Karen Carr - featured artist

Prehistoric Art

 
A rough sketch of Placerias. Copyright by Karen Carr.How I Make a Picture
by Karen Carr

My job as an artist is to create an exciting, attractive and accurate image that conveys my client's message, whether it's for educational, editorial or scientific use. Often, my work requires the creation of a distinct and precisely defined natural environment, sometimes one that no longer even exists. Other times, the requirement is for a single portrait or vignette for exhibit labels or signs.

But whether I'm painting a portrait of a single lion or creating murals showing dozens of creatures, the result should be fun for both curators and kids to look at. Using some of the large murals I created for the Oklahoma Museum of Natural History, let me show you how my client's input helps to create that kind of an image.

1. Project Input and Research

The most important part of the creative process that lead to these images was the communication up front: I often spend almost as much time preparing for an image -- in research, consultation or in the field -- as I do painting. It is also important to provide a detailed input and review process for these images, especially when lots of people want to contribute ideas.

To begin the Ancient Life Series, representatives from the museum and I had several planning sessions, either by phone, email or fax. Working with their museum designers and architects, the museum had developed a very good initial outline of the scenes and animals they wanted to show, and a precise set of requirements for the physical space that was available. With thousands of square feet to cover, and with the need to accommodate lighting and building systems like air conditioning and heating, these advance plans by the museum staff really got the images off to a good start.

2. Black-and-White Layouts

After our initial meetings, I created a detailed black-and-white layout of each painting, creating a visual approach that solved the museum's needs and took advantage of the museum's beautiful halls and building design. Because the initial layout was fairly detailed, there were lots of opportunities to review and discuss the contents, change things, or even to draw on the layout if it helped explains things. This is also the first of many opportunities to review the anatomy of the animals.

Early sketches of Placerias. Copyright by Karen Carr.

The initial black-and-white sketch is a loose character sketch that identifies the key anatomical characteristics of the animals and gives a sense of their activity and posture.

Because many of the critters included in these murals are shown at or near life size, it's important to get the details right. To that end, I got valuable help from the people at the museum and university. When working on complex murals, especially massive-scale murals like these, it's important to solve all of the design, composition and content problems at this stage. when we're still working on the rough layouts. That way, the museum and scientific review groups can feel comfortable with the image and content, and I can enjoy painting knowing that the image is accurate.

Next: Scaling up to full size.

 

Reprinted with permission from www.KarenCarr.com All images 2000 Karen Carr. All rights reserved.

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Geologic History of West Virginia
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