Ketchikan Daily News, Hall Anderson, Associated Press
Callie Bellon looks at one of her animal skull paintings, part of her show at the Main Street Gallery in Ketchikan, Alaska, on Jan. 11, 2012.

KETCHIKAN, Alaska — Artist Callie Bellon doesn't know what draws her to paint dead animals.

"Everybody asks me for an explanation of what it means," she said. "It's just carcasses."

Bellon, who graduated in 2010 from the University of Alaska Southeast Juneau campus with a degree in art, said she loves animals, and because of that love, planned to study veterinary medicine. She took some classes to fulfill her dream of becoming a horse veterinarian, but it wasn't the right path.

Bellon then switched her studies to art, bringing a knowledge of the inner workings of animals with her. She said she continued to explore that interest through her art, examining recently killed deer while hunters cut them up and watching sometimes-disturbing videos of slaughter methods.

She said she initially worked on a small scale with markers and colored pencil, but was encouraged by a friend to branch out into larger paintings.

Bellon studied classic methods not often taught in art school now, she said, and even managed to surprised her art teachers with her technique.

"I read these really boring art textbooks with no photos," she said, noting that the technical texts detailed "glazing" methods used by artists such as Rembrandt and Vermeer.

She gave those methods a try, she said, and liked the results. She liked them even better when she saw her paintings in proper gallery lighting, rather than in the poorly lit, unheated garage that serves as her studio.

Bellon said it was challenging getting ready for the exhibit, partly because she has been known to procrastinate when given the chance. She credited her boyfriend, Tim Garton Jr., for making her paint when she'd rather go get coffee or play her favorite video game.

Another hurdle was that she always sees flaws in her work that she wants to fix.

"I'm one of those artists who was a hard time accepting when a piece is done," she said.

Bellon accepted enough paintings for the exhibit, though, and said the opening reception went well.

"I got a lot of 'this is different' feedback," she said, but "different" was her goal. "I want people to not look at my artwork and say, 'Oh, what a pretty picture.' I want an emotional reaction."

She likened her work to classic still-life paintings, except in her case, the images are plates of raw meat rather than plates of fruit.

Bellon, who said she loves animals, is not an anti-meat activist or even a vegetarian. She tried being a vegetarian for two months in high school, she said, but her friends begged her to eat some bacon because she got so cranky.

While there isn't really a message in her paintings, she said, she does believe that anyone who eats meat should see an animal in death. She saw many dead animals while researching her paintings, taking photographs or sketches of carcasses in various situations.

Bellon said her three paintings of dry bones are her favorite pieces in the "Tame Animals" exhibit, and were challenging to paint.

"Painting bones is like trying to draw hands," she said. "Any flaw, people will see."

Bellon said she has had many questions from gallery visitors about her work, which led to her scheduling a "sketchbook viewing" presentation starting at 5 p.m. Wednesday at the gallery. She said she'll bring all her sketchbooks — her "visual diary" — and lay them out for people to see her process.

"Not everything looks like dead animals," she said of her sketches. "I got a fuzzy little kitten in there."

Information from: Ketchikan Daily News,