How I Paint A Polar Bear (sometimes)

January 20th, 2015


I was really into yellow last year and so decided to start with a lovely yellow background and took some basic payne’s grey to get my basic sketch painted. Before this stage, I do a lot of computer manipulation of my images, playing with cropping, lighting, color, etc.

Work in progress - step one

And so a polar bear painting begins…


Step two -- work in progress by Rosemary Conroy

First decision is what will the outcome be? Ha ha — I never stay with this idea ever… but it must be part of the process.

So I originally thought I would make the polar bear a warm yellow which explains the purple tones. (Purple is the opposite of yellow on the color wheel and by using complementary colors this way, you get a nice vibration going if you let a little of the purple under-painting show through the yellow to come.) I may have been thinking orange for the background? Not sure why I picked green other than I like they way it goes with purple. The bear looks a little surprised by this choice too.



Cool against warm — life against lifelessness… That was the basic idea anyway.

So I was thinking of trying to get this polar bear in an abstracted version of his natural habitat — so a warm bear against a now cool background with a little bit of landscape suggested. Also trying to re-build up some of the darker values which often get lost in all the back and forth. When we were in Churchill hanging out with the model here, I was struck by how warm the bear looked against the snowy background, even though they were both technically “white.” All color is relative!


Step four -- work in progress by Rosemary Conroy

Not warm enough? Not strong enough?

So now I’m thinking that the bear isn’t strong enough against the background — their values in step three are showing up to be way too close. So lighten background (while going even cooler) and punch up bear (while warming him up even more and refining as I go.) Added a touch of blue sky to make the landscape element less abstract. Hmmmm — do I like this? (Sorry for the finger in the photo! ha ha)



Step Five -- Work in Progress by Rosemary G Conroy

Playing with texture, tweaking color

So now I am working on bringing the bear into focus, refining his fur and eyes. etc. I like how he is coming along…

Step Six - WIP by Rosemary G. Conroy

Loving the texture!

Here he is a little more developed. Scumbling paint (dragging dry paint over a dry surface)  is one of my favorite things to do. He is getting more interesting now… but that background is kind of boring and predictable — two things I NEVER want to be! EVER!


So after letting the bear sit on the easel for a few days, I finally made an executive decision to go back to my original background! To heck with the warm against the cool — if I want it yellow, let the background be yellow. That did mean I needed to cool down the bear. This meant scumbling (ah more scumbling) white over the bear with some purple-y and pinky tones to react against the yellow. I think it works! I really like the contrast of the textured bear against the completely smooth backdrop. Yay! I love when it all comes together even though the process usually involves me changing my mind a lot as I go along. I am so not a linear painter but that’s OK. I have fun. Hope you enjoyed the journey.

Final version -- WIP by Rosemary G. Conroy

And a complete 180 as usual — this is why I don’t like to do public demos because I often have the final insight to what will make the painting work a day or two after the previous stage! Ah well.

Hope you enjoyed the journey! I’ll try to record more of my works in progress this year — I need to make myself a note to remember to do it. Thanks as always for your interest…

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