28 x 24 in | 71.1 x 61 cm
When I was a kid, I was familiar with the usual animals like cows and ducklings from my children’s books but I had never heard of a pika. It wasn’t until I grew up and went hiking in the mountains that I met one. I saw the pika in this painting while hiking in the mountains of Yellowstone National Park.
Pikas are not rodents like mice or hamsters. They are related to the rabbit, which is not actually a rodent. The pika is an elusive little mammal that lives in the spaces formed between the rocks of boulder piles (called talus fields), which collect at the base of mountain cliffs. It’s about 15-23 cm long (5.9-9.1 in) without the tail because it doesn’t have a tail. It eats all kinds of leafy plants during the summer. But in winter, because it doesn’t hibernate when these plants are not available, it eats dried plants that it has collected all summer in little haystacks and dried in the sun. Once dry, they are dragged into the burrow for the winter.
In North America you will hear two different pronunciations for the word “pika”, pai-ka and pee-ka. Only in the UK is it pronounced consistently as pai-ka, as you will hear if you watch David Attenborough’s delightful video. Personally, I like pee-ka because it sounds like the adorable squeak that the pika makes as a warning cry. The name pika may bring to mind the animated character called Pikachu. The most common explanation of the character’s name is that it is comprised of two sounds that are onomatopoeic representations in Japanese of crackling electricity (pika) and mouse sounds (chu.) But it is possible that the character was originally based on a pika not a mouse, despite being labeled as a mouse-type pokemon. The marketing folks might have labeled it as a mouse to be more recognizable while at the same time being aware of its double meaning—crackling electricty in Japanese and the little mammal in English.
I was very excited to use the knife technique to create three-dimensional fur. Little cuts in the paint make the hairs stand out when light hits the surface of the painting, which creates a soft furry look. In additional to looking three-dimensional, the whiskers had to be perfectly curved and very fine. I came up with a strategy that worked quite well. Using the edge of the knife I painted a thin line of pale grey over my drawing, and then closed in on that line from either side with the darker color of the background. By squeezing the pale grey paint thinner and thinner, I was able to maintain the curve while achieving a much thinner line than any I could create with the edge of the knife.
Lichen is not a plant. Rather, it is an organism made up of algae or cyanobacteria (sometimes both) living in symbiosis within a fungus. Together, these components allow for amazing variations in shape and colour. There are branch-like forms, leaf-like flat forms and, perhaps my favourite, a flakey form that looks like someone splashed paint on the rocks. The colours of the lichen colonies can be quite vivid. Among the large range of pastel colours were brilliant yellow and orange patches. I chose to paint an area of the rocks that had mostly smaller patches of these colours because I thought that viewers might have a difficult time believing large areas of such vivid colours were natural. The lichen was fun to paint. I made the various forms using heavily textured clumps of paint, which create a very rough and realistic feel to the rocks.