Tuesday, February 23, 2010


I'd never painted a bear until this past year - and now it seems I can't paint enough.  I just need to paint bears.   I live at the edge of national forest where bears live.  They visit my house on occasion, eating all of my apricots in one night or raiding the apple trees.  I often have unsettling dreams about bears where they are prowling outside my house, sniffing the air.  Perhaps by painting bears I am exorcising them from my dreams. 

The Walt Horton Fine Art Gallery in Beaver Creek, Colorado has requested larger bear paintings....so this painting is for them, along with another of the same size but with a fire-red background of sumac. This is my first attempt at a bear larger than 9 x 12.   This piece is on 24" x 24" Ampersand cradle board, a 2" deep type of 'gallery wrap' that lends itself to a more contemporary painting.   I decided to post the process here, showing how I problem-solve as I paint.


I start with a rough drawing done with my paint brush.  At first, the bear was smaller - but I realized the size and shape of the canvas demanded an 'in-your-face' bear, so I scrubbed it off and started again.

Before I started the drawing I knew I would put aspen behind the bear for the strong color.  I worried more about the negative shapes between the aspen than the aspen themselves.  At this point, I put in a line or two - stand back and analyze - put in another few lines then stand back, etc.  The cat knows better than to walk behind me at this point as I'm always backing up without looking to see what is behind me.  

When painting vertical lines, such as the aspen, it's easy to create a 'gutter' down the side of the painting.   A gutter is dead space that kills the composition.  So I got rid of the aspen on the left that exited the painting and painted in the darks on the left side of the bear to make sure that the dark ear cutting into the yellow would get rid of the gutter.  It did.  Now I'm concerned with the aspen sapling that cuts across the bear's body.  See how the lines of the paw parallel the lines of the tree?  I'll have to do something about that.....


Now it's starting to come together.  The bear's head in the painting is larger than mine, so it has the in-your-face feeling that I wanted.  I am still bothered by the parallel lines between paw and aspen but will worry about that later.  Now I can see that the composition is a little too stark so I will break up the aspen with some leaves.

A-ha!  The leaves have improved the composition.  The bear and aspen don't have a strong light source, giving it a flat, designy feeling that I like and may keep.  Now, what to do with the paw? 

Paw problem has been solved by getting rid of it.   I'm slightly concerned with the aspen sapling crossing over the bear but plan on adding a few yellow circles and lines (twigs and leaves) to break up the lines.    At this point, the body of the bear is nothing more than an underpainting.  Today I'll paint the body.  I'm thinking of using broad, heavy brush strokes to make the bear look solid.  If I don't like it I can wipe it off as the underpainting is already dry.

Until now I've concerned myself primarily with the design of the painting.  Now I'll work on edges and detail, (not too much detail) and giving the painting a more painterly feel.  

I will post the finished painting later today if all goes well!

(I'm already planning the companion piece and looking forward to painting it.  I love any excuse to use red!)

Edited to add:   As an afterthought, I'm showing you the bear reference I used for this painting.  Photographer Michael Whited generously allowed me to use his photo of a bear.   I made changes as I wanted the bear to be looking at the viewer.  The ears are the same!


  1. Great insight Adele! Can't wait to see how it turns out, as it is very appealing already. ---Ray

  2. Great insight Adele. Looking forward to the completed piece as it is very appealing already! ---Ray

  3. I'm enjoying the process. Very nice.

  4. Thanks for showing us your process....I can "bearly" wait to see the finished work.