Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Field and Stream, Part Three

La vache à trois pattes...

When I was a youngster, I would go to Saturday matinees at the movies to see cowboy films. When the film got out, I couldn't wait to get home to play cowboys and outlaws.

I was always prepared for varmints around the next corner, particularly cattle rustlers. Eschewing modesty for just a moment, I think I can say that I was the quickest-draw in my family's house.

In later years, I've found that I feel the same way after a museum visit: I just can't wait to paint, feeding (hopefully) off the canvases I've just been viewing.

Today began with me painting outside my comfort zone again. I'd chosen to paint a cow drinking from the stream. I intend, too, to have a couple more bovine beauties farther off in the landscape. The presence of a cow would mean a lot of repainting on the canvas, establishing a new hierarchy in which the cows are dominant. Among other changes, I clothed the right-hand tree in leaves, closing off a lot of sky and thus making the scene a bit more intimate.

I visited my books to see if my Hague School heroes might have a cow in the right attitude for my primary girl. Alas, the bank is too steep for Holland, and Willem Roelofs (1822-1897), Willem Maris (1844-1910), Anton Mauve (1838-1888), and P. J. C.  Gabriel (1828-1903) were unable to help me.

Going back to quick-draw, I can tell you that rustling up this cow was anything but quick. I made a few marks with charcoal but, since I was drawing on that already-green bank, it wasn't very effective. So I just gritted my teeth and plunged in. She turned out to be a game girl. At the moment she's standing on one leg and a near-side, rear blur. I'll have to figure something out for that one. As for the offside, fore and aft, I'm hoping they can be concealed by her body and her neck/head. I'm a little chary of leaving the old girl with nothing on her other fore-quarter though. Don't want her to tip over. Bad for her dignity.

So there she be. The hardest thing, of course, is to avoid making her look like a cut-out that's been pasted on. In value, color, and focus she must be both of the place and of the moment. Her lighting must conform with the conditions in the landscape, and she must have enough reflected light to join her with the colors in her vicinity. On her left flank, and on her chest, you'll see I've put a bit of green in the gray, describing the shaded white portions as seen in a green world.

Because of the addition of Miss Bossie, and her two comrades-yet-to-come, parts of the landscape must be muted and other parts must have a change in color or value---or both. It's a painstaking process, but success means the painting will be full of truth. Because the cow was painted au premier coup, there is much to be corrected in her drawing. Still, insofar as this is NOT what I normally do, I'm pretty pleased.

Among the other things which remain to be done is the articulation of both the near and far banks, with some particular attention to the various bits of vegetation. I must also re-address the water in the stream and I must, too, determine how much of a reflection I want from the cow.

Integral to the way I paint is keeping all options open as long as possible. Three days ago I didn't know I'd have a cow, not to mention cows, in this painting. So who knows what may still happen. 

I'm pretty close to ruling out a giraffe.

N.B. Forgot!  I'd like your opinions about the cow's pinkish-tan nose. I'm sure we'd see some of it, but her nose is definitely pointed down to the water. More pink, nonetheless, or not?


  1. First, great addition to the landscape.Based on a watercolour I did a few years ago, I would say the muzzle on your Bossie should be much wider or it tends to look more like a horse head. The cow head is almost an hourglass shape. The top of the nostrils could certainly catch a sunbeam and add a touch of pink to the scene.

    1. Thanks, Bruce. If I shorten her tete, as part of making it more broad, she won't of course reach the water. But they have long tongues as I recall and, anyway, a cow's thirst should exceed her slurp, or what's a heaven for?
      At this rate I'll never get my Doctor of Bovinity.