Roheen, Irish Wolfhound, Done!

Roheen Irish Wolfhound digital painted portrait
Roheen (Irish wolfhound) 5″ x 7″ digital painting © Xan Blackburn 2014

Roheen’s portrait is the fourth and final digital portrait in a series.  Her wild fur was the biggest challenge for me, and took several tries to get the right approach.  I tend to be finicky, and she was turning out looking too groomed.  Challenging photo references are often part of my job (for some great tips on how to get photos that will allow me to get right to the business of capturing your pet’s likeness and spirit, see the article linked on my commissions page), and this series definitely gave me plenty of opportunity to hone my skills for dealing with that.  In the end, the client and I are both pleased with how they all came out, and I feel like I’ve learned some new techniques.

It’s amazing how closely this painting program (ArtRage 4) approximates the experience of painting with traditional paints.  What I practice in the digital paintings always translates to my traditional paintings (with no messy clean-up!)

Here’s a look at all four in this series:

I’ll be taking an indefinite break from digital portraits now, in part because of their extreme editability, which allows, and even compels, me to zoom into crazy small details, and re-work and start from scratch, and keep trying new approaches and new techniques … and just take far too much time to complete.

Next up is another memorial commission, a gift from friends to the same couple who recently lost Katie, and then lost Sadie.  To lose a beloved pet is always hard.  To lose two so close together can just be devastating.  I hope these two portraits will be part of a comforting, even healing process for Gayle and Steve.

Following Sadie’s portrait will be the Spring 2014 Portrait Marathon!  Make sure you’re signed up for the Commission Alert List and ready to JUMP when you get the Alert!

Moma – Another Digital Portrait Painting

Digital painting (Artrage Pro)
© Xan Blackburn

Wow.  Well, I’m pretty happy with that, though it did take a lot of hours to get it there.

This detail shows a little bit more how much detail I squeezed into this 5 x 7 painting:
Moma (detail)
Digital painting (Artrage Pro)
© Xan Blackburn
Yes, those are all individual strokes, and yes, I really did do them alllll by hand, using a Wacom Intuos 5 Touch and stylus in Artrage Pro.  (I got the tablet in a trade!  Nice, huh?)

Since I’m bushed, and it’s Friday evening, I’ll just cut straight to the progress animation.  
Moma (Progress)
Digital painting (Artrage Pro)
© Xan Blackburn
So, what do you think?
Have a great weekend, one and all!

Bud – Digital Pet Portrait, and my Other Job

Bud digital pet portrait © Xan Blackburn
Digital painting (Artrage 4)
5″ x 7″ @300dpi
© Xan Blackburn 2014

My series of paintings of Ellen’s dogs continues with handsome Bud.  I loved his gentle, relaxed smile, his soft hair and wonderful markings, but who could resist those bluuuuuuue eyes!

Working on paintings in a digital way allows a lot of freedom to experiment without committing irreversible damage to a painting.  That’s hard to resist, and I had a lot of fun trying out backgrounds, experimenting with various brush techniques for the fur, and zoooooming in waaaaay too close to get tiny details that no one else will ever be able to see.  That’s the potential down-side!  I had to keep stepping back out and lecturing myself about not re-creating reality, but enjoying a more painterly approach in this small format.

Here’s a quick step-through of the painting’s progress:

Bud in progress
Digital painting
© Xan Blackburn 2014

I kind of like that second step, too, where it’s the sketch with the first whacks of color laid in.


As I have mentioned, my OTHER job is all about rescue and animal welfare work.  

Team Inch:  Right now, Team Inch is having our first online Auction, and I invite you all to be part of helping us rescue and find forever homes for sighthounds by bidding on some really pretty fabulous items.  

Team Inch coalesced last fall, out of a nebula of folks already rescuing dogs from S. Korea.  In just a few months, we’ve been through so much, bringing over 8 sighthounds, partnering with established adoption groups in N. America to find adoptive homes for them, establishing a Facebook and static website presence, and having some heart-breaking losses.  The risks and veterinary costs for these dogs is comparable to some of the worst-case scenarios we see anywhere in the world, and transporting these mostly larger dogs to N. America where they have a better chance at life is expensive.  But many hands make light work, and in this way YOU can be part of Team Inch.  See you over there!

Kindred Hearts Transport Connection

I’m also doing a top-secret fundraiser for this group which I can barely keep to myself.  Believe me, you’ll know about it as soon as I can tell you!  Great bunch of hard-working volunteers.  Maybe you can be part of the network!

Greyhounds in Gettysburg:

Nittany Greyhounds runs this very popular event for greyhound families every year.  While I can’t go in person, I will be sending a painting to their Special Art Auction – a first this year, I’m told.  This painting is very personal to me, and I’m proud to be able to send it out into the world for this.
This painting is a more experimental piece for me, using various media (paper, acrylic, graphite, pastel on Claybord panel) in one piece.  I love the layered depth, the complex feel, the moody emotional possibilities that arose from both my own emotions and the materials working together.  I’m going to title this one “Memories”.
Memories (multi-media painting) © Xan Blackburn 2014
multi-media on panel, 8″ x 10″
©Xan Blackburn 2014

Here’s a detail, so you can get a little better idea of the complexity:

Memories (detail) (multi-media painting) © Xan Blackburn 2014
Memories (detail)
multi-media painting
 © Xan Blackburn 2014
Now it’s on to Ellen’s Moma.  

Radar – Digital Portrait of a Golden Retriever

Radar digital painting golden retriever
Radar – redux! Eyes more open this time, as requested by the client.

Radar – pre-redux (work in progress, as it turned out)
5″ x 7″ Digital painting (ArtRage Pro + Photoshop)
© Xan Blackburn 2014

UPDATED  Radar’s owner decided the eyes were too closed; not the expression she wanted, so I re-did the eyes with a more alert expression.  The client was pleased!

Radar’s portrait is one of 5 small paintings of my client Ellen’s dogs, a series to add to two I’d done for her in the past.  This painting was a rich, and rewarding experience, but definitely time-consuming!  There are advantages and disadvantages to being able to zoom in very very VERY CLOSE.

I love painting with ArtRage.  The ability it gives me to control every aspect is such fun.  I can make translucent colors layer up forever.  I can make minute strokes with all the personality of a brush.  I can add and take away layer after layer, and adjust each one’s opacity and intensity ’til I get just the right depth, value, color interaction, texture.  I can blend as if painting with watercolors (not really well) or oils, or even markers.  I can lay on thick gobs of paint with a palette knife or brush.  I can airbrush, sketch, ink, dissolve and erase.  And, of course, if I make a mistake, I can un-do it!  Wish I could do that with regular paints sometimes!

I really thought I’d shared with you the progress I was making on this one, but I see I didn’t.  Here’s a screen shot of what the piece looked like in the program, as I was working on it.  You can see a couple of the layers in the small palette on the right edge of the window.  You can see the reference photo on the left of the painting.  I can zoom in on the reference, or shrink it down, or close it altogether.  The painting I can zoom (of course), tilt around to allow me to work at different angles like you do with a piece of paper, and also flip it with one keystroke, which is very helpful to get a fresh perspective on it, and to see areas that still need work.

Radar – work in progress
© Xan Blackburn 2014

And then I can take the whole thing, with all the various layers, into Photoshop for some final tweaking.  Then I can take that into ImageReady, and do an animated gif to show you how it comes together.  Like this:

5″ x 7″ Digital painting (ArtRage Pro + Photoshop)
© Xan Blackburn 2014

Next up is Ellen’s border collie, Bud.  He’s a cutie!  Don’t miss that one.