Bighorn Skull

This year our family spent Spring Break in Southwest Colorado. It’s only a few hours from home, but it felt like a world away. The landscape was, also, completely different than my home back in Boulder. This was canyon country – rugged, dry, mysterious, and full of overlooked color. I was snapping photos everywhere hoping when I got back home I’d be inspired to paint some desert scenery. As it happened, I returned home most inspired by a weathered bighorn sheep skull that was hanging above the door on an old shed. At first, I was thinking I’d just paint the skull in the same well-known style Georgia O’Keeffe had painted skulls of animals she had found. However, once I got started the painting found it’s own voice. I’m pretty pleased with the outcome.

bighorn sheep skull

Bighorn, 18″ x 24″ acrylic on board, 2013

Like many of my other painting posts, I think it is fun to show the process. Here’s how it all went down…

I started, like most paintings, with a simple sketch.

IMG_3549

Then I added the first of many layers. My goal here was just to cover up the white.

IMG_3550

I quickly came back with another few layers of color to define the background. I love acrylics.

IMG_3551

The next step was also quickly done without much fuss. I added some various earthy brown hues without much care and simply dragged a damp kitchen sponge over the paint. This gave the wood grain effect of the shed’s siding. I later added some more detail with a brush to capture the shadows and cracks, but I didn’t spend too much time on it.

IMG_3552

Before I called it a day, I went back over the actual skull with some basic solid colors to recapture the sketch so I wouldn’t loose it.

IMG_3619

Next, I went to work on the basic skull. After I laid down some paint, I came back later to add shadowing so it was consistent across the whole piece. Now I know why Georgia O’Keeffe painted skulls over and over. They are so detailed and unique. At a distance a sun-bleached skull appears white, but on closer inspection there are lots of browns, yellows, grays, and hints of red. They are absolutely beautiful objects.

IMG_3623

Finally, the last main section of the painting was the sheep’s horns. I thought about this for a while before I actually tackled it. I thought the horns would be daunting to blend in with the super-detailed approach of the skull, but I eventually decided for a more suggestive approach instead of laboriously painting the exact detail – I really need to get away from stressing over the details.

bighorn sheep skull

A few final touch ups, and I called it complete. I’m learning when to stop.