By Robert Bateman. Excerpted from robertbateman.ca and abridged.
(This page last updated October 13, 2015)
Painting, for me, has never been a hobby. It is not relaxing – writers and athletes would say the same. Since I was twelve, I have always painted unless I am interrupted. It is a labour, but it is what I do . . . a labour of love let us say.
Countless times I have talked with young people and beginning artists who are less young. Questions of my techniques and procedures often come up, so I figure it is time to write a bit about the subject.
First and foremost is the idea or the thought behind the painting. Although it is a joy to create something just for the sake of creating, it is much more satisfying to create something special. It may not necessarily be brilliantly executed, but ‘special’ means it comes from the heart and experience unique to you.
One definition of a masterpiece I have heard . . . when you see it, you should feel you are seeing for the first time, and it should look as if it is done without effort. This is a very, very tough yardstick. I wouldn’t say that I’ve ever done a masterpiece, but when I am struggling with each painting – and they are all a struggle – I often feel that I am nowhere near those two goals.
Sadly, I feel much wildlife art is just the opposite. When you see it, you feel you have seen it a thousand times before – yet another wolf, or another loon, or some other overworked subject done in the same old way. And, it looks as if it is done with a great deal of effort – every feather or every hair painted in great detail, but no sense of form or air or space or time, and often flat as a pancake.
Everyone has his/her own muse. That is the fabulous thing about human creativity; each person’s is as unique as fingerprints or zebra stripes. The muse must be cultivated and she will come to you in unexpected ways.
Many of my ideas come, of course, from travels in the world but most come from around home. I often carry a camera – a single lens reflex [Canon in my case] with a telephoto zoom lens; 80mm to 300mm is a good range. I take pictures of bits of habitats that I find appealing.
I dislike front light, ie. the sun behind the camera, and always choose back light or side light, or diffuse light as in a cloudy day. I love mist because it describes the volume of air between the objects.
For subject matter reference, I avoid the spectacular and obviously beautiful. This is a question of taste. I leave that department to post cards. I have no need to paint it. Nowadays, I will deliberately seek out the opposite to the glorious . . . a scruffy bit of bush, some dead twigs or dead grasses. These slide references are like gold to me in capturing the particularity of an ordinary piece
I also visit zoos and wildlife or waterfowl parks. In using these as photo reference, you must know what happens to captive creatures. Most cats get big bellies, birds often have their primary feathers clipped. Even though one visits the same zoo over and over, there are always surprises of lighting and pose and many other unpredictable factors.
…..For those who are interested, here is a glimpse into my creative process Continue reading Robert Bateman on Painting