Frog Totem, 2014
24” x 36” x 1.5”
From the ‘Running Wolf Totem Pole’, which tells the origin of the
first Gitxsan people on the Skeena River:. The pole raising was on
August 24, 1980 at the Museum of Anthropology, with a large
contingent of Gitxsan attending. UBC MOA
Carved by Walter Harris, a ‘Ksan carver, and family, Richard, Doreen and Rodney.
After completing the Grizzly #2 painting, I knew hat it was time to take a leap forward and try something different. I was unsure as to whether what I had leaned and developed so far would be enough to support me in this new venture into he unknown. But I would continue to trust the process and thrust that the totem would guide me.
I had decided that I wanted to try a larger canvas and purchased a 24”x36” canvas. I began spending time with my library of images with the canvas size in mind. I experimented by cropping images to the ratio of the canvas to find the best composition. My default for potential studies was the collection at the MOA UBC, as I am very familiar with it and there are a number of totems that I am particularly fond of (with their combination if beauty and aging).
In a recent visit, the sun was in a perfect placement on the Running Wolf Totem Pole, which brought out all the amazing undertones of the cedar under the aged patina and cracking. I was able to get great photographs of the 3 sections: The Frog, Killer Whale and Mosquito. It is always challenging trying to get images that are not distorted by keystoning from pointing the camera upwards.
I was especially taken by the beauty of the rich brown and gray tones on the Frog, on the north side of its face. The south side of the face is deeply crevassed and has lost much of its original wood colours because of the constant exposure to the sun.
So once I had chosen the base colour, I was now in very new territory. There was so much colour, and so many layers of colour. Where did I begin?
I’ve found that it is best to begin with the shadows; strongest first and then build in thin shading to define the shape of the face. It informs the eye as to what the wood is doing and how the light will play on it, as to the wood’s natural graining and cracking.
I then started working in the darker rich reddy brown tones as they come through everything else on the face. And gradually, I would lighten them as I followed the contours. But before developing the more yellowy highlights, I had to take on the challenge of the predominant nose. My, there was a lot going on there. A few attempts didn’t work, and thankfully, with acrylic begin so forgiving, it was easy enough to make the decision to repaint the base colours in that area and start over. There are so many varying shades of gray but still keeping some of the warm brown coming through. Once I had seen my way to achieving the goal, it made the other graying area so much easier to tackle.
The shaping of the mouth (and the frog within) was also a new experiment and was another exciting discovery. It supported the next challenge of the forehead. There was the classic smooth cedar wood with all its patinas under the sunlight. If I went too far with a colour, it was easy enough to work backwards with very thin layers of colours, and add the slight hints of colours depending how the wood played with the sun and the more shaded sections.
On this painting, I delved further in developing the cracks. A crack is the result of the highlights and shadow, not just a line. And their colours also change depending where they are on the totem. The same goes for the line patterns carved into the wood. And it is vital that these be accurate as they change the image if not. They have a precise shape according to the particular master carvers and the heritage and culture of each totem.
Then lastly, it was time to develop the hot spots on the face, as to where the light was it’s brightest. This too required many shades to keep the natural look of the wood and it carving.
Note: This was one painting where a great many people were convinced that it was actual wood. I saw some setting their head against the exhibition wall next to it to see that it was indeed a canvas painting. The common expression heard was “I just want to touch the wood.”
Northern Exposure Southern Exposure
Link to MOA/UBC webpage for This Totem Pole: