I enjoy the wildlife found in North America as subject matter for my artwork. One spectacular species is the Elk. I have found elk to be a fascinating subject to paint. Elk are plentiful where I live in the Wasatch mountain range, and I have a lot of opportunity to observe them. In my mind elk have become a symbol of strength, survival, and rugged beauty.
When I began this piece I had an elk portrait in mind. I wanted to focus on the head of the elk to give emphasis of it as an individual creature, not merely just a trophy. The face and head of an elk shows majesty, strength, and natural beauty. Due to the massive weight of the antlers they have to hold their head up and usually at a particular angle that gives them a regal appearance. The weight of the antlers also creates massive neck and shoulder muscles.
Elk Antlers in Composition
The antlers of the elk are an amazing thing in and of themselves. The bull elk begin growing a new set of antlers each spring. Only male elk grow antlers, female and young elk to not. The antlers begin at two base points on their skull called a pedicle. All deer species have this pedicle, or base plate to grow antlers.
From the pedicle the antler will grow cartilage. The antlers begin as cartilage not bone. The cartilage is covered by a furry velvety skin called velvet. The velvet is full of blood vessels giving the cartilage nutrients to grow. With all this nutrient the antlers grow quickly, up to an inch a day. The cartilage gets replaced by bone as the antlers grow.
Towards the end of summer the velvet falls off. You can see the elk rubbing their antlers on bushes and scraping off the velvet on trees. At this point the antlers have changed and become pure hardened bone. The antlers display the health and stature of the bull. The healthier and more virile the bull the bigger the antlers. The antlers are also used in sparing with other males for the attention of the female elk.
The same cells that convert the cartilage to bone trigger in about the end of February or the beginning of May. These cells are called osteoclast cells. The osteoclast cells begin to change at the base of the pedicle. This creates a weakness in the attachment of the antler and the antler falls off the skull of the bull elk. The elk will then start the process all over again a short 3 month later.
I know that many people reading about this painting probable don't care about all the details of antlers of a bull elk. I wanted to emphasize one of the amazing things that take place with this majestic animal.
The elk is a truly amazing creature. It faces all kinds of predators and survives. It faces loss of habitat and still goes on. The elk thrives in an environment that would kill many other species living off of plants and grass.
Focus Beyond the Antlers
With this painting I think of this bull being mature and at it's prime. The antlers are an important part of the painting, but not the focus. Many times elk antlers become the major focus of the elk. I wanted the antlers to play an important role in the composition, but not take the entire emphasis. Having the antlers go out of the edge of the painting gives interest and good compositional direction.
The patterning of the antlers and the top of the painting reminds me of how the antlers can sometimes get camouflaged with the trees, brush, and bushes. I have a lost and found aspect to the entire painting, giving the idea of camouflage.
I used a white band of color through the middle of the painting. For me it symbolized a life force, or energy that is found in all nature and animals. This life energy or spirit can be found in the animals, plants, and environment. We as humans have this life force, energy, or spirit. I used the white line to show how this energy flows through everything. If the idea of a life energy or spirit makes you feel uncomfortable, just think of the white line as being a fun design element and perhaps an early snowfall.
I don't want to explain everything abut the painting, I really want the viewer to add their own experiences and interpretations to viewing the painting. I would hope that some may see interesting ideas with the blue bands, the green towards the bottom, and the orange in the middle.
The Color Red
I would like to hear someones idea of the red used in the neck. I enjoy the rich color the red, and the contrast it has with the green at the bottom of the painting. The color red has interest from the light spectrum point of view. It is on the opposite end of green and blue and the cooler colors. On the color wheel the color red is directly across from green and is the complementary color to green.
I used the color red on the light and shadow side of the Elk's neck. The strong rich color is enjoyable to use in surprising and unexpected ways.
The color red often will have a symbolic meaning to my work as well. Often red connotes life, warmth, or a point of focus.
"Crimson Elk" was an enjoyable painting to do. I took several risks while creating it. I used a lost and found technique. I used unusual and unexpected colors to reveal the portrait of an elk in profile. I really enjoy the energy that the painting has with the patterning and texture. I hope that I was able to create an interesting work that requires some effort by the viewer to get involved but can still be enjoyed from a more passive stance.