Meeting a mother with cubs in the wild is extremely dangerous. Bears are unpredictable, and surely mothers with offspring. Yet the interaction between young animals remains an attractive subject to me.
Several times I experienced nice encounters with grizzlies in Alaska. September is an excellent time to go there, colors everywhere and nice brown bears in the vast tundra. They eat a lot to gain weight for the winter. Berries are everywhere, so they don’t pay attention to you. The berries have all their attention. This is the right moment to get good reference photographs. That’s how a painting ripens in your mind. All the impressions are so easy today to record and take home. It still is a lot of work to assemble all the images until the composition of the painting is done. Then the talent does the rest. Interpretation and fantasy are the words to use. The sensation of the encounters in the wild helps you create a good painting.
The painting is based on memories I have from a trip to Africa. Botswana is like how the adventurers discovered it: wild and vast, with an abundance of wildlife. We did a four-day trip on the back of an elephant, watching wildlife. (This is a different experience than from a four-wheel drive vehicle.) Our elephants were tame and trained to do their job. In Kruger National Park (South Africa), elephants are too abundant and numbers are killed regularly to save habitat for other wildlife. Indeed, those giants can destroy complete areas, getting down lots of trees to reach the leaves. When a group is killed, they save the babies, which are sent to zoos all over the world. The manager of our elephant camp got seven of those calves to train them to later do the job with tourists on their back. So we were always surrounded by those youngsters, which was great when we didn’t see other wildlife. The four days in the company of those babies gave me the big desire to portray the relationship of an elephant cow and her calf. The result is this painting.
It is known that I am a wine lover. For me, wine is not so much an alcoholic drink, but a nice addition to a good meal. Wine is culture. One of the collectors of my prints is the owner of a great winery in British Columbia, which connects with the wineries in Washington State. He explained that in his winery he often sees foxes who are attracted by the ever-present California quail. When prey is present, predators will appear!
The owner of the winery proposed that I do a painting of the combination of fox and grapes. I thought it was a very attractive subject. One important element attracted me to accept this commission and that was the memories I had of going to museums with my father. On these visits to the museums, I would admire the incredible, detailed still-life paintings by the old masters of the 18th century. As a small boy, I couldn’t believe that someone could paint grapes that looked as if you could pick them off the canvas. Now the chance and the challenges were there for me to do the same. It was a real challenge, much more difficult than other backgrounds. Working with sun and shadow effects didn’t make the job easier. Every grape had to be perfectly round with sharp edges. Lots of sketches and studies had to be done for the position of the fox in the scene. The orange of the fox makes a lovely contrast with the dark blue of the grapes. The color of the greenish support plays a big role in the scene and my enjoyment was complete by painting the leaves, turning yellowish, where the sun provided backlight.
A scene like this will remind every dog lover of their much loved puppies at home. When a dog has a litter of puppies it is always a time for celebration; at least it is for mother wolf. A litter of wolf pups is hope for the future. How many will survive, which one will become alpha wolf? Before growing up, they are cute little creatures, just like house dogs. Wolves that grow up in captivity have offspring they easily accept that you play with their pups, because they will see you as a member of the pack. Can one imagine better field work for a wildlife artist? Then immediately I see the painting in my head. Sketches are made and many photographs of all the details, close ups of the nose, eye, ears, fur etc. are done. Wild animals won’t sit still and pose for you for weeks, so one way to freeze them is with the camera and take them home. Sketches are useful to study the character of the animal one wants to paint. Little by little the painting then grows for you (and myself) to enjoy.