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Monday, January 15, 2018

Fox Art

Frogs for Breakfast--Red Fox, Bonnie Marris
Vulpes, Danny
In painting wildlife, there are several directions an artist may go. There is, of course, the natural, wild environment demanding a realistic rendering (above). On the other end of the scale is the symbolic, in which the artist strives only to capture the "essence" of the animal, usually with as few strokes as possible strategically placed to merely "sug-gest" the animal being depicted (below). Expressionistic renderings (right) have much the same qualities. All of this is especially true when that animal, though wild, is as familiar to viewers as a domestic canine lounging on the couch. It's easy to forget that such a beautiful dog-like creature as the red or silver fox is, in fact, a vicious predator, albeit one unlikely to be a threat to humans. A hungry fox, particularly one with up to a half-dozen pups to feed, can be as lethal to smaller animals as a hungry lion would be to us. Moreover, a fox will eat about anything from frogs to other canines, felines, or asinine rodents--with the exception of skunks, virtually anything smaller than it is.
Fiery Fox, Apofiss
In between these two extremes are any number of degrees of realism, expressionism, even abstraction (right). In large part these make up the greater part of the artist's "style." Add to that the differences in techniques and effects of var-ious painting media and you quickly realize all the variables which slice across the entire realm of modern-day painting, but seem es-pecially not-able with regard to wildlife art. The fox, being the highly intelligent (sly) yet exquis-itely grace-ful creature it is, makes it a highly desirable subject worthy of the painted image.

Mr. Fox, Yhodle
of Yhodesign

Eluding the Fox, Bruno Lilejfors
The fox is a very social creature which lives a very flexible life. They are found all over the world—in North America, Europe, Asia and North Africa—and utilize a wide range of terrains as home. As much as we tend to stereotype wild animals, the fox is one which defies the practice. Most foxes are around the same size as a mid-sized dog. Yet, since foxes are smaller mammals, they are also quite light. They can weigh as little as 1.5 lbs. and as much as 24 lbs. The fennec fox is the smallest living fox and doesn't get any bigger than the common housecat. It weighs in at about 2.2 to 3.3 lbs. Other species can grow to 34 inches from their head to their flanks. Their trademark bushy tails can add an additional 12 to 22 inches to their length.

Culpeo Fox gives us a lesson not so much in how to
draw foxes, but how to think of them.
Given the penchant artists and others possess for gravitating toward babies of virtually all animals (well, not so much flies, perhaps), it should be noted that unlike many wild mammals, even those which have been domesticated, raising fox pups is a family affair. Foxes are usually monogamous, having only one mate for life. Strangely, they also sometimes take on nannies to help with their pups. The nannies are female foxes that are not breeders. Sometimes, a male fox will have several female mates. Females that have the same male mate are known to live in the same den together--apparently the foxy ladies are not the jealous type. Divorce is rare and alimony is unheard of.

The Chase is on--Red Fox, Pat Pauley.
Foxes can run up to thirty miles per hour.
After mating, females make a nest of leaves inside their burrow upon which to birth their pups. This special room in the burrow, called a nesting chamber, has a fairly short period of preparation in that the pregnant female only carries her pups for about 53 days. It must also be rather roomy since the mother fox may have a litter of from two to seven pups. Add to that the fact that both the mother and father share the care of pups. Even older siblings (from the year before) will help take care of their younger brother and sisters by bringing them food.

Full House, Fox Family, Carl Brenders
In the wild, foxes live surprisingly short lives. They often survive only about three years. In captivity, they can live much longer, as many as ten to twelve years. Carl Brender's Full House, Fox Family (above), was obviously not drawn from life, nor even from a photo. Fox puppies are never that cooperative. And like most mothers, Mrs. Fox is overly protective of her brood. Despite an excellent sense of hearing (they can hear the low-frequency sounds of rodents digging underground), in the wild, fox cubs can easily fall prey to eagles, coyotes, gray wolves, bears and mountain lions.

Silent Grace, Tim Donovan. Like humans, foxes can identify each other's voices. Despite the title of the painting, the red fox has 28 different vocalizations consisting of various yips, growls, and howls.
For the benefit of artists, coloration of red foxes ranges from pale yellowish red to deep reddish brown on the upper parts and white, ashy or slate gray on the underside. The lower part of the legs is usually black and the tail usually has a white or black tip. Two color variants commonly occur. Cross foxes have reddish brown fur with a black stripe down the back and another across the shoulders. Silver foxes range from strong silver to nearly black and are the most prized by furriers.

Say What?, Isaiah Stevens,
the silver fox.

As with most "how to draw" charts this one renders a stereotypical, symmetrical front view, which is rather static for a hyperactive creature like a fox.
There are two typical errors artist sometimes make in drawing wild animals such as a fox. They center on posing and composition. If working from a photo taken in the wild, neither are likely to be a problem. But when working from memory or other sources, the temptation is to treat the fox like any other canine, even to the point of posing a long-nosed dog such as a collie then attempting to convert the dog to a fox. In fact, any head-and-shoulders pose takes on a posed, artificial quality removing it one step from its true nature as a wild animal. Marcia Baldwin's Red Fox Head Study (below), with its natural background coloration, three-quarter pose, and avoidance of eye-contact is about as good as it gets, allowing for the limitations of a close-up study.

Red Fox Head Study, 2009, Marcia Baldwin

Cute, captivating, yet natural.


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