Who is Todd Telander?

    selfie by Todd

In this post, I want to share a little about me and my path to where I am today. So you can know who the heck I am. I was born and raised in Chico, California with no particular attraction to nor gift for art. (Well, maybe a little. Here’s the cover illustration to a book I did in the second grade.

My college years were spent in Santa Cruz, on the Pacific Coast, where I studied biology with a particular interest in birds. I needed a few electives to satisfy my graduation requirement, and I thought a class on “scientific illustration” looked fun. Well, it was fun, and I spent a lot of time learning to draw. I drew crumpled up paper bags, bugs, birds, and a few local cows. Luckily for me, my primary instructor hired me to help him illustrate sea mammals. I was actually getting paid to draw! Next I did pen and ink drawings of endangered California animals for a San Francisco TV company.

Ringtail illustration, pen/ink ©Todd Telander

I worked as a freelance illustrator for journals, aquariums, parks, zoos, museums, watch-makers, T-shirt companies, return address label and coffee mugs retailers. I airbrushed humpback whales on vans. One project had me illustrating a human skeleton for reproduction on checks.

At this time, I was also doing a lot of sketching and drawing studies both in the field and from mounted specimens, mostly birds. I wanted to be a wildlife artist, and my favorite wildlife artists I knew spent a lot of time doing this. I used a high power spotting scope along with binoculars to get super close-ups and detail. I filled sketchbooks with practice drawings and took many photographs to work from.

Kestrel Study, pencil and watercolor ©Todd Telander

I also began to think about some kind of background, a landscape to put the animal into. This began as simple clumps of grass or rocks, but eventually evolved to full scale scenes with a horizon, sky, and foreground. Some of these paintings actually weren’t too bad, but lacked a certain something.

early wildlife painting, acrylic, ©Todd Telander

I decided that I need to study ART, not just more illustration and drawing. The difference, I found out, was a sense of natural– sometimes dramatic– lighting, and a solid composition across the canvas. Before that, I had mostly stuck the animal somewhere and just filled in the rest of the space. I bought a book on how to paint in oils, and did all the exercises, including extensive color charts and painting folded pieces of colored construction paper. This opened up a new world to me, and I began painting distorted portraits, then rather unrealistic looking flowers, grids, pieces of butterfly wings, and finally purely abstract color field paintings resembling one of my idols, Mark Rothko.

“Taos Sunset”, oil on canvas, ©Todd Telander

All of this experimentation was exciting, yet at some point I realized that I missed   the more representative aspect of my art, and inedeed, I had put a lot of effort into it early on. So I embarked on a journey to paint recognizable things but with qualities that are present in the fine arts. I returned to classical painting, yearning to learn the basics as if I had actually gone to a formal art school. Still life provided a good outlet for this, especially to see the effects of light on form.

monochrome still life, oil, ©Todd Telander

And I contiued my love of wildlife, especially birds. In the background of my art study, I contiued to work as a freelance illustrator, and tried to incorporate my new ideas to make my animals appear more lifelike.

Gulls of Protection Island, oil on board ©Todd Telander

Since moving to Walla Walla in 2004, I have focused mostly on painting the landscape here, using the mountains, fields, sky (and cows!) as my muse. I enjoy a mixture of painting small studies outdoors and doing larger pieces in my studio. I try to use lessons from the Impressionists, the Hudson River painters, and the Tonalists, to create evocative paintings that express mood more than replication. What comes next for me is a mystery!

“High Cloud Over the Blues” oil, ©Todd Telander


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