Painting a War Mammoth

 In Videos, Works in Progress

The ice kingdom is faithfully guarded by giant armored mammoths and their fearless riders. These powerful creatures patrol the snowy hillsides instilling fear and inspiring wonder for all of those who encounter them!

Originally, I visualized this painting as something regal and powerful: A composition with tall elements (towering peaks, an obelisk-inspired ice castle, and a stately mammoth). With that vision came ideas about experimenting with light, shape and sensation – keeping the piece simple in some ways (with one central subject and minimal background elements), but also giving a hint of unease with the fragmented blocks of light in the mountains, trees and foreground shadows.

The initial sketch of the mammoth was done somewhat hurriedly and came-out with a angry expression, but during the process of painting, the face ended up changing to something more gentle (and far more realistic). It occurred to me that there was something of a sadness in her eyes and somehow that seemed to change the mood of the entire painting (for the better). I’ve been very aware of my own weaknesses in conceptualizing imagined pieces … Specifically a lack of meaningful composition, a need for stronger/more creative lighting. There’s another area of improvement that recently came to my attention as well … Brushwork.

The stroke of a brush and the texture in the paint can be used with so much more intention than I’ve ever attempted to use it with. I recently read an article from one of my favorite websites – Muddy Colors, about adding contrast to your work. It never occurred to me to use brushwork to do so. Naturally, I set-out to apply this new knowledge to the mammoth artwork, intentionally leaving some parts of the main subject-matter fade into the background with larger/looser strokes, and allowing the creature to ‘fall apart’ as your eye moves away from the face and head. For me, this literally meant stopping myself from painting because it is in my nature to be a perfectionist and I over-paint everything.

The castle also uses sharper lines, but it seemed best to avoid using dark shadows or high contrast here in order to prevent it from overwhelming the main subject. I didn’t find the trees especially necessary for the piece to be successful, but they where conceptually meaningful, so I chose to keep them very subtle. I’m glad I included them because they added another level of interest.

I can’t say with certainty that I made all the right decisions. As with every piece, I’ve already found mistakes and things that bother me, but at least I can describe with some certainty my reasons for making the choices I did. Thinking through my work in this way has been so important for my own creative process and personal growth. If I have learned anything from this piece, it is probably that I really need to exercise my drawing skills and seek more outside opinions as not to overlook glaring issues before paint is laid down. In the future I’ll seek criticism at every stage of my work, as I feel I still need this valuable input from my piers.

The White Mammoth was created using oil paint on wood panel and was illustrated for one of the 2020 Shadow Frost Music & Arts Festival posters. The pine trees are meant to be a subtle nod to prior Shadow ‘Woods’ fests, while the castle is representational of the new Shadow ‘Frost’ Festival’s indoor location in Frederick Maryland at the Clarion Inn Events Center.

You can pre-order the poster and t-shirt at:

Oil on Wood Panel – 18″x24″ – Completed in 2019

Painting of a White War Mammoth in the Snow by Rebecca Magar - Wailing Wizard
Painting of White Mammoth by Rebecca Magar for Shadow Frost Music & Arts Festival - 2020
White War Mammoth - Shadow Frost Music and Arts Festival Mammoth Shirt
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