How to make an elk

I'll be doing the Grand Canyon event again this year in the fall and one of the requirements of the show is to create a studio piece to hang along with the plein air stuff done during the week. Last year I got schooled by the Grand Canyon and the painters who really know how to paint it. So I thought I'd do something that wasn't so canyon-y and create a piece that had more focus on the wildlife. Someone mentioned at the show that if I were to paint a condor it would fly off the wall. I considered it... but they are so damn ugly. During my time at the GC it was hard not to notice the elk that wandered through the park like it was a petting zoo. There were a lot of nervous rangers trying to keep the hoards of tourists from getting too close to these big creatures as it was rutting season and they aren't puppies. I did manage to snap a few decent pics of this one big ol' boy and wanted to figure out how to incorporate him into a painting.

Now, I know you may be thinking... "wildlife? WTF? You don't do wildlife!?" But as an illustrator, I painted a lot of creatures for various books.. especially for Harcourt School book publishers. Once they discovered it was simpler to put animals in the place of humans on the covers they didn't have to worry about representing every race on the planet. So....Using my paintings from last year plus the photo ref I started to sketch some ideas out on my iPad whilst flying to and from California. It's perfect drawing time. Nothing else to do but read or sleep. I pulled these paintings from my own website to use as reference in the development stage.... man, you gotta love the technology thing. I think it may just catch on.

Using my artrage app, which is an amazing sketching/digital painting tool (for $7) and a stylus I started a few rounds of sketches, both horizontal and vertical. I won't bore you with all of them, only the ones I used. Just little thumbnail sketches like I used to do in the illustration days on with pixels.

I liked the bottom one, except for the elk being too centered and did a bigger version in artrage. The nice thing about working this way is it allows me to see the potential problems before I commit to hours of mistake making. For example, the tree shape follows the angle of the rim too closely.

Once I felt like I had a general idea of where I was heading, it was now sketchy time, the old fashioned way. Paper and pencil. But still the damned elk ended up centered.... I ushered him back a few steps in the final. Once I get a pic of the sketch I'll pop it in but for now here's the final... so you don't have to scroll back up. The good news is the show isn't for another 4 or 5 months so I have plenty of time to mess it up.... I may give it a nice warm glaze to give it some better harmony and atmosphere. I may also bring the plant on the left up higher like the original painting.... needs something more there. Comments are welcome.