From Sketch to Painting: Simplifying
While preparing the illustrations for the “National Geographic Book of Prehistoric Mammals” with Alan Turner we agreed that we needed a double page spread image showing the sabertooth cat Smilodon populator in pursuit of its prey.
From that central image I ellaborated on the concept of a mixed herd of grazers including several macrauchenias an some South American horses. I played with the impression of a diversity of animals exploding in different directions as their peaceful grazing was interrupted by the predators.
But looking at the sketch I felt I had somehow overdone it, and I decided more simplicity was needed.
So, off went the horses (although one of them “mutated” into a Macrauchenia…), and the remaining elements got spread out a bit to fill the double-page spread format. Now the animals had more room to breath and the whole thing was more relaxing to look at. This third sketch went to the canvas with hardly any modification.
Looking at the final painting and the sketches all these years after, I get the impression that the more “crowded” alternative could have worked as well after all, if only I had had more time… but the practical fact was that to paint that version in oils would have been too time-consuming given the tight deadlines for the whole book project!
Sometimes you cannot separate too clearly the creative needs from the more mundane circumstances of your work, but often, in spite of the frustrations, the results improve thanks to those limitations… often, but not always, and not neccessarily!