“The inspiration behind my wildlife paintings is to help bring awareness to the conservation issues of African and North American wildlife,” says Sue Gombus, our April 2013 Artist of the Month. “As a teacher, I understand that awareness is the pre-cursor to action. I love the details in nature and really try to work toward capturing accurate, realistic, anatomically correct species in their natural habitat, so that viewers will understand the connection between healthy ecosystems and healthy wildlife populations.”
Gombus’s pastel wildlife painting, Under the Desert Sun, was a finalist in The Artist’s Magazine’s 29th Annual Art Competition.
I started painting after a trip to the San Diego Zoo six years ago, where I first learned that the cheetah had a 50% chance of becoming extinct within the next 15 years. I knew right then that I wanted to do something to try to impact not only the future of this elegant cat, but other endangered African species as well. Raising awareness through teaching, writing and painting has allowed me to contribute to that effort.
Today I’m a pastelist specializing in African and North American wildlife; during the day I teach second grade at an inner-city public school, and will retire in June to paint fulltime. I work exclusively from my own photo references, sketches and observations gathered during reference trips to Africa and the North American West. The species, the environment, and the light that I experience during my research determine my palette.
While most of my reference trips have been to Africa, on one of my first North American research trips I spent a week in southeastern Arizona. One of the most amazing and unexpected surprises was the light in Tucson; it reminded me so much of the light in Africa. When I saw the combination of the desert habitat along with the beautiful light I knew I wanted to paint it. But when a coyote walked in front of me in the desert, I knew I HAD to paint it! That’s how Under the Desert Sun was conceived.
This painting had the potential to be extremely difficult because of the amount of prickly pear cacti, the hundreds of spines and the multitude of small pieces of rock in the foreground. Surprisingly enough, I actually enjoyed doing the cacti and the spines. On the other hand, this was relatively safe compared to some of my other excursions: due to the nature of my genre I’ve been charged by hippos, elephants and cape buffalo, been bitten by tsetse flies, and will be climbing up the Virunga Mountain range to photograph gorillas in Rwanda this summer (not a bad gig if you can get it!).
Wildlife artists are some of the most generous people I’ve ever met. I suppose that because we’re linked by a common respect and concern for all wildlife we’re quick to welcome and mentor newcomers to our genre. And because of that there have been some very important artists who’ve taught me well in my career, and I owe my success to three of them in particular; John Seerey-Lester, who developed my understanding of composition; John Banovich, who introduced me to the concept of story in a painting; and most importantly, Jan Martin McGuire, whose never-ending support and encouragement, as I try to find my way as a relevant wildlife artist, has been a constant source of inspiration.
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