This post features the evolution of a black bear I painted in acrylic on canvas in 1989. Enjoy.
It began the year before, in 1988. Black bear weren’t common sights around my neck of the woods, but I caught a glimpse of one while I hiked some swampland and stopped to sketch and photograph a newly formed beaver dam.
Because swamps make great hiding places, you never know what sort of animals you’ll find in them. But the dam had me engrossed in its quick construction when a big black bear rambled past me. It gave me a wide birth—around 50+ yards between us—but I stayed as still as possible until after it disappeared into the woods. I hadn’t brought a zoom lens for my SLR camera, so I didn’t get any good photos of it.
The image of the bear stayed with me on every outing into the woods and swamps, but we never crossed paths and I never saw any more bear until 30 years later when a black bear peered at me through a ground floor window. I live in a town where the only wild animals brave enough to venture from the woods and into backyards are whitetail deer and a few foxes. The cartoonist in me found the Peeping Tom bear humorous. I imagined a one-panel gag comic strip (like Far Side) where a person comes home to a bear sitting in their La-Z-Boy, reading the newspaper. The bear glances over his reading glasses at the person and says “Hey, how was your day?”
And you just know Mama and Baby Bear are eating porridge in the kitchen!
Anyway, back in 1988, I knew I wanted to paint a black bear, so I visited a zoo and left with plenty of sketches. By the time winter came and the calendar changed to 1989, I had my photos and sketches out and a nice landscape of a swamp and beaver dam in progress.
Here is a closeup of the painting, showing detail:
Once I have a painting near completion, I set it aside for a few weeks, much like I do with the books that I write. This way, I return with a fresh perspective.
Although the painting looks nice, it’s far from done. Aside from the halo around the bear, I needed to punch up the detail with lots of dark colors. Two nice features of acrylic paints for me are its quick drying time and it allows the artist to paint from light to dark (similar to watercolor painting), unlike oil paints where one must work their way to the lightest, brightest colors last (known as fat over lean).
As with oil paints, you can glaze with acrylics. I glazed Ultramarine Blue in areas to create atmospheric depth in the landscape, then punched up the foreground with yellow. Finally, I changed my signature and its placement. Here is the finished painting framed and hanging at a gallery show, April 1990 just before I sold it.
Imagine if I’d never seen that black bear when I was at the beaver dam, I likely would have never painted the painting you see here.
That’s all for now.
This post “Acrylic Painting: Black Bear At Beaver Dam” copyright © 2022 Steven Leo Campbell at stevecampbellcreations.com – All rights reserved.