Michael Pape – Friday Night Guest – January 20, 2023
(Submitted by Sally Williams)
Toronto-born Michael Pape specializes in realistic wildlife art. A self-taught acrylic painter, he brings awareness to wildlife conservation issues and species-at-risk through his dramatic realism.
Michael was inspired to pursue painting wildlife after volunteering at a wildlife rescue centre and witnessing how lack of financial support drove the centre out of business. A desire to give back through fundraising fueled his passion for painting animals. One of his paintings, of a mute swan, was inspired by an injured swan he helped rehabilitate.
Michael’s aim is to provide his audience with a meaningful experience and a deeper understanding of animals. He feels the message is larger than the work itself, which in turn rewards him with collectors near and far, giving a voice to vulnerable animals and allowing him to be a very busy, full-time artist. We were treated to some wonderful stories about the animals he has encountered. From the majesty of a Siberian tiger approaching the viewer through a veil of misty snow, to the vulnerability of a sleeping fawn alone in the grass, painting from life (with only his own photos referenced for finishing work in the studio) allows Michael to better understand his subject and capture the essence and personality of the animal he’s getting to know.
Showing us a new piece in progress (snowy owl), Michael pointed out how each painting begins with a detailed pencil sketch. Then, using an airbrush, he works out the darks and begins to build tone and the foundation before adding regular acrylic paint (a hard eraser can remove fine areas of airbrushed paint that need rework).
While discussing his paintings, Michael reminded us to be mindful of form, light, shadow and values during the layering stages (e.g. fade out the background, or parts of the foreground, if needed). That air and space create emotion. Negative space is never nothing. It should serve as a resting place and elevate the main subject (as demonstrated in the photo of the elk). This, together with lighting can breathe life into the painting.
Michael reassured us that every painting has a struggling, self-doubting period. Don’t let this deter you. Persevere! The beautiful thing about being an artist is, we notice what often gets overlooked by the average viewer when it comes to observing the natural world in our daily lives.
During the presentation, Michael peppered his conversation with references to his favourite band, Rush. Their lyrics and complex musical compositions inspire him, providing an interesting analogy of how the eye moves across the canvas when building tone and values. One painting of a polar bear was inspired by the song “Limelight”, with the spotlight on the bear, who takes centre stage on the canvas. Not surprisingly, this painting is owned by Rush singer Geddy Lee, proving that being authentic to your mission will find a willing audience.
This tied into the chat about marketing artwork, researching your target audience and Michael generously shared his schedule breakdown and how he balances marketing and time to create. He pointed us to authors who inspired him (Bob Proctor), and reminded us to ask ourselves “What do you want to do? Paint what is meaningful to you.” The chat Q&A also covered framing choices, limited edition prints, printers and the best time of day to take reference photos.
From elementary school projects to tattoos, Michael is amazed and humbled at how his artwork inspires others. I think we all came away needing another evening of getting to know the animals Michael has introduced to the world through his beautiful artwork.
You can find more about Michael’s work, his contribution to wildlife conservation and the animals he’s gotten to know via his website: