"Men in White" - Two Snows Down

Whenever an artist is charged with creating artwork to illustrate a written story, the first step in the process is to come up with an image that encapsulates the author's narrative. In this case, Doug Larsen's Last Call column, "Men in White," is about field hunting snow geese, so the image is fairly straight forward; a hunter walking back to the blind, through the decoys, carrying a couple of geese.

I usually reference my own photographs, but in some cases I don't have just the right shot with which to work. When this happens I rely on the generosity of friends who are professional photographers. In this case, it's my buddy Tosh Brown. Tosh had a great photograph of a hunter in the perfect attitude, albeit with one Canada goose instead of two snows. I decided it would be a simple matter to change the species of the goose, draw a second one, add the field decoys, and since there's no mention of a dog in the story, do away with the black lab. Done deal.

With the size and format of the drawing decided upon, the next step in the process is to carefully sketch the composition. Taking care that the proportions are accurate will pay big dividends later.


It's counter-intuitive, but I begin shading the figure by erasing the upper edges of the sketch. This is where the overhead light strikes the figure, and I don't want to 'outline' the form. Instead, I welcome the white of the paper into the composition.

Once some of the lighter values are established, I begin to add darker passages to develop the full range of light and darks.

The darkest values in the drawing, the blackest of the blacks, will be the wing tips of the snow geese. I shade these in while modeling the breast of the right goose.

It's difficult to model something that is essentially white, against the white background of the paper. Paying attention to very subtle shifts in value and inviting the light into the composition allows this to successfully happen.

In the photograph that I've chosen to reference, the hunter is carrying a Canada goose. It won't be convincing to simply 'color' a Canada goose white and call it a snow"¦ they are very different birds with characteristic shapes to their bodies; particularly the heads and bill structure. I pay careful attention to my reference books while rendering the geese to make sure it's correct.


With the geese essentially rendered, I work at finishing the figure, adding a small amount of Ducks Unlimited 'brand placement' on the hunter's ball cap.

At this point the figure and the two snow geese he carries have been developed nearly to completion. One of the aspects of the photograph that attracted me is the slight grimace on the hunters face as he struggles to hold the two birds out at arm's length for the long walk back to the blind. I focus on this while rendering his face.

The hunter's hands need to be finished, but I'm anxious to render the decoys. I try to make them appear realistic, yet just a bit less organic and more artificial than the real birds. Again, the top surfaces of the decoy's heads are erased and rendered in such a manner as to allow light into the composition.

With the decoys completed, the hunter's hands are rendered, and a bit of stubble is added to finish the drawing.