About the Piece: Raccoon Balancing on a Tree at Night

Deciding what painting to look at next for this article came fairly easily. I wanted to include a few process photos and about the middle of the year I got a new phone and a new laptop, so I do not have lazy access to any process photos I may have had on them. Additionally, although I just got a phone, I already found myself needing to delete photos and videos to shore up some space…so nearly all progress shots got the axe.

Having just joined Facebook (THIS YEAR!), I uploaded a few process shots throughout the week in real time for my friends and I have access to those, so – there ya go.

One evening in the spring about dusk, I was sitting out in my driveway having a drink, just relaxing. I heard a rustling at the bottom of the bank in the backyard and I peer around. Through the brush a raccoon emerged and began making her way through the yard. It was around this time it noticed me and re-routed to a nearby pine tree and proceeded to climb up about 20 feet. I sat there, and it clung there, motionless, maybe hoping I would disappear like a little kid closing their eyes under the covers after watching a scary movie. After a few minutes, and dimming light, she seemingly walked upright around the tree and began her descent. She took a few minutes to dismount from the tree and quickly receded into the woods. About a month later, I began this painting.

In total it took about 12 hours of work over about 4 days. It’s 2ftx4ft, acrylic paint on plywood.

The first thing I did, as with any piece is figure out what I’m going to work on. Whereas previous pieces I’d done on plywood had been done with “found” wood sheets, this one I picked up specifically to do a painting on. I decided to go with acrylic paint and just use oil on smaller canvases for the time being.

I love painting on wood and letting the tone and texture of the grain to not just be a housing for the paint, but to become part of the artwork itself, crickeling through, maybe even lending a more rustic look in pieces depicting wildlife. Yes, I just invented the word crickeling…sort of a hybrid of cracking and trickling.

In addition, I’ve developed a couple of different approaches to creating pointillist work. The piece of the woman with a drink below is one of the first pieces I made developing this style…at the time I had thought I would do more portraits and depict the people with no eyes, sort of how Roman busts look, but more to the point, you’ll notice the brushstrokes on the piece are very methodical…indeed, every single mark on this piece, I carefully considered before marking it. There is a distinct direction to the dots, which are about the length of the bristles of the brush. The Opossum on the right, while done on canvas and oil, yes, those aspects are different, but you will notice the technique, while pointillist, is decidedly different. The dots are in fact that, dots, using the tip of a finer brush rather than using more the side bristles of a more square brush such as the woman with the cocktail. There is not a sense of lining the dots up in an order so much, it’s much less mosaic looking.

For the Raccoon painting and a few others prior such as Providence and the Eagle Nebula, I began using a bit of a hybrid of the two techniques. So you’ll notice below, one features that require a bit more detail or are intended to be focused on a bit more such as the raccoon here, I’ll use a more tip style while the background of the night I use the side bristles and convey direction to the marks.

I was initially hesitant to use black – or at least so much as I ended up using, largely in part that I didn’t want to lose the spaciousness of the night, as well as maintain a vibrancy and brightness of the piece. If you look at much of the “post impressionist” works of the Victorian period in France – Van Gogh, Seurat, Signac, ,Pisarro, those guys steered away from black to create a brightness of the work. I did this more with my earlier pieces but I do use black more – especially outlining.

As I did the more procedural work of filling in the background, I was unsettled as to my approach to the tree. In general with my work, trees, I will create as a solid. Pointillism creates such a fleeting, dynamic, moving feel. Anchoring trees in this more solid, rigid way creates a nice contrast in my estimation. At this point I believe trees are the only subjects I have sort of bestowed this particular quality with. But this tree in particular I did wrestle with internally before executing it. I considered a more covered painting of the tree, but I knew if I did that, there’s no “Ctrl+Z” when you’re painting IRL and I would lose that natural honey wood texture were I to change my mind. I’m happy with the direction I took it and think the tree looks very nice under the raccoon.

It was during the initial drawing that I’d decided I wanted to put a few more raccoons in the painting, rather than it just feel like I’m trying to exhibit a single raccoon on this large piece of wood. I’d initially drawn in another sort of short stopped tree stump on one side and had a couple of raccoon cubs peering over it. This felt lopsided, so to the other side I had a couple of other raccoons, so it had about seven raccoons all together on it. Once I started painting the mother, who I thought looked very regal and confident, I decided all of these cubs around would end up taking too much focus off of her and make the piece a bit campy.

So I ended up keeping one cub on the same tree. I don’t announce this in the title. The night is a fairly sensorial overload and the cub is there for the viewer to discover, maybe not at first glance but after looking and taking their eye off mom to scan the rest of the area. Upon seeing the cub, focusing back onto the mother and gaining appreciation that she is bringing up a cub, protective and respectable.

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