Highland Cow (2015) | ©Aimée Rolin Hoover | 48in x 60in | Acrylic on stretched canvas
QUESTION: If the eyes are the window to the soul, how do you paint a soulful portrait of an eyeless cow?
ANSWER: [Sound of crickets…]
I’ve been dying to paint a Scottish highland cow (or “Heeland Coo,” as they’re called in Scotland), for over four years. Technically speaking, they’re not eyeless. But I want my subjects to emote, so animals whose eyes are hidden beneath extensive fur pose a challenge. And much like the Otter, I’d have to find a way to make it at least as dramatic as it was cute, else it might come across as a stuffed animal.
Then I heard myself wondering how a painting might come across, and recognized it for what it was: the Kiss of Death for an artist. That thought, or concern, is truly one of the worst creativity killers I can think of. It also leads to mediocre work. Which is one of the scariest things I can think of.
So, newly fueled by the fear of mediocrity, I dug up a great photo I had tucked away (taken by Gail Johnson of her aunt and uncle’s cow) and got to work.
In the studio with Highland Cow (2015) | ©Aimée Rolin Hoover | 48in x 60in | Acrylic on stretched canvas
I’m happy about the way Highland Cow turned out, and I learned a few lessons in the process.
First, I was reminded that it’s crucial for me to question the low but familiar din of worry in my brain, as it pertains to what I paint and how I paint it. I often forget how sneaky and incessant all that background noise is. Being able to notice those auto-thoughts—and deciding to ignore a few here and there—is really important to my work and growing as an artist.
Highland Cow – nose detail | aimeehoover.com
Second, it turns out I can goad myself into painting just about anything by telling myself it’s a “just a study.” This tactic works because it takes the pressure off creating a M-A-S-T-E-R-P-I-E-C-E (add an echo and that’s how it sounds in my head) every time I step up to the easel. It frees me up to have fun with it. And by fun I mean keeping the painting loose and more immediate, which is exactly how I want to paint.
Highland Cow – leg detail | aimeehoover.com
And third, I can remind myself that the impact or weight of a painting is not 100% based on its subject by simply looking at other artists’ work. Dramatic lighting, interesting perspectives, composition, and color all play a part. Which means that even animals who look like stuffed animals have the potential to make strong subjects.
Highland Cow – face detail | aimeehoover.com
Of course, I think we can agree that some subjects are best left as photos to coo over…
And really, what kind of artist would paint a stuffed animal anyhow (say, in 1997)?
Until the next painting (a sheep for farmsanctuary.org), thanks for reading.
Young Baboon (2015) | ©Aimée Rolin Hoover | 48in x 60in | Acrylic on stretched canvas
Young Baboon is my first primate portrait. But before I get into all that, I have a confession to make…
I’m not fond of monkeys.
I’m a huge animal lover—I even like snakes and other fur-challenged fauna. But when it comes to monkeys, I’m cursed with the memories (and accompanying maturity level) of a six year-old who experienced an unfortunate introduction to primates during a zoo visit. Which basically means that all I can think of is them…excuse me for being indelicate here…hurling their own poop.
Intellectually I realize they are incredibly intelligent and soulful creatures. So I’ve tried reframing my thoughts by creating new experiences with monkeys. So far those experiences consist of them using me as a jungle gym…
Me and a rambunctious capuchin in 2007
So choosing a baboon to paint, of all animals, is evidence of a few positive things:
1.) Continuing my 2015 commitment to stretch myself as an artist
2.) How incredibly inspiring the photo I worked from was
3.) Me finally turning the corner on my immature monkey aversion
As an animal portrait artist, I have not painted anything remotely close to a human in a very, very long time. In that regard, the baboon was a challenging piece. But baboon eyes are so remarkable and intense, I have to admit that may be a little hooked now. And for that I thank photographer, Tambako The Jaguar who snapped the reference photo that initially provoked my interest.
Studio shot of Young Baboon
View of from the studio couch
My guess is that this is not my last primate portrait. Though I think I’m done with letting capuchin monkeys crawl all over me. I prefer tiger cubs do that…
Until the next portrait, thanks so much for reading…
Spectacled Bear (Jukumari) (2015) | ©Aimée Rolin Hoover | 54in x 52in | Acrylic on stretched canvas
I’m very excited to share my first bear portrait. I’ve wanted to paint a species of bear (turns out there are 8) for a few years now. After a little research, I discovered—and fell in love with—the South American Spectacled Bear.
On a sheer aesthetic level, the golden markings around its eyes are just beautiful and make for nice contrast against it’s dark fur.
But what’s interesting about this particular animal goes beyond it’s beauty. Even though the spectacled bear is technically the largest land-dwelling carnivore in all of South America, only about five percent of its diet is actually meat. So you could say it’s more vegetarian than carnivore. Its also the last remaining species of short-faced bears in the world, with a conservation status classified as “Vulnerable.” Which happens to make Spectacled Bear my first “threatened” animal subject.
Spectacle Bear in the studio
The original reference photo I worked from was taken by the talented Tambako the Jaguar, who was also the inspiration behind Otter, my first painting of 2015.
I have a hunch more bears are to come so stay tuned for an additional species or two.
Until the next painting, thanks as always for reading,
(*This entire paragraph is brought to you by Wikipedia.)
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Otter (2015)| ©Aimée Rolin Hoover | 42in x 52in | Acrylic on stretched canvas
Historically, hot pink has rarely found its way onto my painting palette (except for Piglet). So when the urge hit—seemingly from out of no where—to use that color in Otter, I was surprised. And wary.
Combining a potentially cute color with a cute subject could result in a…well…a “cute” painting. While I’m a big fan of cute in general, it’s is the exact adjective I’d like to avoid when it comes to my work. There in lies the challenge as someone who paints animals for a living.
But back in December, I declared 2015 The Year I Experiment More (gulp). So I grabbed the appropriate paint tubes and mixed up a batch…
In retrospect, I think the painting did call for a little levity, color-wise. Otters are curious, smart and super playful. Which is why they’re one of my all time favorite critters.
The voice that said “use pink!” is the voice (and the side of my brain) that I’m constantly re-learning to trust as an artist. It requires that I experiment more though. Which, as someone who doesn’t like to have a piece “fail,” is a little scary. But I suspect if I can get more comfortable with the discomfort of failing, (say, for instance, with a giant horse painting), my work might just improve. Here’s hoping anyhow!
Otter (2015) in the studio.
As for the otter image itself, it was taken by a very talented, animal-loving photographer who goes by the name Tambako the Jaguar. Here’s his original image:
Original image by Tambako the Jaguar
Tambako has photographed a TON of different animals, but he has a special fondness for big cats (tigers, snow leopards, lions). If you do too, I highly suggest spending some time looking at his beautiful photos here.
Since I’m a lucky girl, I get to paint from a few more of Tambako’s images this year, including a baboon and a bear, just to name a few. So stay tuned.
Until then, and the next unexpected color choice, thanks as always for reading,
Lion (2014) | ©Aimée Rolin Hoover | 44in x 70in | Acrylic on stretched canvas
The latest painting is of a subject I actually had no plans to paint.
I love lions and big cats in general, but I couldn’t quite figure out how to paint one in a way that wasn’t…what’s the word here…expected? Plus, in 2012 I moved away from dog and cat portraits in order to begin my current work, and painting another feline didn’t quite feel right yet.
Then, as it seems to happen lately, I was looking for a entirely different animal when I stumbled across an image that completely changed my mind:
Original photo by photographer Webb Burns
As soon as I saw it I thought to myself…”that’s how I could paint a lion.”
The image was taken by photographer Webb Burns. I contacted Webb for permission to use his image (which was kindly granted), and asked him a little bit about the photo. He told me that he had spent a lot of time with smaller cats in Africa, such as Leopards and Cheetahs, before he came across lions:
I think what impressed me most was how large and how powerful they were. To see a male lion lying across the entire width of a one-lane, dirt road—and then to see a lioness walking directly toward me, seemingly looking directly at me—made deep impressions…
Suffice it to say, Webb’s image made a big impression on me. Here’s a few more pics of the piece…
To see more of Webb’s work, you can check out his flickr page.
Until the next subject, which I probably won’t even be looking for, thanks for reading…