One day in high school, my art teacher, Mrs. DeQueiros, abruptly declared:
“Guys…remember…NO creative work-in-progress should ever be TOO precious!”
Of course, she proclaimed this right after she mistook Emily’s drawing—laying facedown on the paper cutter—for a random piece of cardboard. And proceeded to chop it up into 12 pieces.
We all disagreed with Mrs. DQ’s art “lesson” that day. Especially Emily. In fact, that one-sentence lecture had the exact opposite affect. We clutched our artwork even tighter.
But now, as professional artist, I think Mrs. DQ was kind of right.
While I wouldn’t want my paintings slashed into 12 equal parts, I think about Mrs. DQ when I’m struggling with a piece. Which happens in varying degrees with most paintings.
This particular week, it happened in exquisitely awful fashion. With one of my largest pieces yet.
Since I’ve posted videos of my paintings being created in the past, I thought it only fair to pull back the curtain a bit further and show the full spectrum of being an artist. Namely, frustration and destruction (with paint, not a paper cutter)…
Why I felt this painting wasn’t working…
After finding a fantastic, wild Icelandic horse photo by talented photographer, Alessio Mesiano (and given permission to paint from it), I was excited to get to work. Just look at that incredible light…
Alessio’s beautiful, original photo
In my current work, I remove the backgrounds (typically landscapes) in the reference photos in order to keep the focus singularly on the animal. So had a very clear vision for the piece: amber horse, moody grey background. But at the half-way point, I hit a wall. The painting just wasn’t working. And I wasn’t sure why.
After staring at my background-less painting for two days, I finally realized that Alessio’s photo works best as a photo, rather than a painting. At least the way I would use it for a painting. Removing that stunning background completely changed the strength of the image once it hit the canvas. I was disheartened, but knew it was time to cut my losses.
It is never easy to make the decision to abort a painting. Especially a piece as big as this one, with such a beautiful photo to work from. But thankfully I now have the benefit of 700-ish paintings under my belt. Which means I know what I did not know back in high school art class: there’s probably more art in me. Hopefully better art. Stronger art. Art that I can be proud to hang in my clients’ homes.
So yes, Mrs. DQ…no work in progress is too precious. At least in my studio.
And besides, Emily glued those 12 cut up pieces onto a mat board in an interesting way…and won a damn art contest!
So it’s back to the drawing board for me. I have a very large, very black canvas to fill with…well, I’m sure it will come to me.
Thanks as always for reading…
In the studio with Bighorn (2014)
Happy to announce the first painting completed in the new studio space: a (big) bighorn sheep. This new piece represents the looser, more painterly style I’ve envisioned using for quite a while.
Bighorn (2014) | @Aimée Rolin Hoover | 46in x 64in | acrylic on canvas
Back when I was doing solely pet portrait commissions (1999-2012), it was important to record every little detail of the the dog on the canvas, because it was those details that made it your labrador, not a labrador. You’d miss that little speck of white on his chin if it wasn’t there, and how could I possibly leave out that humorously long, single eyebrow hair? I wanted all of those elements in the painting. So, over the course of 13 years, my work became more tightly rendered in pursuit of that goal.
But now that I’m working on a new series of animal portraits, and much larger pieces, my goal is to loosen up my paintings—to show more brushwork, and paint more freely. But I had no idea how tough it’d be to actually paint differently than I had been painting. Working against a decade of artistic muscle memory proved to be a tad…challenging. Ok there may have been some profanity in the studio. My hand just wanted to do what it’s always done. Which, for me, meant snapping back to (my perfectionistic tendencies of) recording every itty bitty detail.
This is why, (please excuse me while I honk my own horn), I’m proud of this new piece. With the bighorn I was finally able to free up my brushwork in the way I had envisioned. I also experimented with an acrylic wash for the background, which is a first for me:
A watery, acrylic wash goes in for the background.
I have a feeling that the new studio had some impact on this painting. Simply having more physical space to move around in, not to mention being able back up and look at my work from an appropriate distance, proved to be a much bigger deal than I thought. Especially when working on five to six foot pieces. Had I known all this, and how happy and inspired this space makes me feel, I probably would have said sayonara to the home studio much earlier. But I’m just grateful to have it now. The sunsets aren’t bad either…
Speaking of inspiration, as usual I looked through thousands and thousands of images on flickr.com to find the needle in the haystack from which to paint. The minute I saw this image by photographer Waldo Nell, I knew it was the one. Thankfully, Waldo was kind enough to grant me permission to paint from it:
Original bighorn photo by Waldo Nell
You may notice I took some artistic liberties with the bighorn’s body and overall composition, as I wanted a more vertical piece, but the detail in Waldo’s image—especially in the eye—was fantastic and I’m so happy he allowed me to use it. (Thanks Waldo!) He snapped the photo while on vacation in Alberta, Candada:
We were driving back from Maligne Lake where I took some landscape photos the morning very early. We were on holiday of course… Jasper to Golden to Osoyoos. On the way back from Maligne Lake we spotted these Big Horn sheep next to the road, eating the vegetation, when I pulled over and got my camera. I loved the background of Medicine Lake and the mountains for these sheep.
I’m itching to get to work again, and excited to further develop the new style. So it’s back to flickr.com for me…there are beasts to paint!
Until the next painting,
Ah, if only paintings took less than five minutes to paint. Here’s the Hyena painting being created, step by step.
You can check out more progression videos like this one on my youtube channel.
Thanks for reading (and watching),
I’m thrilled to report that I have a new workspace! It’s been about 15 years since I had a studio outside the home, so there have been many cartwheels in celebration of the new digs. Thankfully, now I actually have room for such things.
I moved into the studio the same day we moved into our new home. Which meant I had freakishly strong movers, Hugo, Ricky and Javier at my disposal.
Hugo making quick work of The Beast (my work bench).
All moved in. Bone tired, but happy as a clam.
Once all my stuff was moved in, I realized that there was still room to back up, sit down, and actually look at my work. Previously I’d have to leave the room and peek back in through the door. So I hightailed it down to Goodwill and picked up this mustard-colored wonder for 75 bucks.
My trusty Toyota making itself useful.
Can’t wait to spend time
napping pondering my work on this couch.
One of the most important reasons for having a separate workspace is that all the items in my Procrastination Toolbox are left at home—the laundry pile, the silverware drawers begging to organized, and, most importantly, the TV.
Oh, Grizzly Adams in your exquisite short shorts on The Love Boat, you’ll have to wait until I get home.
After two solid weeks of packing, schlepping, unpacking, organizing, and re-organizing, I’m chomping at the bit to paint. The very first piece to be painted in the new space is going to be a…big horn sheep! Excited to get going as the reference photo I found is absolutely stellar.
The actual reference photo is of a beautiful, male sheep—with those massive, corkscrewing horns—looking off into the distance. He’s a big fellah and will consequentially require a bit of breathing space on the canvas. Thus, another large portrait. If you squint, you might be able to see the masking tape outline of its dimensions on the wall.
In progress: Big horn sheep portrait
And as I was unpacking the last few boxes, some of which I hadn’t opened since the last move, I found an old sketchbook. In it was a list written years ago of 22 things I wanted in a studio space, and my painting career in general. The new studio—and the type of work I’m doing now—allowed me to cross off 19 and a half of those items. So I think there’s something to writing down your goals. Come to think of it, a new list is in order…
Blurred for your own good.
I’m curious to see how the new space affects my work—and my work ethic. All I can say is that I’ve haven’t felt this inspired in a while. Which is a fantastic feeling.
Until next time, and the next painting, thanks for reading.
Hyena, 2014 | ©Aimée Rolin Hoover | 45in x 52in | Acrylic on stretched canvas
I have always loved the physical shape of hyenas. They’re equally awkward and powerful with those pointy satellite dish ears, meaty necks and sloping backs. Not to mention wild-looking, multicolored fur. I had been thinking about painting one for a while but I wanted to go “against type” and create a portrait that was on the soulful side. Therein laid the rub: finding a soulful photo of a hyena. Or at least one that didn’t have her red face stuck in a carcass (which, to be fair, would also make a great painting but isn’t my particular style.)
But after looking at thousands of photos online, I finally found the needle in the haystack on the flickr.com page of Theo van Wyk, who happens to live in Lydenburg, Mpumalanga in South Africa:
Original reference photo by Theo van Wyk
He and his friend, Gabriel, were at Kruger National Park when they snapped the shot:
The hyena you painted was the teenage babysitter that had to look after the kids while the older folk were out trying to get some food. You can see the inquisitiveness in the posture and the nose raised a bit to get a better smell of us, but the right ear keeping a lookout and listening for danger, trusting but not trusting…
Theo was nice enough to send me a high resolution file to paint from so I could see all the minute reflections and details in her eyes:
Hyenas in general get a pretty bad rap. But it turns out that spotted hyenas in particular are not the block-headed, opportunistic scavengers they’re portrayed to be in TV and movies. The spotted hyena is truly more of a predator, like a lion, and lives in very complex societies where the females are dominant (and larger in size):
Like cercopithecine primates, spotted hyenas use multiple sensory modalities, recognize individual conspecifics, are conscious that some clan-mates may be more reliable than others, recognize 3rd party kin and rank relationships among clan-mates, and adaptively use this knowledge during social decision making. [source]
I’d like to say that I knew all this before I painted one, but I didn’t. Though now I’m even more happy that I choose this hyena as a subject.
I’ll be sharing a video of the entire painting process here soon, so stay tuned for that post.
In the meantime, thanks for reading.