The American Pine Marten (Martes americana), also called the American Marten, or the Pine Marten, is a slightly smaller version of a Eurasian species (Martes martes) that is also called the Pine Marten. It is increasingly thought that American Pine Martens found in western North America should be considered a separate species, even though they are essentially visually indistinguishable from the animals to the east…all being smaller than the Eurasian species.
American Pine Martens are highly variable, with about 14 different subspecies. They range from Alaska to Newfoundland and Labrador, and south in the west to California, and in the east down into New England and upstate New York. They are found in boreal and montane forests, and are well adapted to snow. They weigh from about half a kilogram to nearly one and a half kilograms, or from about one to three pounds.
They are high energy animals with limited fat reserves, and so must feed often or else enter a shallow torpor, but do not hibernate. They are opportunistic predators who, when inactive, require about 80 calories of food per day, mostly in the form of squirrels and smaller rodents, including voles and mice, but also shrews, and sometimes larger prey such as rabbits, and various birds, and perhaps fish, large insects and, in season, some berries and other fruit. In fact in some parts of their range they may help disperse berry plants by as much as half a kilometer, since seeds can germinate after passing through the marten’s digestive tract.
They are valued by the fur industry, and were extirpated through much of their range by over-trapping, although with the installment of regulations the primary threat to them is now mostly deforestation.
They can travel quickly through the forest canopy, from branch to branch, but will also come to the ground. While the first wild one I ever saw was in snowy conditions in central Ontario, I did see one on the ground in Quebec, that paused briefly on the ground, giving me the idea for this painting. It is in oils on a birch panel and is 16 by 20 inches.
You can stop reading there, but for the artists on my list (or those just interested) I have also added a high resolution version of the painting in a very early stage, and will give a tutorial on the methods I often use in my oil paintings.
After taking a fine-grained panel of Russian birch, obtained at the art store, and sanding it, I covered it with two layers of gesso, one brushing vertically, one brushing horizontally. The results were streaky but the idea is to isolate the next layer from the wood. Next I covered it with about three or four layers of acrylic paint in a very neutral, light grey colour, the brushstrokes going first horizontally, then, when that had dried, vertically, and then, when that had dried, horizontally, and so on until there is a reasonably flat looking surface, although it may still be a little streaky. Then I add another colour to what is on the palette, loosely mix the two and with a lot of water in a thick, round brush, I daub the pigment onto the surface. This creates a bit of a “tooth”, very subtle, but enough to assist in the next process (in paintings on smoother surfaces I sometimes spray an acrylic spray paint with bits of acrylic chips in it…a product sold in building stores to be used to simulate stone texture…and then sandpaper it down to a texture I like…it’s a method that works very well on larger paintings.) Anyway, in this painting once the wetly daubed paint has dried (and the surface should be kept flat during that process to reduce running rivulets of pigment…also sometimes pigment will “pool” during the drying, and that can be daubed at to spread it out a bit more, but the effect will look marbled, and can actually be a pleasant background in its own right), I then take my pencil drawing of the animal and transfer it to the surface I’ve prepared. (I won’t bore you with the drawing process…we’ll save that for another time). I do this simply by rubbing soft pencil all over the back of the final pencil sketch, then taping it to the prepared surface with masking tape, then going over the drawing with a ball-point pen, pressing hard. That causes a graphite outline underneath. I’m very minimalist in all this. Then I paint in the main animal, quite quickly and crudely and sometimes a little, much or all of the background elements, using two colours only, normally they are titanium white and raw umber (white and brown). I paint in roughly, indicating where pattern, light and shadow will go. I don’t put as much planning into the background as other artists do, and in this case, almost none. I had decided that I wanted to break with the “traditional” way of portraying martens on pine branches, usually in winter, often pursuing, tackling or with dead prey. I had seen a wild marten up in the trees a couple of years earlier, but he came to the ground, too, although that was in winter, with lots of snow. Then I saw a marten, in Quebec, on the ground, no snow, and although these weasels are often frenetic in their movements, this one paused, briefly, looking “thoughtful”, as if thinking “what should I do next” and I decided THAT is how I wanted to show him. Once I had the mammal roughly painted in, I then very “organically” and with little thought beyond trying to give an impressionistic sense of the forest floor in early spring, I boldly roughed in a background, in oil paints. Then I took the photo you see, second attachment…and I apologize if the high resolution gives anyone problems. The rest was done with oils, refining what I had done, making changes as I went along, painting over the acyclic undercoating, conferring with an artist friend who gave valuable advice, adding and subtracting elements as I went along. Mammals are not my forte, so I was not in my comfort zone and this is not my favourite painting for sure, but normally I don’t take photos of works in progress, and since I did so this time I thought I’d share and hope like heck that I’m not boring people.
Barry Kent MacKay
Bird Artist, Illustrator
Studio: (905) 472 9731
Purchase, print, product info: http://barry-mackay.pixels.com
31 Colonel Butler Drive
Markham, ON L3P 6B6 Canada