purple plains bison

Plains bison watercolor painting


I googled “strong endangered animals,” surfed the results and decided to paint a bison. Before Europeans came to America, it’s estimated there were 300-600 million bison. The US government encouraged Buffalo slaughter, thinking (correctly) it would decrease the power of Native Nations. By 1934, there were about 20,000 surviving animals and that number has remained relatively steady. The World Wildlife Federation considers bison an “umbrella species,” meaning that conserving them will also protect many other species. You can see a slideshow of how bison preserve prairie landscape and other species.

photo source (and travelogue)

bison facts (and donate) at WWF


After some dithering, I decided to paint the bison purple. I have few high-quality brown paints, but several purples. Looking at the photo, I was struck by the different textures of hair on the animal: smooth on the face, curly and thick on the head and shoulders, and shaggy on the sides. I tried to portray that through brushstrokes.

I am pleased with this painting in general.

  • it bugs me that:
  •  The grasses in front of the bison don’t quite look like singular plants and I wish I worked a little bit more on variegating the grasses in the background (on the right).
  • The body fur shadowed areas are a bit abrupt.
  • I’m happy about:
  • The painting is not overworked!
  • The volume of the animal is communicated.
  • The variety of brushstrokes.


  • I enjoyed the process of painting. I notice (no surprise) that I paint more easily and happily when I feel physically strong and rested. As soon as I get tired, I start making more mistakes and get frustrated. Moral: don’t push it.
  • As it moves across the plains, the bison affects the landscape. Its habits (like creating wallows) are helpful to other animals. May our affects and habits be beneficial for all beings!
  • Maybe I am seeing what I’m looking for, but I keep finding evidence that being one’s best self is the key to both service and happiness.

Posted on

June 25, 2023

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