Sunday, August 28, 2011

Yellowstone Bison Rut - Painting Reference Trip

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Each year I try to make a trip to Yellowstone National Park sometime during August to observe and photograph bison during the peak of their rutting period. At this time of year, the bison gather in large numbers to breed and it offers a great chance to view a large number of animals at once. This year I decided to concentrate on the park’s Northern herd which congregate in the scenic Lamar Valley in the Northeast corner of the park.

The park service recently released some interesting statistics about Yellowstone’s bison population, specifically the Northern herd. There are two main bison herds in Yellowstone, the Northern and the Central (Hayden Valley), with the Central herd typically being much larger. Interestingly, this year’s population estimates put the Northern herd at 2300 bison and the Central herd at only 1400. Yellowstone has an extremely diverse and intricate ecosystem and it’s always fascinating to see how the different animal populations fluctuate in relation to each other. There are many hypotheses regarding this population redistribution, but my guess is that it’s related to the very harsh winter and late snowpack experienced in the area this year.

Because of their large numbers, I think bison are sometimes overlooked by visitors that come to the park hoping to see grizzly bears or wolves. But, in my opinion, bison are one of the true gems of Yellowstone. Nowhere else in the lower 48 states can wild bison be viewed in their natural environment in such large numbers, and Yellowstone is also the only place in the U.S. where bison have lived continuously since prehistoric times. When you stop and take the time to really observe them, you quickly earn a deep respect for these amazing animals.
I was lucky enough to camp mere minutes away from Lamar Valley, which gave me the opportunity to stay in the valley well past sunset and then return well before dawn. Lamar Valley is an impressive place and is especially spectacular in the early and late hours of the day when the glowing light adds to the already vibrant colors. If you’ve never visited, I highly recommend it.

As far as reference photography goes; it was an extremely successful trip. I can’t even count the number of painting ideas that this trip generated. But most importantly, the trip gave me a chance to reconnect with nature and it was a great reminder of why I’ve chosen the career path I have. Places like this are very special and if my paintings can help share them with those not fortunate enough to visit as often as I do, then I’ve done my job. Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Spring in Yellowstone - Bears and Babies

Last weekend I took my first trip of the year to Yellowstone. The month of May can be an exciting, yet unpredictable time to visit the park. On one hand, Spring can be one of the best times of year to view and photograph black and grizzly bears, as they are just coming out of hibernation and are searching for food sources at lower elevations where there is less snowpack. This makes the chances of seeing them from the roads much higher than other times of the year. On the other hand, the weather during May in the Northern Rockies can be quite erratic and you never know what to expect. You might get sunny days with highs in the 70’s or you might have blizzard conditions with lows below freezing. Needless to say, you always have to be well prepared.

I always like to plan a trip to Yellowstone sometime in mid to late May each year. Going later in May gives a little extra time for some snow to melt and ensures that a majority of the park roads will be open for travel. But, the big crowds start showing up on Memorial weekend, which can often push wildlife away from viewing areas, so I always like to get a trip in before then. I had a business meeting in Jackson Hole last weekend so that gave me the perfect excuse to plan a full weekend in the park around it.

Though the weather wasn’t ideal for photography (heavy rain and lots of clouds), I still managed to have a very successful trip and was able to gather a lot of new reference material for future paintings. I was able to see several bears, including one black and one grizzly at close distance. In addition, I had a great time observing and photographing the numerous newborn buffalo calves (often referred to as red dogs). It doesn’t take those little guys long after they’re born to start showing off their youthful energy. They remind me a bit of my kids and are entertaining to observe, to say the least.

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Saturday, February 5, 2011

Art to Benefit Trout

I’m happy to announce that my work will be featured at two different Montana Trout Unlimited chapter events this month. At each event, a majority of the proceeds from my work will directly benefit the mission of each chapter, which include various projects to conserve, protect and restore the fisheries throughout Montana. My work has always been a meeting of two passions, art and nature, so conserving what we have left of the natural world is something I feel very strongly about. Having the opportunity to use my art to directly impact my subjects in a positive manner is a huge honor and something I hope to continue to do throughout my career.

2011 MGTU Poster
The first event is the Madison-Gallatin chapter’s annual Troutfest banquet on February 19, 2011 in Bozeman, Montana. At this event, my series of four 11x14 oil paintings depicting Montana native fish will be included in the live auction. The chapter will also be accepting absentee bids from people who are not able to attend the event but who want a chance to purchase the artwork and benefit the chapter. Live auctions always present an opportunity to get a great deal, so if you would like to place a bid (no minimum) please contact chapter president Travis Morris directly a In addition, there will be 100 signed and numbered posters featuring images of the native fish series available for $25.

Montana Native Fish series - each painting 11x14

Then on February 26, 2011, the WestSlope chapter will hold their annual banquet in Missoula, Montana. I created an 11x14 painting titled “Clark Fork Rainbow” specifically for this event. The painting depicts a typical rainbow trout from the Clark Fork River. I enjoyed several days of fly-fishing in the Missoula area last summer in order to gather reference for this piece. This painting will also be included in the live auction and there will be 25 signed and numbered fine art prints available for sale as well.

Clark Fork Rainbow - 11x14

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Winter in Yellowstone – Bighorn Sheep

On Monday, I had the opportunity to spend the day observing and photographing bighorn sheep near the North Entrance to Yellowstone National Park. The morning started out with a quick visit to George Bumann’s home and studio in Gardiner, Montana. George does fantastic work depicting the wildlife of Yellowstone and I greatly enjoyed seeing some of his works in progress. If you’re not familiar with his work, you should take a moment and view his website at We were able to scout out some of the sheep with a spotting scope right from his deck overlooking the Northern edge of the park, which made them much easier to find later that day.

After a short visit, it was time to do some snowshoeing in the park. My hike wasn’t particularly far, but with drifted snow up to 3 feet deep in some places, and the extra weight of my winter gear and camera equipment, I had to work pretty hard to get up to the sheep. The hard work paid off though and I was able to spend a couple of hours in close proximity to a group of about 30 sheep. I rely on my photographs for a lot of information for my paintings, but the time spent just observing the animals and the way they interact is just as valuable. It’s also a great way to see things that a camera is not able to capture, such as the subtle color variations in the fur.  I strongly believe these firsthand experiences make a huge difference in creating “believable” paintings…not to mention it’s pretty cool to see wild animals up-close like this.

Winter in Yellowstone can be brutal, but it’s also a pretty amazing time to visit. It really makes you realize how tough these animals are…and the lack of tourists is nice as well. While hiking, I came across quite a few wolf tracks in the snow. They look similar to any other canine footprint but are much larger - these were larger than the palm of my hand! I had a face-to-face encounter with a wolf in this same area a couple years ago, so their presence wasn’t surprising. I received a message from George the following morning saying that he had just seen a group of 3 wolves through his spotting scope in the exact area I had been the previous day. It’s kind of eerie to think that they may have been watching me from the surrounding timber, but I think it’s quite possible.

All in all, it was another successful trip that will surely generate a painting or two. With the worst of winter still to come, it was nice to spend a day out in the field before things get too chilly and I hibernate in the studio. I have included a few of the several hundred images I shot. As usual, I keep the best ones for my paintings -

Monday, October 4, 2010

Yellowstone Reference Trip

I just returned from a reference trip to the Madison River area of Yellowstone National Park. One of the things I enjoy most about being an artist is spending time in the field studying my subjects. Not only is it imperative to understand the behavior of the animals I paint, but seeing this stuff first-hand is what inspires me to keep coming up with fresh ideas for new paintings. The emotions I experience when I’m out in nature are what I try to recreate in my paintings for others to enjoy.

I had to make this a quick a trip due to other obligations at home, but I was able to get a lot of quality photos and painting ideas in short time. September and October mark the annual elk rut and I try to plan at least one reference trip during this time each year. If you’ve ever had a chance to view elk up-close in the fall then you know what a great opportunity it is to witness how these amazing animals interact. The aggressive bulls are bugling and occasionally fighting for the rights to mate with the females and there is typically never a dull moment. If you haven’t had a chance to witness it, I strongly recommend a fall trip to do so. Some of the best elk viewing areas in the Western U.S. are Yellowstone, Grand Teton, and Rocky Mountain National Parks. In Canada, Jasper and Banff National Parks are also great. In addition to the elk activity, the fall season has a lot to offer. In terms of wildlife, this is a great time to see a variety of animals, including moose, deer and bears. Top it all off with some amazing fall color and it’s easy to see why I have hard time spending much time in the studio during the fall months.

We’ve been having some unseasonably warm weather in Montana lately (daytime highs in the 80’s are pretty rare in October) and it has definitely interrupted the fall wildlife schedules. Many of the animals are bedded down in the deep forest trying to escape the heat and waiting for cooler days before they really get active. That being said, I’m pretty happy with the several hundred images I was able to take away from this trip. A majority of my trip was spent with one bull elk that had a harem of around 15 cows with him. He definitely wasn’t the largest bull I’ve seen in the area (a younger 6X7) but he was plenty big enough for my needs. The highlight of the trip was when he pushed his cows across the Madison River right at daybreak - I was in a perfect spot to take a bunch of pictures in amazing, glowing light. This scene will certainly show up in several future paintings. I also had a couple of great opportunities to photograph a trumpeter swan on the river and to add to my ever-growing archives of fall foliage images.

I hope you enjoyed reading about my trip and seeing a few images. Keep an eye on my website ( and my Facebook page to see some new paintings inspired by this trip soon. Now, back to the easel to get some painting done.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Rocky Mountain Goat Reference Trip

Last week I was fortunate to spend some time observing and photographing Rocky Mountain Goats in their natural habitat. Of all the large mammals native to the region, mountain goats are probably the most difficult to find. With the exception of a few areas, they typically spend most of their time near the highest peaks in the Rockies. I’ve been researching this particular herd and location for a couple of years and was excited to finally make a trip.

Mountain goats can be found in numerous locations throughout the Rocky Mountain states, including several mountain ranges much closer to my home in Bozeman, but this particular area was attractive to me for a couple of reasons. First, there is a dirt road that enables you to drive nearly to the top of the mountain ridge at about 10,000 feet, thus limiting hiking time and increasing the time spent finding and viewing the goats. Most of the areas near my home that are inhabited by mountain goats require a strenuous half-day hike (at least) with no guarantee of spotting any goats. Second, the location of these goats happens to be fairly close to where most of our family lives. So, we were able to drop off our 2 year-old son to spend some time with his grandparents while my wife and I camped and hiked for a couple of days (a much needed vacation!). Then, once we finished with the mountain goats, we were able to spend a couple more days visiting with family.

As expected, the goats certainly lived up to their elusive reputation. The terrain was very steep and most of the goats we were able to spot were out of reach of even the largest zoom lens. However, the views were outstanding and while we hiked I was able to gather a lot of reference material of goat habitat that will surely show up in some future paintings. Just when it seemed we might strike out, my wife spotted a small group of goats moving through the forest below. We were able to quickly get in a good position to see the goats as they came out of the forest and climbed onto a large rocky ledge. The group of six goats then stopped and rested in the shade for awhile, which allowed me take a bunch of photos. They are really beautiful this time of year, as they’re well into the process of growing their long winter coats.

Overall, the trip was a success and the reference I was able to gather will surely generate several new paintings over the coming years. Most of all, it was great time spent in the outdoors taking it all in. Next weekend, it’s off to Yellowstone!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Commissioned Montana Ranch Painting

I thought I would share a landscape painting that I just finished and delivered to the customer. This piece was commissioned by a family that owns property near Judith Gap in central Montana. The view is from their property looking toward the Big Snowy Mountains.

I really enjoy doing commissioned landscapes like this but they always pose a challenge. On one hand, my customer is hiring me to paint a picture of a specific scene and they expect the painting to be very recognizable. On the other hand, I want to create a piece that will hold up on its own, even to a viewer that isn’t familiar with the area. With most of my work, I have free reign to move things around (trees, mountains, etc.) to create a design that I feel works well for the painting. If something looks out of place, then I can just leave it out of the painting altogether. On a commissioned landscape like this, my hands are kind of tied because the painting has to represent reality. If I move a grove of trees to a new area, the customer would immediately notice that something wasn’t right. So, to solve that problem it takes a lot more effort on my part to come up with an interesting and pleasing design based on what nature has provided.

For this piece, I was lucky to be able to take a trip to the property to take a bunch of reference photos from several different vantage points. I also painted a small 8X10 study on location to capture some of the information the photos would most likely leave out. Once back in the studio, I was then able to evaluate many different ideas to come up with a painting design that looked nice and also met the customer’s requirements.

This was a beautiful view and I really enjoyed doing the painting. The mountains were stunning and the blooming wildflowers were an added bonus. Here’s the finished product:

Untitled – 18x24