FORMER ARMY OFFICER FREDDY PASKE DEVELOPED HIS STYLE ON THE FRONTLINE. NOW KNOWN FOR HIS SPORT AND WILDLIFE SCENES, HE REVEALS HOW TO CAPTURE THAT SPARK OF LIFE
How can I hope to capture the dynamism of an animal moving at speed, such as a racehorse?
The key is being loose with your work. The naked eye will not pick up the fine detail of a rabbit running or horse jumping, instead your brain fills in the gaps.
This is the same principle I use for capturing movement in my subjects. Get the basic shape and light right, and then enjoy playing around with the medium to enhance your image. You will be amazed at what you can actually get away with.
What techniques are best for working with wildlife and moving subjects?
Work quickly. This will force you to capture the essence of your subject and not get tied down. The medium will bring out detail. Leave your mistakes: you won’t believe how many unruly lines or smudges turn into ‘happy’ events as the image progresses. My most valued technique is understanding negative space. The eraser is your most important mark-maker. I will regularly strip back a drawing to add to the illusion of movement and simplify the subject matter. Be bold and adventurous
– you can always build the image up again.
How can I bring an animal’s character into the painting?
If you want to capture a specific animal’s character you have to observe it from life. By doing so you will pick up different mannerisms or a stance and gait that are unique to that subject. As an example, when working in
Africa I rapidly fill sketchbooks with quick, 30-second drawings of my subject. Many of these never see the light of day, but they help me to focus on the key shapes and positions that are inherent to that animal. If you can’t work from life, use video or a series of photographs and build up a sketch series. You’ll soon find yourself focusing on key characteristics.
What are your preferred materials for painting wildlife?
I love drawing in charcoal and painting in oil. Sadly both are impractical to use when working from life, so I will mainly sketch in pencil and watercolour. I am constantly experimenting and striving for new techniques. My latest process is using oil paint on an acrylic sheet. The flat, smooth surface underneath means that you can wipe away the oil paint to produce a clean white line. The resulting image is fantastic and also very fun to create.
Should I paint en plein air or work from pictures? Nothing beats working en plein air or from life, but it is difficult and you can’t expect perfect results. Always have a camera with you as a form of reference, especially when starting out. There is absolutely no shame in this and I will often use my camera phone in the field to readjust a shape or highlight. It takes years of studying a subject to master its every move, so make full use of technology.
Are there any paintbrushes you would recommend for painting wildlife?
I find the key to my style is experimenting with different techniques, which often means I don’t use a paintbrush at all. With oil colour I have used everything, including earbuds, fingers and even credit cards to apply the paint.
How do you incorporate vivid colour?
I always refer to the colour wheel. By using contrasting colours you can create fantastic vividness that is already present in nature. The blue and orange of a kingfisher is a prime example of this, and that’s why they feature a lot in my work. Push the boundaries with your palette and look for vividness in your subject.
How can I capture animals en plein air without scaring them away?
Use your camera. The photograph doesn’t have to be amazing. I regularly use my phone, but for flighty animals it is crucial to establish a good impression of
the subject’s shape and form. Try to use the image straight away, then and there, in the field. Your mind will still be fresh with the sighting and the fact you are in the animal’s environment will add to the image.
How important is the background to creating an expressive image?
The background can bring an image alive and I try to be as adventurous as possible. I often choose contrasting colours and use bold brushstrokes to frame my subject and instil a sense of movement.
It can be a great space to experiment and create an intriguing context for the animals you are portraying.
I see a lot of your work is on the larger scale, is there a reason for this?
I love working on large canvases and would work lifesize if I could. I find it very important not to constrain an image by canvas size and the more space you have the more you can let the subject stretch out. I am working on an oil of two lifesize rutting stags. The energy within the image is massively increased by the freedom of movement I have within the canvas.
Find out more about Freddy and his work at www.freddypaske.com