground!
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Rudegeair’s Painting Process
Before I create a composition a particular animal usually has inspired me—by its beauty and its circumstance. Many of the animals I portray are on the edge of extinction, with only hundreds left in the world. That alone inspires me. I start by researching the animal and finding as many visual sources as possible to understand it. I might start out wanting to draw a different animal than what I started with. For example, I went to the Cincinnati Zoo for an overnight with my son. The only animals that were out were the Red Pandas. They looked like cute little “cat aliens” in the trees. It was the first time I had seen them so I went home to research Red Pandas.
I start with a pencil sketch of the animal, then I try to find the most aesthetic plants and/or objects the animals have in its environment. In most of my compositions I try for a light source that gives the most aesthetic chiaroscuro to the fur or feathers of the animal. That is usually either dawn or dusk lighting. The environment of the animal determines the color palette. I may change a tropical animal’s warm background palette to cooler tones however to portray a night scene. I start with watercolor pencil, sometimes on pastel paper, sometimes on pastel paper stretched over canvas, or even colored mat board. I then sometimes airbrush a soft atmosphere of color before drawing. This in turn gives an overall feel to the environment. After completing my drawing in watercolor pencil I begin painting the feathers or the fur, staying aware of the light source and how it would effect the surface of the animal—for here lies the true aesthetic power of my paintings. The background scenery is secondary.
How Rudegeair Got Started in Art
When my mother was pregnant with me in Japan she took up painting. Her Japanese instructor gave her four paperback books—The Renaissance Painters, Impressionism, Post-Impressionism, and Modern Art. When I was four she gave these books to me. Every morning I would look through them, but the book I looked at most was The Impressionists, in particular the works of van Gogh and Gauguin. I would then try to draw trees, my cat or dog, or my tricycle, etc. Of course I would receive praise from my mom. It was in first grade that I drew an owl that impressed everyone! From then on, in my mind, I was going to be an artist.
In the ninth grade my art teacher introduced me to Andrew Wyeth. His painting Christina’s World was extremely well known at the time. I was so taken by it I began to do rural scenes. Unbeknownst to me my art teacher had been collecting these paintings and one morning when I came into the room the entire back wall was covered with my work and my name was in bold type above.
When I was in the twelfth grade I won a scholarship to Columbus College of Art and Design where I received my Bachelor of Fine Arts, majoring in illustration, minoring in fine arts. After graduating I worked at COSI (Center of Science and Industry) as a graphic artist. Meanwhile I was working on my abstract painting. In 1977 I was accepted into the masters program at the University of Cincinnati, in painting. I had various shows and won some awards in Columbus, Cincinnati and Chicago. I started teaching at the University of Dayton in 1981—I taught there for 13 years. I have since retired from teaching.
Looking back, I remember when I was in second grade. I would hurry up and finish my math tests so I could turn the paper over to do a drawing. Of course I would get praise from my teacher, but one time I was in such a hurry to draw I forgot to finish the last two lines of problems in the test. From then on I wasn’t allowed to draw on the backs of the tests.
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