Evolution of a Drawing

Drawings don't spring fully formed from the head and hand of an artist. There are ideas considered, rejected, adopted. And, unlike sausage, it can be fun to see what goes into the making of a drawing.

I grew up thinking of grizzly bears as the most fearsome creatures on dry land. They're fast, immensely powerful, and intolerant of boundary violations. What that means is the aboriginal hunter who faces the bear in a winner-take-all contest was perhaps the bravest of heroes. And because I grew up so strongly influenced by fantasy artists -- and that influence was tempered by my tendency toward realism -- I found myself wanting to create such a moment. It's not completely realistic, of course: a pre-Columbian Native American wouldn't be so well muscled, and in such a high mountain meadow as I put him in No Turning Back, he'd be wearing more clothing, as well. But my compromises work for me.

First idea

Here's what my first idea was for my hunter: First sketch of Native American hunter

You'll notice that he's positioned drawing an invisible bow (I'd draw the bow a bit later; I was working out his position before anything else).

The problem was that his right arm, which was drawing back the bowstring, was cramped. There was lots of foreshortening that I thought might confuse the viewer.

I liked the dynamism of this position, though. His knees are bent, and he's beginning to take aim against his quarry. His hair is flying, and in my mind's eye, I saw meadow grass bent in the wind, as well.

So, how could I employ this basic pose while opening up his arm a bit more?

After thinking about it, I came up with this solution . . .

Second idea

By putting a spear in his hands, instead of a bow, I could put his arms in a better position, I thought.

Here's how that looked: Second sketch

This was better. But something still wasn't really working for me, and it took a while for me to understand it.

It was his balance! His position was actually no different than a pose any model could hold. If I wanted a really dynamic picture, especially in a hunter who was facing off with a bear that had just risen to its full height, I needed to put my hunter in a charging position, something no model could hold. Against the immovable force of the bear, I wanted the irresistible forward motion -- the running charge -- of the hunter.

And here's how that looked . . .

Final idea

Final ideaThis is what I settled on.

Not only is the hunter charging with the wind in his hair, his necklace is also flying around. I had that going on in the earlier sketches, but it didn't make a lot of sense, given the solidity of the figure's stance. 

Now, though, it does. 

And instead of just large beads or shells on his necklace, I decided to put some bear claws, two of which are visible closer to the front of the figure. 

That helps tell a story. 

He has a few claws and not a lot of them, meaning he's been successful in the past. It suggests that he's young and bound to earn more bear claw trophies, if he survives this moment. His unusual physique, of course, also suggests youth.


I wanted the background to suggest something monumental and primitive, so in front of the mountains, I created a deep valley. That combination -- highland meadow, unseen valley floor, far peaks -- creates for me a sense of the dizzying size of this warrior's world, including the unnatural size of the bear.

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