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Critique from two brilliant artists at WetCanvas.com helped me solve several problems at the sketch stage of Cheetahs Fire Dancing.

For one thing, her open mouth would be difficult to render in enough detail at the size of her head. Her entire head is about the size of a nickel. I only have a line width that's maybe a sixteenth of an inch or so by the time I'm done. If I were doing this in colored pencils, I would have gone to Verithins and sharpened them till I could draw blood, and done the gaping mouth. But I found another reference with head at the same angle and closed her mouth, which will give a better effect at the scale and resolution of pastels.

She'll be dramatic enough as it is, but her black gums and white teeth would have been difficult to juggle and still get accurate -- she would have wound up with blunt peglike teeth and maybe missing some. The texture of the surface affects this too. I am working on Colourfix sanded paper. The coarseness or fineness of the sanding affects how tiny details can get. On smooth hot press watercolor paper with colored pencils, it's no sweat doing a triangular tooth only a sixteenth of an inch long. But I would not have been able to taper them on this surface, and that would have made her look goofy.

Both of the artists saw the problem with her forelegs. So did kayara. So did I, I just didn't have a clear idea how I was going to fix it till I got all those comments. I went back to all three animal drawing books searching for anatomy sketches of cheetah feet and found them. I changed the pose slightly, planting one foreleg right on the ground where it goes. I had elongated her wrists and she would've had a sloping back like a Smilodon with forelegs way longer than hind legs with what I had.

And the paw shape was wrong, like she'd stepped into a wasps' nest and was carrying it off the ground in pain. This painting is not about torturing the cats.

Third change, one of the artists, Colorix, noticed that the right-hand cheetah's tail formed a curve exactly following the line of the left side cheetah's back, and that this created a dull negative space. Whoohoo! I saw it as soon as he said it. This is the sort of thing critique is good for. So I swished the right-hand cheetah's tail out of the way and solved another minor problem.

I'd wanted to show the rock across the circle as the brightest, with the firelight falling on it, another bit of gold to tie the magical golden circle together. A little bit of realism to make the circle a circle rather than a funny oval of blobs. To make the fire real by its light radiating in all directions. But her tail obscured it. Lo, now it doesn't. Lifting it jauntily changed her attitude and made it more fun.

Once I scanned it I tweaked the tails some more and tweaked the far cheetah's visible hindfoot, shortening that leg by a line with and makin sure proportions are accurate. But those changes will be visible next time, when shadows radiate out from the cats and color masses start to build among the trees and on the cats. This white sketch is also something like a value underpainting to make the cats and fire and stones much brighter than they would be doing golden orange over dark blue directly.

I have no idea why I keep turning to work on these paintings late at night, but I seem to be working on them late at night. Maybe I should bang away at site stuff during the day if I'm going to be doing nocturnal art. Usually I like drawing by daylight -- but it's been overcast lately and the sun's going down earlier and earlier anyway. I miss long summer days already.
Explore-Oil-Pastels-With-Robert-Sloan.com Articles at eHow.com, ETSY shop, My Bonanzle Booth, deviantART gallery, SFFmuse and look for art by robertsloan2art on eBay. Listed on Art Blogs 4 U
Proud member of the Oil Pastel Society
Interesting art blog: Patrick's Art Blog focused on realism!
New Topical Blog: www.robs-art-supply-reviews.blogspot.com for all the cool art stuff that isn't oil pastels!

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Robert A. Sloan, author of Raven Dance
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