David N. Kitler
Harpy Eagle Montage (pencil and acrylic, 20×25 1/8)
As part of the Artists for Conservation Foundation’s inaugural Flag Expeditions Program, David Kitler traveled in 2005 to Darien, a densely forested province of Panama. His aim was to document the world’s largest bird of prey, the harpy eagle. After his month-long expedition, Kitler’s journal was filled with sketches, notes, thousands of photographs and looming questions about how to translate his extensive studies into comprehensive artwork. “I brought back so much information that I didn’t know where to start,” he admits. “I wanted to convey so much about this bird—everything from its prey to its two phases of eye color—but it wasn’t until I recalled the comfort I felt while keeping a visual journal that I found the perfect place to begin a painting,” he says.
Begun as an experimental work, Kitler’s Harpy Eagle Montage depicts several of the bird’s key characteristics while echoing the artist’s real-life observational experiences. “In that environment, it was often hard to complete drawings in my sketchbook,” he says. “The bird was constantly in motion, so I could sketch only snippets of this and that. The presence of a three- to five-month-old chick was an unexpected treat.”
To design the piece, Kitler organized everything around his central drawing—the large eagle head. Using tracing paper, he transferred basic design lines to an already prepared surface. “I toned the board with an acrylic wash to make it look like old paper. Then I sealed it with shrink wrap from which I cut out separate windows so that I could work on one section at a time.” Kitler’s meticulous drawing was rendered with 3H, HB and 3B mechanical pencils. The feather, drawn to scale from life, was painted last. “I wanted to show that drawings can be left as drawings; they can have degrees of color or become full-blown paintings.”
A Bird in Hand (acrylic, 26×16)
With a dual passion for art and animals, Kim Diment received her bachelor of arts degrees in both art and zoology from Michigan State University. “It was always my ambition to pair these two loves,” she says, noting that her greatest dedication and excitement come from painting cats, endangered animals and African wildlife. The South American ocelot, depicted in A Bird in Hand, meets two of those classifications.
“Whenever I paint an endangered species, I insert abstract designs in the background to designate that animal’s threatened status,” she says. “The symbols are geometric, as opposed to the more random order of nature; they represent the encroachment of human beings into these particular animals’ habitats and the threat of extinction.”
With a title that derives from the expression “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush,” Diment composed the painting from photographs taken at a Belize wildlife sanctuary and zoo. “I take loads of reference photos and often piece my pictures together,” she says.
Painting on primed, midtoned board, Diment builds each piece with glazed layers of acrylic paint, starting with her lightest color. “I work in reverse of the usual dark-to-light system to get the brilliant color I’m after. Once I have my basic values down, I go back in with brighter colors and more detail. Here, I wanted to capture the feeling that those feathers were really floating down and to get that quality of filtered light between the feathers and the ocelot.”
Diment gave up teaching art five years ago to paint full time. Her wildlife studies, which have taken her to several continents, include an ongoing commitment to North Africa’s Lewa Wildlife Conservancy. “I hope my paintings can bring about a greater awareness of the plight of certain species, which is the first step toward helping that animal.”
Market Cat (oil, 16×20)
A landscape artist, Nancy Worth departed from her regular subject matter to paint Market Cat. Developed in a range of warm and cool whites, the piece enabled her to explore qualities of light. “I don’t find white difficult to work with as long as I treat it like any other color on my palette. I’m very conscious of picking up white’s reflected colors and pulling out the colors inherent in it,” she says.
To create the painting, Worth relied on reference photos while drawing directly onto her canvas with a brush. “I prefer to do my preliminary work right on the canvas; otherwise, the subject loses zest,” she says. Her next step was to establish her value scheme. Using raw sienna, she developed her sketch into a monochromatic underpainting, portions of which she later let show through the background, adding warmth to the completed picture. “The greatest alteration I made was to the blankets,” she says. “Some were originally red and orange tones, which competed with the animal, so I kept with the cooler blue and white tones.”
Worth, who teaches painting, drawing, design and Photoshop, holds a bachelor of arts degree from Trinity University in San Antonio and a master of arts degree from Colorado Christian University. Proficient in both oils and watercolor, she credits oils with, more than a decade ago, helping her move into a relaxed style. “With oils, there’s a looser edge and some areas are implied rather than expressed. I like visible brushstrokes and playing with overlapping and sections of unmixed color.”
Portuguese Shepherdess (oil, 24×36)
A flock of bleating sheep and their shepherdess walking beneath an overcast sky in Portugal inspired Timothy Norman’s hushed and eloquent piece. “My paintings hinge on the concept of man as created in the image of God, and how that concept is expressed through a Christian ethos,” he explains. With this theme recurring in his work, Norman uses a painterly approach and subdued palette.
To create this painting, he toned the surface in raw umber and then loosely drew his composition directly onto the canvas. Then he applied color wet-into-wet, finishing with a coat of Gamblin varnish. Norman’s style evokes a sense of timelessness that he translates from authentic experience into a resonant image. “I hope to capture a sense of unity between the natural world and the spiritual world,” he says.
African Courtship (pastel, 18½x36)
Rather than wait to photograph a subject’s particular pose, Donahue prefers to capture a “flow.” So, in gathering reference material, he takes an unusual approach: He films the animal. “That motion is reflected in the final picture,” he says. That robust quality is also what gives African Courtship such impact.
Working on 100-percent cotton rag paper, he often starts right in on his surface. Intuitively laying in color, he moves it around, rubbing and blending by hand. “I like leaving my fingerprints all over the painting. It’s part of my signature.”
“I try a looser interpretation and a textured effect to get an expressive result. My hope is to achieve a slightly different portrayal by blurring the edges of the painting or presenting a close-cropped view,” he says. “Many people can’t believe it’s pastel.”
Backyard T-Rex (oil, 24×36)
With a background in engineering, Adler only recently pursued his passion for fine art, delving into intensive study with the abstract painter Robert Kingston. To begin Backyard T-Rex, he prepared his canvas with three layers of gesso, carefully sanding between coats. Working from back to front and from dark to light in opaque oils, he finished the lizard last.
“I love contrast; it factors into almost everything I paint,” says Adler, who employed strong complements, off-setting the painting’s predominantly warm, reddish tone with the cool-green hue of a leaf cluster. “My other goal was to practice incorporating both hard and soft edges,” he explains. Finally, he added touches of high-chroma highlights, enhancing the painting’s sharp, crisp light while making the elements pop.
Christine Proskow is a writer living in Thousand Oaks, California.
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