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Sierra Magazine: Bears and Animal Cognition

MARCH 1, 2019
A great new project I recently did for Tracy Cox, supreme divine art director at Sierra Magazine, on animal cognition. Specifically, the author Brandon Kiem talks about Black bears and their keen intelligence. They had some direction for the cover using the Rodin seated figure from the “Gates of Hell” popularly known as “The Thinker.” I had not looked at this sculpture in a long time. and was struck by how the concept worked so much stronger as a part of the whole gateway (Gates of Hell). A man contemplating the past. But this pose has become a cliche’ on it’s own… Definitely something that would be a challenge to make fit in a non-humorous way…. Bears are just so fat…
“Chess Bear” spot for Sierra magazine ©Bill Mayer 2019
First thumbnails where I was trying to sort out where to go with the cover and the two other illustrations. The Chess-playing Bear seemed like an obvious one, as well as the reading bear…. I did play with putting the bear in human cloths but we decided maybe not quite the right tone…

The one they picked was#19 for the cover. #5 for the chess playing bear spot…(above) and they liked the idea of the reading bear. But I took and drew them up tighter because it’s sometimes hard for people to see past my humorous playful thumbnails.
My original idea for the reading illustration was to use a huge Grizzly and a tiny book, I thought would be a striking contrast. But the article really was about Black bears so that changed to be more accurate. We did some tweaking back and forth trying to make the pose work.
“Sitting Bear” Cover for Sierra magazine ©Bill Mayer 2019
after some tweaking on the pose the Black Bear seemed to work pretty well. I decided to add a simple tree behind him to help. Lastly I came back after it was finished and gave him a tookus… to sit him down and add some weight to make him look a bit more natural….

The reading bear was working well, one side note I had the bear reading Darwin and the editor suggested maybe his less famous book on animal emotions… a little subtle twist I’m not sure anyone will actually catch, but some request are too easy not to comply. In the final I decided to add some trees into the background to give an impression of the outdoor environment. It also made it a bit different from the spot illustration. the finals certainly seemed to work well in the magazine… For now I am ready to paint anything but bear hairs…. Thousand of bear hairs…
“Reading Bear” inside full page for Sierra magazine ©Bill Mayer 2019