Scooby the Dachshund: #7 in the Spring Portrait Marathon

Scooby (Dachshund) Acrylic on Panel, 10

Acrylic on Panel, 10″ x 8″,
© Xan Blackburn

Ah, Scooby!  People, you have no idea the weirdness that’s been going on in my studio lately.  Scooby’s big, liquid eyes have seen a lot in here.  Yes, we’ve been through a lot, Scooby and I.  Let’s get to it.

Samara tells me that Scooby was her father’s cherished best buddy.  A prickly guy , he nonetheless carved out a place in his family’s hearts, where he lived for many years.  His recent passing really hit them hard, especially Sam’s dad.  As a gift of love, Sam commissioned this portrait for her parents.

So, what could be weird, right?  Adorable, lop-eared, big-eyed doxy gazing with houndy eyes up at us?  You may recall that I’ve been having some issues with my Muse about how to paint, right?  She’s decided, right in the midst of a Portrait Marathon, that it’s time for some shaking up, some changes, some growth, some transition … Freaking learning curve stuff, thank you very much.  NoT!  😛

I wasn’t going to show you this, but I think I have to.  Let me first just say I was as freaked out by this as you are about to be.  Please prepare yourself.  This is not pretty.

I began in the usual way: choose a reference photo, take it into Photoshop to work out composition, etc., get my drawing ready, transfer it to the panel.  The panel, in this case, was a very smooth Claybord panel.  I’ve been having trouble with these lately, and thought I’d figured out that the best way for me to use them is to gesso first, to seal the absorbent clay, then dive right in with a fully loaded brush, boldly lay in color, and then refine with details once the major tones and colors have been well established.  It worked with Puff and Sushi, anyway.  I felt my usual fear about those first brush strokes (I’m a huge scaredy-cat, seriously), but in I went.  Here’s where it gets shocking.  Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Please avert your eyes and protect young children

Did I not warn you?

Right.  So, with horror growing that I had lost all control of my paints, imagining myself doomed to trying to sneak my work into 8th grade county fair exhibits from now on, I soldiered on, hoping to be able to work it out somehow.

Please avert your eyes and protect young children

Oh, yeah.  Big improvement, there!

What to do??  What happened??  Did I have a stroke that only affects my ability to paint?

I got seriously stuck here.  I couldn’t face it for a couple days.

In the mean time, I worked on a logo which I’ll tell you about later, and researched some alternate grounds that I might use to rehabilitate these maddeningly smooth panels I still have to figure out how to paint on.  It’s the smooooothness that is suddenly driving me batty.  I used to love it.  Now I can’t figure out how to use it at all!

I had gone to an acrylics demonstration last weekend, and learned about some materials that I thought might help.  With a couple of the samples I’d been given, I tried right on Scooby’s ruined portrait to make a surface I could paint on.  It was that or burn it in the yard.  First I tried this Fiber Paste by Golden, which is supposed to give a sort of rough paper-like surface.  Okay, I could NOT get it consistent enough.  Very fiber-y.  I also had a sample tube of Coarse Modeling Paste.  Well named, that stuff is coarse, with largish grains of mica, giving it a rough, translucent, sandy sort of effect. It’s also very thick. I had a little better luck mixing it with gesso and GAC 900 to get a more workable consistency, matte, and more opaque.  I used a fine foam roller to apply, which worked fairly well.  With some sanding and re-gessoing, it gave me a surface full of personality.  So, while procrastinating facing Scooby’s wild glare, I prepped my remaining smooth panels with this combo.

textured panel

I had been saying to the hubs that, if I could still pull Scooby’s portrait out of the mess I’d made, that I would be a rock star.  Figuring I might as well conquer my remaining fear by re-surfacing Scooby’s panel, I just rolled right over it to start over.  I re-drew the sketch on the new surface, which was kind of a revelation in itself.  Drawing on something like white, coarse sandpaper with a mechanical pencil is pretty interesting.  But, onward.

Now, how to paint??  I decided I needed to go back to the underpainting + glazes method for this one.  My reference photos weren’t very good, so details were lacking, which suited this rough textured board pretty well.  I jumped in with my old pal, Payne’s gray.

Scooby - underpainting

Okay, that’s better.  The surface is uh-may-zing!!  Using a relatively dry brush, I could practically draw on the panel, buffing on paint exactly where and how I wanted it, with very organically soft edges.  This is fun!

Next, the first layer of color.  Starting with Raw Sienna, a warm golden brown, to warm the following layers.

Scooby - first color layer
Scooby, layering continues

This layer is mostly burnt sienna, which is a rich, red brown.

The final touches were playing back and forth between reclaiming some darks that got dulled by the color glazing, highlighting some lighter areas, and calming the red with glazes of burnt umber and even blue.  More blue was brushed into the background also, to set off Scooby’s warm tones.  The final painting is above, but here’s a detail view, so you can see a bit how the paint works with the rough surface.

Scooby, done: detail

The final effect is very soft, almost stippled, reminiscent of a grainy old photograph that’s been hand-colored.  I really like it, and hope Sam’s folks are pleased with it.

Scooby is #7 in the Marathon, and Sasha the Samoyed is up next.  A similar situation, actually.  A gift for parents, with less-than-perfect references.  I hope I can do her justice!

Portrait Marathon: #11 – Hajime

Acrylic on canvas, 5 x 5
© Xan Blackburn

Hajime, or Haj, is a chow-husky mix, which you can see in his blue tongue and very direct glance (or, that’s what I see, anyway!)  He’s drop-dead gorgeous.  He is devoted to his mom.  This portrait is a gift from a friend, which is always so cool, to me!  Very sweet gift!

Tomorrow, I move on to … I’m not sure!  Guess I’ll find out tomorrow morning.

Hajime in progress
© Xan Blackburn

Portrait Marathon: Sign up TODAY

Sign-ups are open now for the Pre-Holiday Portrait Marathon!

If you missed it, here’s the run down.  For three weeks, starting Monday, Nov. 26, I’ll be busting through as many small portraits as I can get to, in the order you sign up.

As I start one portrait, I’ll email the next person in line a PayPal link to pay for your portrait.  Once your payment is in, your place is secure, and your portrait will be next.

The only thing different this time around is that you will now have a few choices!

  • 5″ x 5″, gallery-wrapped canvas for $80
  • 5″ x 5″ panel for $80
  • 8″ x 10″ panel for $150 specially priced for this marathon (that’s $110 off!)
Both the panels and the gallery-wrapped canvas all look great framed or unframed.

One pet (ANY SPECIES!) per painting, and one painting per person, to spread the loooove!

As I go, I’ll be showing you my progress on the blog.  I think it’s fun to share the paintings as they evolve, and the excitement building along through the marathon.

To sign up and get your name on the list, fill out the form below.
Good luck, and thanks for playing along with me!!  

FPM Painting #4: Spencer gets started

Spencer-Reference photo

Fall Portrait Marathon, Painting #4: Spencer

Lisa’s kitty, Spencer, in his sleepy pose, is pretty inviting, eh?  Don’t you just want to snuggle your face into that soft warm fur?  Mmm.

Spencer was a Special Cat.  Lisa’s friend Jan told me some of his story.

The boy loved ice cream and popcorn, and catmint.  Lisa said the only way her DH could finish a bowl of ice cream was to hold the bowl over his head away from Spence!
When Spencer arrived at our vet’s office, our vet knew that Lisa’s house was The Place for him, despite of, or actually because of, his medical probs and life expectancy of ~6 mos.  Two+ years later, he was one happy boy who died in his sleep on a sunny afternoon. He was probably 17 or 18 years old. Spencer was a *greyt* cat – how many cats have their own veranda?  

Lisa told me this in her introductory notes:

We quickly learned his favorite place in the world was to be stretched out on your lap, where he spent many many hours during the two years we had with him. He left us two months ago, and we miss seeing his smile as he stretched that big white paw out in front of him.

Are you misty-eyed, yet?  sniff

Okay, let’s get to the portrait before we’re all shorting out our keyboards, here.

I cropped the photo, and lightened up some areas so we’d get a little more focus on his sweet sleepy face.

Spencer DETAIL – Work in progress
©Xan Blackburn 2011

This time, I decided to prep the canvas a bit, so I could count on a little more detail by having a smoother surface.  I sanded it with a fine-grit sandpaper, and wiped it with a damp microfiber cloth.  While it was still dampish, I transferred the drawing to the canvas using a blue conte crayon.  I then used some raw umber thinned a lot with medium to trace over the whole drawing, using the tip of a small brush.  I didn’t want to wash off the drawing again!

You can see how that worked in this detail.  Pretty well, actually!

Spencer – Work in progress
©Xan Blackburn 2011

That brings us to here.  Ready to get painting.

The scanner cut it off a bit, but his ear is visible just to the tip on the left.

Spencer – Work in progress
©Xan Blackburn 2011

I used some ultramarine blue to wash in the first layer of color in the couch, and set off the cool background from the warm kitty.  I did make a watery-thin excursion into Spencer, to cool the areas I intend to keep more shadowed.

Watch how the perspective on that paw reaching towards us develops.  Right now, it looks flat and odd, but shading and detail will put it in place as we go along.

Spencer – Work in progress
©Xan Blackburn 2011
Spencer – Work in progress
©Xan Blackburn 2011

Using Payne’s Gray, I started in with the darks, trying to keep a sense of the fur right from the start, as opposed to washing in looser areas.  You can see that better in this detail.

Already, I’m glad I did that sanding before painting!  I want to be able to do these fine strokes, and not have them blurred by a coarse surface.

Spencer – Work in progress
©Xan Blackburn 2011

Time to hit the color.

I mixed some Naples yellow and raw sienna to get a golden brown, and added medium to get my glaze.  I brushed that in in all the colored zones of Spencer’s fur to get a warm gold base.  Notice there’s a bit of that warmth washed into the paw under his chin, and on the paw reaching towards us.

Suddenly I’m aware that I was too timid (my usual failing) with the darks, and will need to really bump them up, particularly in the stripes.  I started adding some raw umber (very dark brown) to those areas, and to darker areas of the fur.

You will already have noticed, I’m sure, the PINK on the mouth and nose.  Fret not.  They’ll get toned towards where they belong as we go along.  The mouth will get a lot of white brushed over it, to define the little hairs all about the area, so that stronger pink will be necessary to stand out after that.

Lots still to do, but that’s where we are tonight.  Stay tuned!

Mystery portrait wraps up, and Marathon begins

I’ve been processing photos submitted for the Fall Portrait Marathon, wrapping up my big mystery commission (that ran over into Portrait Marathon time!  :rolleyes: ), communicating with the winners, and sketching up the first Fall Portrait Marathon (hereinafter referred to as FPM) painting.  

Digital painting, ©Xan Blackburn 2011
I did a quicky ArtRage painting to get the feel of an idea I’ve been playing with, and I kind of like the sketch, even though I don’t think that’s how I’ll end up doing the painting, exactly.    This is Christine’s Hailey (sketch!!!)

She made a special request to use this particular collar, which is really cute.  Don’t you love her ears, and that head tilt?  This is going to be fun.  

I’m having my usual difficulty transferring the drawing to the canvas.  Anyone have any fabulous ideas for that??  I use transfer paper, but the canvas flexes away from the pressure of the pen, which means that I don’t get a good transfer.  It’s a challenge, what can I say.  

But, let me sort of wrap up my mystery portrait’s progress.  (Sorry for the layout.  I realize it’s a mess.  I can’t seem to fix it!)  I still can’t give you the full reveal, but let me just give you a series of pictures to show bits of it as it evolved.
Monday 1
work in progress
©Xan Blackburn 2011
 Monday 1: This one shows a little progress since Friday.  This is where I picked it up on Monday morning.  A bit of highlighting, and some color in the eyes.
Monday 2
work in progress
©Xan Blackburn 2011

Monday 2: This one shows a little more detail going in.  Still no color.  Working in Payne’s Gray on the dilute Naples Yellow background.

Monday 3
work in progress
©Xan Blackburn 2011
Monday 3: More detail, some added whites …
Monday 4
work in progress
©Xan Blackburn 2011
Monday 4: Some color going in!  Basic underpainting is done …

Tuesday 1
work in progress
©Xan Blackburn 2011
Tuesday 1: Big jump here.  You can see I have all the basic colors in over the underpainting of darks and lights.  Details and more details will be layered on top of this stage.  

Mystery completed!
acrylic on Gessobord, 16″ x 20″
©Xan Blackburn 2011
Mystery Complete:  Well, not really, since it’s still a mystery, eh?

When the gift is officially handed over, I’ll show you the whole thing.  There were lots of challenges here, involving questionable colors that had to be shifted dramatically, many small heart attacks of the usual sort (I’m such a chicken!), but I think in the end I’m pleased with the final result.

Stay tuned for the FPM progress reports!  I’m so excited.  There are cats and greyhounds in the mix, and I can’t wait to get at them.  Wait ’til you see the stripy cats, and the quirky pups.  Oh yeah.  This is going to be fun.

Mystery Portrait: Friday

Mystery Portrait, work in progress
©Xan Blackburn 2011

I was working kind of slowly today.  My usual timidity, where I’m sure I’ve forgotten how to paint, and will just mess everything up if I dare to actually put visible amounts of paint on my brush. Nonetheless, I did make some progress with my underpainting.

In this bit, you can see how I’ve begun to be more specific with my darks, even suggesting fur a bit.  This eye is coming along, with plenty of room to get some depth even in the pupil.

A few hours later, I’ve reached this stage. You can see that I’ve added some white, which will begin to give the proper hair color in these areas, and also give the whites of the eyes that are so expressive.

There’s lot more work, but I can’t show it to you.  HA!  ‘Cause it’s such a big secret!  ;D

Just to remind you, the Fall Portrait Marathon sign-ups start at 9am PST (don’t forget to set your clocks back!)  Don’t dawdle: these always go fast!  😉

For all the details see here.

Mystery Portrait; shading begun

Mystery painting, shading begun

That looks so awkward, doesn’t it?  Well, I promise it makes more sense when you can see the whole thing together. 😉

I’m beginning to glaze in the shading using Payne’s Gray to keep the shadows cool.  My intent is to keep the focus tight and high-contrast only on the faces, letting the rest of the bodies to blur into the background.  At this point, it looks a bit like a watercolor painting, and is fairly loose and brush-marked, but it will start to look more like a black and white photo as I go along, later getting the color that will make it “real”.

I think I’m done for the day.  Catch you up tomorrow!