The Art of Bruce Miller

The anatomy of cougar painting...

I had done a smaller 16x24 cougar painting with a shot I got at a photo shoot in Sandstone, MN. It sold right away and I lamented that I had used my favorite shot from the shoot in a small painting. Someone once said "Don't waste a great idea on a small painting". So, 2 years ago I decided to do a large piece using that shot of the lion. Most artists depict the cougar as a passive animal and I wanted to do something different, so I reused the photo.

Here is the original small painting, I used some reference from a trip to Utah years ago for the rock, but the brush, and the rest was comletely made up to get what I wanted. Also was one of the first times I had used a palette knife and did a lot of knife work in this painting.




This is the first large 30x45 painting I did with the cougar, using similar rock with the knife, switching the scene, and adding a different idea for the right side of the painting. The most important part of a wildlife painting, i.e. focal point, is the head of the main subject. I was not getting the separation I wanted with this version.

For various reasons, I decided I didn't like it. I was happy with the rock-work on left half of the piece, but felt I needed to try something else. If I have a painting (like this one), when I like one aspect of it (usually the animal), I will keep trying until I get what I want. With this version, I used some ideas from a trip back from Vegas (SCI show) from southern Utah. After some time, I decided there wasn't enough contrast with the head of the cat. So I changed it again. (below) Sky and background were fabricated to enhance the main scene, but again I wasn't satisfied. Still not enough punch with cat head. And felt it needed some foliage for a more authentic habitat.

 In this next version below, I show how I used a cutaway of a shot I took on my way back from the 2018 SCI show, (Safari Club International). I was taking some mule deer background shots one morning driving through the mountains in Western Utah. I thought it gave me the contrast I needed: foliage and some more color.

Using most of it and simplifying a few things, I painted in the new background, By the way, I do use photoshop to do most of my layouts, but most of the work done on the painting was hand drawn. Being a studio painter, I use the tools available to me and I use photoshop a lot. I will use a projector to draw the outline of the animal, but everything else is hand drawn in. My point, drawing is very important, you can't do what I did in this painting (below) without good drawing skills. 

In this final version (I hope), I brought in more darks behind the cat head, used the knife for texture on right side rock and made sure to echo some of the color from the original left hand rock. You can see where I adjusted the shadow rock color in the painting (from photo), and toned down the snow. In my world, 'its never too much work to fix a painting'. The overall value of the painting is dark, but the idea was to bring more drama to the painting by adding contrast. You will notice repetition in angles of the rock and color brought in to tie it all together. I also used several edge tricks to tie the cat to the background. Hard, soft and lost edges are found in different places throughout the piece.