Evolution of the Painting "The Lakota: Children of the Prairie"
Of all the subjects I have tackled in my career as an artist, horses, sailboats, and people in their natural element are my favorite. I can't explain it, I'm just drawn to those subjects. So, when I first saw the image from photographer Aaron Huey's journey to the Pine Ridge Reservation in the Badland's National Park, South Dakota, I knew I had to paint it.
I am a studio painter. As a mother of 4, and grandmother too, and caregiver to my elderly mother, I don't get out much. I don't have the luxury to travel and paint in plein air as I would like. So, I rely on photographs I have taken over the years, and also on the generosity of my photographer friends who have a keen eye for subject, composition, and outstanding photography. I believe, that all good paintings begin with a good reference, and being a studio painter as I am, I desperately need the reference to be a subject that I am drawn to.
The image is spectacular. I contacted Aaron (who, by the way, walked across the entire country with his dog), and asked him if I could use his beautiful image as a reference for my painting. His response "Go For It!" made my day!
My inspiration for this painting was not simply the subject matter, but I was interested in submitting a painting to the 2013 "Paint the Parks" competition and touring exhibition. I won recognition in 2009 for my painting of the Horses on Mt. Rainier painting which sold at the Kolb Gallery in the Grand Canyon, so this year, I wanted to create something special. I knew my heart had to be in it - and it was.
Below are the images of the evolution of this painting ...
My palette - Burnt Umber, Transparent Oxide Red, Terra Rosa, Aliz. Crimson, Quin. Rose, Cad Red Med, Cad Yellow Deep, Cad Yellow, Naples Yellow Light, Yellow Ochre, Sap Green, Viridian, Turquoise Blue, Cerulean, Cobalt Blue, Ultramarine Blue, and Raw Umber. The palette is the "Red Easel Master's Palette" and you can purchase this beautiful handmade palette HERE.
Always start with a good sketch. I prefer to take my time and do the sketch in charcoal directly on the canvas. I simply note the shadows with the charcoal.
I put down some basic information and quickly cover the background of the painting. I use my laptop for the reference because I can zoom in on a subject in the reference and get greater detail without straining my eyes.
I like to focus on one subject at a time, getting down as much information and color notes as I can to bring the subject to life. When I am satisfied, I move on - however, I am always going back and making minor corrections to value, color, or detail, as I move through the painting. I do begin, however, by placing the shadows first, mid-tones (local color) second, and then light last.
In this painting, and with this subject, I moved from left-to-right. After I was satisfied with the first horse and rider, I moved on to the boy to his right peeking around the head of the horse.
A few more riders under my belt, I really love the young man on the center horse - the one with his foot on the horse's backend. I also referenced the blowing of the hair of the man on the black horse.
My Big Bear (my hubby) strolled into my studio and took this picture of me working on the painting. I use my mother's old wood cane as a maul stick for stability. I will tell you, though, that my knees kept unwinding the paper towels. That was a nuisance!
Moving right along - I completed the details on the center horse and began working on the girl with the feather in her hair. She is also on one of the largest horses in the image.
Next, I turned my attention to the young girl on the distant horse, walking up to the group. Again, I put down shadows first, mid-tones second, then lighter tones to hint at the sunlight. No details until I am satisfied with the colors and values and shapes of color.
And this is the final painting.
"The Lakota: Children of the Prairie"
20 x 36 Oil on hand-stretched canvas
by Mary Susan Vaughn
Honorable Mention in the 7th Annual Paint the Parks Competition, 2013.
The Lakota Indians depicted in this painting reside in the Pine Ridge Reservation within the Badlands National Park in South Dakota. The reference for this painting was provided by photographer friend, Aaron Huey. The Lakota have a rich history. Around 1730, Cheyenne people introduced the Lakota to horses called šuŋkawakaŋ ("dog [of] power/mystery/wonder"). After their adoption of horse culture, Lakota society centered on the buffalo hunt on horseback. The number of Lakota is about 70,000, of whom about 20,500 still speak the Lakota language.
Initial United States contact with the Lakota during the Lewis and Clark Expedition of 1804–1806 was marked by a standoff. Lakota bands refused to allow the explorers to continue upstream, and the expedition prepared for battle, which never came. Nearly half a century later, after the United States Army had built Fort Laramie without permission on Lakota land, the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1851 was negotiated to protect travelers on the Oregon Trail. The Cheyenne and Lakota had previously attacked emigrant parties in a competition for resources, and also because some settlers had encroached on their lands. The Fort Laramie Treaty acknowledged Lakota sovereignty over the Great Plains in exchange for free passage on the Oregon Trail for "as long as the river flows and the eagle flies."