Art 101: The Method And The Meaning

Tygerwolfe: The Method and the Meaning

My art is very important and personal to me. I have been drawing for many years, and the earliest drawing I can remember is a crude picture of a dinosaur that I created when I was approximately five years old. Recently, I have been creating digital art more than traditional (hand drawn on paper) art. The art of digital painting has become particularly attractive to me of late. No matter what medium I choose, however, my art always has one thing in common: it means something to me.

My artwork tends to carry two themes: the emotional, and the ‘art for art’s sake’ theme. The latter occurs when I haven’t created any type of art for many days. I don’t have a particular inspiration in mind, but I want to create something. This method has resulted in many of my early digital paintings, such as Autumn Wolf and Fatalis. The other inspiration for my art is emotional, and some may even refer to it as spiritual. A very good example of this is my digitally colored drawing entitled The Night Calls My Name. I initially drew this picture the day after I found out that my ten-year old cat, Smokey, had been put to sleep by my parents. This occurred in January of 2006.

The drawing depicts two animals long extinct, Dire Wolves. Dire Wolves were fundamentally different than their cousins the Grey Wolves who are still alive today. One of my favorite artists, Christie “Goldenwolf” Grandjean, has this to say about them:

Things you will want to notice about the dire wolf are it’s shorter, stockier legs, larger, wider head, and shorter ears (guessing on the ears since there is no real way to know how large they were). The overall size is roughly the same since the dire wolf was, on average, the size of a large gray wolf. (“Goldenwolf’s Dire Wolf Page” 2003.)

A Dire Wolf is basically an extinct, ice age species of wolf, larger than most modern canines today. In the drawing, there are two of these creatures. One is sitting atop a large rock, her back to the viewer, staring up at a large shooting star as it streaks across the sky. The second wolf is standing in profile with his head turned so that he is looking at the first wolf. Both of their faces are invisible to the viewer.

Both wolves are characters that I have created to role play online in multiple places, and so both represent me, to an extent. The white wolf on the rock is mourning a lost loved one, and is symbolic of the part of myself that was so lost in grief that night that I believed I would never recover. The second, dark colored wolf is worried about the first, watching her carefully. But while he is there with her, and grieving in his own way, he is focused on the fact that they are still living and he is waiting for her to come down from the rock so they can continue their lives. He symbolizes the part of me that does the same thing: the logical, practical part that, though it isn’t disconnected from the pain, is ready to move past it.

The other central element to the picture is the shooting star itself. This, however, is not symbolic, but representative of an actual event.

I moved from Texas to California in September of 2005. Due to her physical age (10 years) and small size (she was never more than 8 pounds), I had been forced to leave Smokey behind with my parents when I moved. When I returned for a visit in December of the same year, Smokey was still alive, and seemed fine. However, I had something like a premonition that if I left her again, she wouldn’t live another year. I looked into ways to take her back to California with me, but was unable to due mostly to the fact that our vet wouldn’t declare her fit to travel, once again due to her small size and age. She slept on my bed the entire last night I was there; something she’d done in the past only if I was very sick (we’d referred to her as “nurse cat” because of this habit). I think we both knew we were saying goodbye for the last time.

Almost exactly a month after I’d returned to California, on January 19th, 2006, I received a call from my biological mother in Texas. It was a Friday, and the first thing she asked me was whether I wanted to hear bad news now, or after the weekend. Somehow, I knew she was going to say that something was wrong with Smokey. I asked how Smokey was; feeling as if every inch of my insides had frozen solid, afraid of the answer I somehow knew was coming. Mom was quiet for a moment, and then told me that they’d had to put Smokey to sleep the day before.

It had happened incredibly suddenly. She’d had a partially prolapsed (inside-out) colon that morning, and the operation to fix it would have certainly killed her. Not to mention that it probably wouldn’t have been a permanent fix in even the best case scenario. She was too old and too small. My baby Smokey, the cat I’d raised from a kitten barely old enough to be weaned, was gone forever.

I was sick with grief. My adopted sister and mom got me to come into the house after I got off the phone with my mother (I take calls on the back porch for the better reception). About an hour later, I numbly followed Lona out the front door so she could take a moment to smoke and I could get some fresh air. That was when it happened. I was looking up at the stars as I often do when outside, and trying to blink back tears, when the only shooting star I’ve ever seen streaked across the sky above me. As it burned out, I found my mind suddenly flooded with memories of Smokey. Her as a tiny kitten, sitting in a box the day we found her on our doorstep. Her standing on her hind legs as we introduced her to Lady Madison, our dog, and trying to box the large dog’s nose. Her “saying goodbye” to Baby, our 20 year old Toy Poodle” the morning we had to put Baby to sleep; her lying beside me in bed when I was sick. The sound of her bell as she came jogging down the hall when anyone whistled “Greensleeves”; and, finally, the two of us saying goodbye that last time, before I left for the airport in December.

I was so overwhelmed by memories and emotions that I had to sit down on one of our porch chairs to keep myself from falling down. I cried again, but this time they were tears of something I can only call ‘relief’. Wherever Smokey was, she was okay. She didn’t resent me for leaving, and I know I’ll see her again some day, on the other side of that Rainbow Bridge. The star was her way of communicating all of this to me, or at least I believe that it was.

And that is what the shooting star depicted in The Night Calls My Name represents: a simple shooting star. And yet, at the same time, so very much more.

A consistent theme in my artwork is wolves, most specifically the aforementioned long extinct Dire Wolf. I have always felt a connection to wolves, and the Dire holds a measure of intense fascination that I feel down to a spiritual level. Examples of Dire Wolf in my artwork include Vicious (not cited), Ghosts of the Ancients (a photo manipulation), and any depiction of “Darkwolf”, the dark grey/black Dire in the aforementioned drawing The Night Calls My Name.

Part of the reason for my deep connection with wolves, and the Dire in particularly, is that I am a Therianthrope (not to be confused with a Lycanthrope, the fictitious “werewolf”). The best definition of Therianthrope that I have ever found comes from “Coyote” Osborn, maintainer of Werelist.com:

From Greek Roots: Therios (Beast) + Anthropos (Man)

An integral connection with a(n) animal(s) that might manifest itself mentally, spiritually, physically, or emotionally. Therianthropy is a state of being, whereas someone believes an animal is an essential constituent in his or her spirituality or life.

Therianthropy is the recognition and acceptance of the animal within. It makes us what we are, but more importantly who we are….

Therianthropy is a state of being where, despite having a human body, some essential portion of a person’s nature or identity is that of a nonhuman animal.

Different therians may believe that the reason for this feeling is psychological, mystical, spiritual, neurobiological, or metaphysical in nature, or the result of some combination of these or other factors. (“Therianthropy” 2005-2006.)

As a Therianthrope, my primary theriotype, that is, the animal that I feel the strongest spiritual connection to, and that I believe I once was in a previous life, is the European Dire Wolf. This is the main reason for the sheer number of wolves, and Dires in particular, that make appearances in my artwork.

Another creature I feel strongly connected to (though not as strong as the wolf) is the horse; most specifically the American Mustang. However, horses rarely make appearances in my artwork. Pegasus’, on the other hand, show up rather frequently. Two of my favorite digital paintings, Taking Flight (not cited) and Pegasus Storm have what I like to call “American Pegasus’” as their subject. Of the two, Pegasus Storm is my favorite.

When I set out to paint a Pegasus centered work, the first step is to have a clear mental image of what the finished project will look like. This is doubly important because, when doing a painting like Pegasus Storm, I actually have to create the artwork twice. Normally, when I paint, I have a reference picture of the animal open in another Photoshop window to help with colors and proportions; especially since I don’t own a Graphics Tablet, so all of my work is done with an optical mouse on a normal mousepad. However, when the subject of my painting is mythical, there are no images to use for a reference. I can not use simple horse photos, as they won’t help me with the placement of the wings. So, in order to have a clear reference, I create the picture via photo manipulation (the process of editing the elements of different photos together to create a unique and original whole). First, I piece together a background (which, in the case of Pegasus Storm, was simply painted from scratch, an experiment in blending and lighting) then ‘building’ the Pegasus’ from carefully chosen eagle photos (for the wings alone) and properly colored horse photos. This step alone can take days (Pegasus Storm took somewhere between 10 and 14 hours over the course of a week) depending on the difficulty of locating, resizing, and piecing together the different photos to create each individual Pegasus. Once this step is complete, the actual painting can begin. In the case of Pegasus Storm, the photo manipulation step took much less time than the actual painting. The painting took at least a couple of weeks. I am not sure of the exact time, because somewhere around detailing the wing feathers, I lost track of how much time I’d actually spent on the piece.

Once the base colors of the painting are complete, the next steps are blending and texturing. The blending is usually accomplished through a combination of the blur tool in Photoshop, and the corresponding Gaussian Blur filter. The texturing, however, was a bit more complicated. To produce the texture I used for the wings, I began by actually drawing each feather on a layer on top of the main painting. I do this with the painting blown up to about four times its original size so that I could create little details in the feathers. Once I’d completed that step, I then colored the feathers in, paying attention to the shading and light direction to keep the light source consistent. When I’d vanished, I then changed the transparency of the overlying layer to soften the lines and blend it with the color layer underneath. Next came the fur texturing on the Pegasus’ bodies. This was accomplished by duplicating the painted layer for each Pegasus, carefully painting in the fur using the burn tool and a special brush, then finally changing the transparency of the layer so that the fur looks soft and blends with the solid color layer below. Then, after some final blending effects and changes to make certain once more that lighting is consistent, the piece is complete.

My second favorite of all of my Digital paintings is a portrait entitled Fatalis. I am proud of this piece because in its creation, I combined two of my greatest loves: artwork and Paleontology (the study of ancient life, most notably dinosaurs, but actually all life older than approximately 10,000 years, placing it within the last Ice Age or earlier).

My reference for Fatalis was a photo of a modern African Lioness, the finished product, however, is something much more ancient and intimidating: Smilodon fatalis, the fabled “Saber-toothed Tiger” (a misnomer, because Smilodon is actually not related to any living feline, tiger or otherwise. Technically, there is no such thing as a saber-toothed tiger). Starting with the lioness’ basic pose, I built the long extinct cat as I painted. I first made the ears smaller and downward facing, to match with what is guessed about Smilodon’s appearance. Guessed, because no completely preserved Smilodon (with skin) has ever been discovered. Smilodon’s ears are thought to have been small due to the cold temperatures of it’s habitat, in order to minimize heat loss. Continuing in this vein, I made the neck very thick and muscular. Finally, guessing where the upper canine teeth were within the lioness’ muzzle, I began to paint the Smilodon’s most distinctive features: the “saber-teeth”.

Many hours of sketching, referencing, color blocking, blending, shading, and texturing later, she was finally complete. On my screen, Smilodon fatalis lived again. She all but breathed.

In conclusion, what my art means to me can’t be summed up in any one word. To recreate creatures that haven’t walked this earth in over ten millennia… To bring to life flights of fancy so real that they could leap off the page or screen… Or simply to give form to my own thoughts and emotions. All of these things and so much more are what my art means to me. This is what it means to be me. To be Tygerwolfe.

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Works Cited

Author Unknown. “The Rainbow Bridge” Date unknown.

Grandjean, Christie “Goldenwolf”. “Goldenwolf’s Dire Wolf Page” 2003.

Osborne, “Coyote”. “Therianthropy.” Werelist 2004.

Ward, Kathryn “Tygerwolfe” Lynn. The Night Calls My Name. 2006.

Autumn Wolf. 2005.

Fatalis. 2006.

Pegasus Storm. 2006.