I regularly field questions about how I go about conceptualizing, researching, and developing my paintings.
Because so many people are interested in my process, I am sharing a few of the most common topics with you:
Research is the bedrock of my paintings.
Understanding my research methods offers insight into my entire process.
First, although most of my images are fictionalized accounts of settings and events, I insist that all accouterments in the paintings are historically correct.
Compare my 2011 painting, Lakota War Bonnet to Formidable Presence.
In the former, the subject is wearing a Lakota halo-style eagle feather bonnet, in the latter, the Crow man wears a rare bison horn headdress.
Through careful research, I ensure that all aspects of a painting are period correct, so that a late-model rifle isn’t depicted with a mid-19th century man, for example.
In Display of Eminence, the late-1860s setting is determined, in part, by the inclusion of the Winchester Yellow Boy lever-action rifle, one of the first repeating rifles and a popular choice of weapon of Plains tribes of the times.
With a compelling composition in place, I am free to explore my subject matter for maximum impact.
There are two main components to my compositions: vantage point and rhythm.
Vantage point places you, the viewer, “in” the painting.
In Keokuk, Sac and Fox Chief, Chief Keokuk is positioned in the exact way he would look if you were standing on the ground, looking up at him on his mount. This perspective communicates both the strength and the authority of the subject.
Rhythm is the set of structural devices that compel your eyes to flow over the painting.
I want my viewers to fully engage with my paintings, moving from one part to another easily.
In Masters of their Land, notice how the diagonal lines repeat in the upper-left-hand corner from the tops of the clouds, to the slant of the rock outcropping to the backs of the horses. This shape is then repeated to the right with the crest of the hill and the next rocky cliff. This arrangement pulls your eye through the painting in the same way most Western audiences read: from the top left to the lower right.
The concave curves formed from the clouds and the valley link the two sets of lines – forming a bridge for your eye to follow.
Use of models
My subjects are often amalgams, rather than based on a specific model.
I am not opposed to using models, but in my experience, it can be a challenge to find a person with the athleticism, authority, and horsemanship, I need who is also working as a model.
Earlier in my career, I relied on live models more frequently than I do now. Now, however, I feel freer to create faces, expressions, and figures from my mind’s eye.
Always Watchful is a good example of my portraiture: there is more going on here that merely representing the likeness of someone’s face. You can see that his attention is rapt (Is it caution? Curiosity?) and you can tell from the highlighting that he is indoors, perhaps sitting by firelight glow.
Blue Coat and Top Hat and Commanding Presence were both painted from the same model, a young man from Flagstaff who served as the inspiration for several works.
The methods I use to paint from imagination start with using one of the thousands of photographs I have taken of prior models for basic perspective. From there, I add in all the faces, accouterments, and beaded/feathered details from my own imagination, historical, and physiological knowledge:
- Genetic differences: I make sure that I capture distinct features typical of different groups of people (nose shape of the Plains Indians, rounder faces of the Navajo, etc.)
- Tribal environment and the impact on physical bodies: For example, agrarian lifestyles led to smaller, softer physiques whereas hunters/gatherers tended to be leaner and stronger.
- Physical movement: I capture bodies in motion, flexing muscles, and the like with anatomical reference texts of both humans and horses.
Lakota Finery and Navajo Finery are both amalgam images.
Art Collectors: Do you have a question about my work that I haven’t addressed here?
Please contact me: James Ayers Studios. I welcome your questions or comments.