Decisions! Decisions!

I don’t even know what project to take up!

Niccolo & MaeBella
Work in progress.  Acrylic on panel. 16″ x 20″
©Xan Blackburn 2011

I’ve got two paintings currently in process; Fluffy, and Niccolo and MaeBella (yikes! that’s colorful!)

I got stalled out on N&M two whole years ago, when I ran out of technique, and my muse took a hike.  Now, I can see not only how I got stuck, but how to proceed.  Thank goodness!!

Fluffy is moving along.  I’ll show you more of him shortly.

I have a marketing deal in the works with a dog registry, but I’m not sure how much effort to put into it as they seem to be in flux, and communications are spotty.  It could mean an opening into a market I might not otherwise show up in, or … not.  I’m still inclined to follow up on it, though.  That’s why I was asking for reference images in an earlier post.  By the way, I still need references!  I’m open to any breed currently in the ICKC list, since that’s the market I’m aiming at.  My idea is to do four 8″ x 10″ sample portraits to be carried around to the various events with my biz cards, etc., in return for which I’ll take a discount on a portrait of this year’s big winner to be given as the prize for winning.  So, that’s four paintings I need to do just for that.  Soonish, if you please!

Then there’s Dewey coming up.  Greyhounds Reach the Beach, in Dewey Beach, Delaware, has been a major focal point for the last several years, where I’ve sold my art in various forms.  This year, it’s looking like I’ll be bringing precisely not a single thing.  Unless, you know, I suddenly manage to make a bunch of art for that!  

ScrapCat: Coco
Work in progress.  Gouache on matboard.
©Xan Blackburn, 2011

Oh, and let’s not forget my painting of Coco, which I didn’t quite finish while at SnipFest.  I want to get that done, and get it sold, for the benefit to WeSnip!    Here’s a detail shot of where I am with her as of today.

ScrapCat: Coco
Work in progress. Gouache on matboard
©Xan Blackburn, 2011

The event itself was LOTS of fun.  I didn’t sell a whole lot, but I didn’t really expect to, since my stuff is so specific, and there aren’t a whole lot of greyhound owners just wandering around Birch Bay looking for some holiday cards!  Just the one gentleman, who did buy a print and some cards.  (Hopefully, his greyhound Becky will come visit my greys soon.)  I did draw a lot of interest from painting on the spot,
and talked to a lot of people about various types of commissions, so we’ll see what comes out in the long run.  In the mean time, I got to chat with my neighbors, and listen to some great music from the stage about 50′ away (my pet sitter performed!  Go Jenni!  :D)  Mostly, I wanted to show my support for WeSnip.

SnipFest, view from my booth
SnipFest, view from inside my booth over my
painting table

Well, I do have Fluffy on the table, with paint on the pallet, so I guess that’s what I’m doing!  
Thanks to those of you who’ve already signed up for my “Commission Alert List”.  If you want to know more about that, look to the right sidebar.  I know I have to get my price list up.  It’s on my project list!  

Reference request, and Fluffy, Redux

I’m currently seeking permission to use reference photos from owners of 4 specific breeds, in case you know any!  Please get in touch if you have photos of (list changed!):
  1. Dogue de Bordeaux
  2. Mini/Toy Aussie
  3. Xoloitzcuintli
  4. Berger Picard
If I use your photo, you have the option – but not the obligation – to buy the artwork when I’m done with it at a discount (as there may be some wear on the pieces from their travels).  I anticipate using them for about a year, which means your dog could travel the US, showing up at NAKC shows representing your breed!  😉  
As usual, I’m looking for personality shots, rather than show ring.  Clear, high resolution photos can be emailed to me.


Poor Fluffy!  
I started Fluffy’s portrait ages ago:

April 12, 2010 –

On the other hand, I have a little fluffy dog portrait to do that reminds me of my dear departed Hobie.  Aww!  Here’s the reference photo (much tweaked from the original).  Isn’t he too sweet?

April 20, 2010 – 

On the tables to do now are the portrait of Fluffy (currently mired in the “OMG, I don’t remember how to paint!  How’m I supposed to paint all that HAIR??” stage) ….

I didn’t tell you about how I messed that poor portrait up enough that I painted over it … TWICE!  I’m now on version three.  Even though his owner has had to wait all this time, I think the end result will be better for it.  I wish I had total control over this thing, but sometimes I’m just not ready for a certain painting!  I’ve now got time to work on two that had stalled out like that.  Fluffy’s, because his wonderful fur was defeating me, will now be better for my having worked on the silken windhounds for the last few weeks.  (The other one, we’ll get to in turn.)  

Work in Progress: Fluffy
8″x 10″ acrylic on gessoed panel
©Xan Blackburn, 2011

I prepared several boards on Sunday with toned gesso.  Four are in anticipation of doing some drawing/paintings (kind of like I did for Hunter), and one was for Fluffy.  (Working with the chalky-thick blendable tones of gesso made me want to paint with gouache again.  I might have to push some gouache into something soon!)  I thought I might take a similar approach to Fluffy’s portrait, but that’s not what’s happening.  Here’s where we are this morning. 

 I started to sketch, but realized quickly that I needed to mostly define his fur as light, not dark (pencil), so switched to paint.  This is all still super rough and funky, but the shapes are there, I know where things are.  Now I can concentrate on getting that fur texture.  

Notice that some areas are warmer -towards the outer edges – and some are cooler – in towards his face. I want to set him off from the cool background with warmer shadows, and give him the feel of a warm, living critter, and also create a frame for his sweet little face.  It will be interesting to see this vague cloud refine into recognizable Fluffy!

The other boards I prepped will be for marketing purposes, to show my ability to represent other breeds.    That’s what the reference request is all about.  The plan is, they’ll be showing up at NAKC events.  H and I have been working on packable easel plans for these, and I think I’ve come up with something brilliant.  Let’s see if H and I can make it manifest in the real world!  

NWFest: outdoor fun with dogs

NWFest was a kick.

My booth, all set up at NWFest 2011

We managed to find a great young lady to petsit who I’m not going to tell you any more about in case you all swarm her with requests, and I can never get her again!  Suffice it to say, everyone loved her, and all was well.  The main point here is that I got H to come with me!  YEAY!  Everything goes better with the HusbandMan.

We packed up the car with all the display stuff, piled on top of an air mattress and bedding, and off we went.  We got down to Karen and Paul’s lovely home around 6-ish Saturday evening, greeted by friendly people, and whirling flocks of silken windhounds, adults and youngsters, all enjoying the warm evening and warm hospitality.  We pretty quickly felt like part of the on-going party, with puppies mugging us for pets, drinks offered, and conversation zipping comfortably along.  It was so nice to put some faces to people and dogs I’d met online, and to see my pal Linda again.

We figured we’d better settle on our spot to set up the display, and get the car/our bedroom parked in a relatively flat area out of the way, before it got dark.  We chose a spot that was nestled into the shade of trees, flanked by some lovely shrubs, unloaded the stuff off our bed, and eventually inflated it and crawled in on top.  Which was amusing.  But relatively comfortable, if a bit slantier than we had thought.  Which was also amusing.

And they’re OFF!

The next day dawned sunny and warm, and just got more of both.  We got the booth set up, and wandered around trying to pitch in here and there, watching them get the lure set up for straight races to be held in the afternoon, and testing some youngsters on it.  A young girl, Grace, was there with her mom and ~5 month old puppy, and we hit it off.  We had fun sharing art stuff, and just generally goofing off.  In the afternoon, people started showing up after the NAKC shows wrapped up at a nearby park.  It was an afternoon of straight-racing, all silken windhounds, and I even got to help out at the starting line for a bit.  I never did figure out how the points and standings and winners worked!  Very arcane stuff!  H and I both did enjoy watching the dogs have a blast chasing the lure, or each other.  Or neither.  H got a bunch of pictures, but I can’t get them off his phone to where I can get them!  *grrr*

I got some great feedback, and nice chats with lots of people coming over to look at my art, many of whom had watched the development of the recent 3 paintings here on the blog.  The painting of Hunter got a lot of attention, but was already sold.  Bados’ owner, J, decided to take his portrait home, too.  (Bados was there, and in fine form, winning all sorts of things, and looking fabulous!)  The little drawing of Silkie that I completed right before we left was also sold before the event, but also got some nice attention.  I had a guest book for people to sign and give me some notes about things they’d like to see from me, which turned out to be a great idea.  Very useful!

I sold some cards and prints, but didn’t expect to move much of those, since they’re all greyhound related, so it was nice to see some go.

When evening fell, there was an enormous feed, an open bar, and all the flowing dogs and conversation to make the time race towards our bouncy airbed.

We slowly woke to the sound of rain on the roof around 3am, which at first seemed just cozy and pleasant … until the lightning started to register, and the fact that my artwork was not exactly rain-proofed started to sink in!  We jumped (okay, disentangled ourselves) from the car, and ran up to sort things out more securely, while lightning lashed the sky, and soft rain fell.  Once we got our damp selves back under the blankets, we were treated to more light-show, and some quite respectable thunder ’til we finally fell back to sleep.  Only to be awakened a little after 6 by a huge explosion of thunder, like another whole car had been dropped on top of ours, followed by a dump truck load of bowling balls.

What remained after the rain

We eventually gave up sleeping, and assembled ourselves for the day.  We had found a big natural foods market nearby, sharing a shopping center with a Peet’s Coffee, so we started there.  After fortification, we returned to what was meant to be a full day of all-breed lure coursing.  And hopefully selling some artwork.  Well, one out of two ain’t bad!  I don’t think I sold anything on Monday, but I did make some nice contacts, including a serious interest from the NAKC judge.  Maybe more on that in coming posts.  I felt I needed to take my more vulnerable work down because of the damp weather, so my booth got a lot more … efficient looking towards the end.

The weather was cooler after the rain, but cleared up nice and warm in the afternoon.  New people and dogs started to show up to join the fun.  Several strikingly fit whippets, two stately borzoi, and a group of solid and serious-looking Rhodesian Ridgebacks took turns in the various smaller paddocks to stretch their legs and await their turns.  The lure machine simply wasn’t cooperating, so there was a lot of waiting, and a lot of work by Paul and crew to try to sort it out.  Meanwhile, everyone (except Paul and crew!) just relaxed and shmoozed.    I didn’t take nearly enough pictures, and none of the lure coursing itself, but that’s no loss: they would have just turned out as little colored blots just dashing behind a tree or something.  It was fun to watch, though!  H enjoyed it so much, he’s talking about setting up a lure course here for our lot.  At least a straightaway.

All good things must come to an end, and so it was with NWFest.  H reminded me we had a pet sitter and pets to get back to.  Suddenly in a big rush,  we broke down the booth (what was left of it), mashed it all in the car, said our good-byes, and were down the road in record time.

The day after we got home, I learned about another event almost around the corner from us, which I promptly decided to vend at.  From my Events page:
SnipFest: Music Festival to benefit WeSnip: Saturday, August 6 · 10:00am – 10:00pm These good people provide low-cost and even free spay and neuter services, and help to capture, neuter and release feral cats.  This great benefit event will be a fun day of music and vendors, food, a beer garden, and a police dog demo.  I’ll be there!

I’m hoping to be able to finish two commissions I have in progress now, just to fluff up my display, before sending them off to their owners.  I’ll let you know how that goes over the next few days!

Silken Windhound Portrait, Hunter, is … Done! (Probably)

Tangaloor Malden, CGC “Hunter”
11″ x 14″ acrylic and graphite on Gessobord
©Xan Blackburn, 2011

A lot of careful work went into refining the silky hairs swirling around the ear and down the neck, bringing them in and out of shadows, giving them dimension, giving them some color, making them finer. Much more shadow was needed along the back of the face, and in the mouth.  I couldn’t achieve a deep enough dark for the contrast I wanted in the mouth, so I used mixes of Payne’s Gray, some red, some raw umber, a little Naples yellow in some areas, to give it the depth it needed.  The nose and eye also got some of this treatment.  I want the focus on the face, with some other interest to set it off, but the exciting busy-ness of the ear had begun to take over the show.  These deep shadows brought the balance back.

While working on the mouth, I realized I’d gotten a bit off on the lower lip area, between the canine and the big molars.  It was not thick enough.  Bringing that dark back down where it belonged and marrying it with the areas previously brought almost to a finished state took up some time, but it was worth the effort to get right.

Tangaloor Malden, CGC “Hunter” (detail)
11″ x 14″ acrylic and graphite on Gessobord
©Xan Blackburn, 2011

Getting the hot and cool reds in the mouth is always interesting.  The light may bounce off a wet tongue, leaving a cool highlight, or shine into or through the tongue or edge of gumline, leaving a much warmer color.  You can see an almost flame-hot red at the edge of the lower incisors, and an almost blue highlight along the surface of the tongue, curving round to some warmer reds along the near edge, cooling yet again along the gum below the molars.  It’s not easy to see in this .jpg, I’m afraid.

I loved the silky way his fur is streaked with soft gold and pencil-gray.  In greyhounds, we call that blue fawn brindle.  I’m not sure what that coloring is called for silkens.  Anyone?  Another difference between greyhounds and silkens is their noses.  Greyhounds nose leather projects beyond the muzzle a bit, almost like a black clown nose stuck on there for laughs!  But, I’d gotten used to it.  I had to really look and SEE that silkens’ nose leather is more compact, more integrated with the muzzle.  That SEEing thing can be so tricky.  We assume we know how something looks, and miss the reality, which can throw everything off.  Impressionism is all well and good, but the essential points have to click.  For me, that is!

By around 5pm, I felt pretty well finished with Hunter himself, and took stock of the painting as a whole, and how, or if, I might shift its atmosphere.  I wasn’t sure it needed it anymore, now that Hunter’s features were better defined, and his personality was able to assert itself.  But, I had a pre-conceived notion, you know!

After a traumatic evening, where I tried to take this painting away from the direction it has insisted on from the start, and then had to pull it back from the brink of disaster, I think I’m going to keep my hands off it from now on.

I had forgotten my original intent to smudge it up, layer glazes on it, sand through them, and basically give it an aged feel, a sort of lost in time effect.  When I tried laying on some translucent glaze, using matte medium and raw sienna (a rich reddish brown), I was already nervous about wrecking it, and over-worked the glaze, resulting in a sticky, funky mess.  Much grungier than I had intended!  In a near panic, I took a sponge and carefully rubbed off what I could, leaving it just less grungy, but still in an uncontrolled, funky way.  I decided I better stop for the evening.  I retreated a bit depressed, drained.  But not utterly defeated somehow, though I didn’t know what I’d do to fix my mess.

I couldn’t resist going and looking at it again later, of course.  I remembered I had intended to sand this painting, so I grabbed some fine sandpaper, and started working on the areas I’d goofed up.  That helped, but then I went right through the turquoise and brown gesso underpainting in some speckles, so I stopped and left again.  When I came back after dinner (a snack, really, as I was too preoccupied to actually cook), I pulled out the gesso I’d mixed and kept separate all this time.  It was still wet, so I re-worked the areas I’d sanded, feathering them into the original background the best I could, and left yet again to let it dry.  When I looked one last time before bed, I could finally breathe a sigh of relief: it was back to where it had been before the grunge attack!  My eyes were aching.  I slept like a log (’til about 4:30, but that’s another story!)  And here we are today.

Tomorrow morning I have an appointment to get these three paintings scanned professionally, in case I want to make reproductions in the future.  That gives me one working day (well, half a day now) to maybe do a drawing or something small, perhaps, if I want to get that in on the scanning, too.  I’ll need everything to be dry, framed and packed for the trip by Friday, a week and a half off.  Plenty to do in the mean time, but I might try to get in a few drawings still.  We’ll see!

Let me know what you think of Hunter’s portrait, and the others!

©Xan Blackburn

©Xan Blackburn

©Xan Blackburn

Other Irons in the Fire

I thought I’d let you all peek behind the curtain a little more into what else goes on in my studio.  No worries!  I’ll be getting back to Nikki’s painting as soon as I finish writing this post.

I’ve been working on a trade show display for my husband.  His water treatment business has been a major client of mine for about 12 years now.  Of course, the pay has always been negotiable, but I’m happy with the return on investment.

Last year, we developed a large (6’h x 4’w), re-usable, adhesive vinyl graphic, which he’ll be re-using this year.  It was part of a set of three such graphics which made a very impressive and sophisticated display for his booth.  All together, they looked like this:

total dimensions: 8’w x 4’h

Developing these pushed my aging Mac’s resources because of the large file sizes, but they really look great!  He has them on his office walls now.
This year’s set up will come together like this:

You can’t get a good look at the two smaller graphics on either side at this size, I’m afraid.  Suffice it to say, a fair amount of work went into each element of both of them!  They’re being printed on vinyl banner material, with grommets, to fix them to whatever clever support H gets worked out on the pop-up display  wall.  Exact placement isn’t set in stone yet.  We are hoping to get some overlap, with some curving of the side panels, and some horizontal popping-out, which will take some engineering ingenuity, which I will defer to my hubby.  I hope to get a good picture of it all set up in the exhibition hall.

I’ve also been putting some energy into developing some art and products to bring to a Silken Windhound event in July.  Such pretty little dogs!  I’ve never been to an event with coursing or racing of any kind, or conformation or obedience or any of that, so this should be interesting.  Since these little ones are not competing to win money for their owners (at least directly, although showing well will benefit breeders of those dogs), the attitude seems much more about the fun the dogs have than profit-based racing (of which I strenuously disapprove!)  Although I find breeding any animals for human amusement, consumption or profit to be wrong, the animals produced are innocent, and lovable, as we all know!

 Watch this blog for upcoming requests for 
  silken windhound reference photos,  
  from which I can make some art!!  

Now, as I promised, back to work on Nikki!