Katie the Greyhound, Portrait

Katie – work in progress, detail
graphite on Aquabord panel
copyright Xan Blackburn 2013

Now, here’s a challenge.  Katie the greyhound was a lovely girl, much loved by her humans.  Okay, that’s not unusual for my clients and subjects.  Katie was mostly white, which presents the challenges of subtlety in shading, particularly where there is no strong light source to cast deep shadows.  Still, okay, not too impossible.  Katie’s humans are both fine artists in their own right: okay, now it’s gotten tricky!  The photo references are by Katie’s human dad, and they are lovely just the way they are.  Katie’s human mom is an accomplished artist, using pencils and watercolor.  Argh.  How to do justice in my own fairly realistic style to a photographic portrait that stands on its own?

I decided to try something a little different, this time.  Starting with a graphite drawing as the “under-painting” stage, and layering on glazes of translucent color after.  Working on Aquabord, an archival panel with a toothy texture which you can see in the detail above, means that detail will be slightly compromised by the bumpy texture.  Not a lot, but enough that it will keep me from getting lost down the rabbit-hole of every-single-hair, and so I can rely on the color glazes to build an atmosphere.
Katie – work in progress, stage 1
drawing well begun
© Xan Blackburn 2013

Katie – work in progress, stage 2
drawing done
© Xan Blackburn 2013

Once I had the drawing about where I wanted it, I sprayed it with a workable fixative, so that painting over it wouldn’t smear the drawing.  I did this with my heart in my throat, since you just never know how that’s going to go.  Luckily, it worked fine, and I didn’t have to start over.

Now to start the glazing!  The background in the reference photo is dark, which is exactly right, to make her dazzling whiteness pop out.

Katie reference photo
 © Steve Uyehara

I plan to take a similar approach, keeping it vague, dark, with the lively greens kept to a suggestion of simple leaves, not to compete with Katie, herself.  Building up layers means you can achieve luminous, glowing dimensions of color.  The first go at the background, I’m laying in a clear yellow, to pull the background together, and begin achieving the final green tones.  Katie’s shadier side is washed in a warm pinkish tone, to give her the glow of life that shows through her pale fur, and is clearly visible in her ears, and spotting the top of her muzzle.

Katie – work in progress, stage 3
first color glazes

 That yellow seems really strong right now, but it will become just a glowing member of the color team when all is completed.

That’s where we’re at today.  More as I go along!
Speaking of updates, I’ve added several projects to my Commercial Art page for your viewing pleasure.  Go take a look!

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!  

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

Hunter gets a name! Silken Windhound #3 portrait update

Work in Progress, “Hunter”
silken windhound
Graphite, acrylic, on gessobord, 11″x 14″
©Xan Blackburn, 2011

HUNTER!  Yes, his name is Hunter.  Christina of New York’s Hunter.  The cats are yelling at me for their dinner, so I’ll be brief.  Here’s where we are today, with a fair amount to go.  As you can see, I spent a lot of time in the ear fringe and mane.  I’m mainly happy with this, but I see some saccharine sweetness that may have to be expunged in some way.  Motel art is not my goal, here!  A dog, and a dog with a name like Hunter, and an athlete like a sighthound, should not just be pretty.  My husband said I was expressing the “My Little Pony-ness” of the breed, but that’s not what I want, here!

Okay, anyway, the cats are still yelling.  I gotta go.  Enjoy!

Silken portrait #3, Stage 2

Man, I really hope someone guesses who this is, soon!  My titles are going to start looking like a math lesson!

Work in Progress
mixed media (acrylic, graphite) on panel, 11″ x 14″
©Xan Blackburn, 2011

Today started with some corrections, and some timidity.  I got a used Galaxy Tab recently (I might have to give that thing its own post at some point), which has a better camera in it than my phone, which made it convenient enough to choose it over taking multiple stage scans at every little stage.  It also has a nice little display (7″) which I can zoom in on, etc., which makes it a great reference tool.  Usually, I print out my reference photo, and have that on my work table while I paint.  But, my printer isn’t the greatest, and, looking at the Tab’s version next to the printer’s version showed me a LOT that I had missed or misinterpreted.  All that might have been okay, for the purposes of this portrait, but once I had the better picture, I had to work from that!

I had gotten a sort of uniform darkness in the mouth that wasn’t right.  I had tried to correct it yesterday, but wasn’t happy with that, either.  The graphite just would NOT come off the board in the usual way (kneaded eraser, Blu Tack) or the unusual ways (sanding, cursing).  I had dabbed some of the background paint I had kept, but that needed to be smoothed and re-integrated into the whole.  This morning, I decided to return to the Blu Tack.  That’s great stuff for pencil work!  As it’s actually adhesive, without forming any residue, it picks up the graphite dust rather than spreading it around or rubbing it off.  I made my little wad about the right size, and rolled it repeatedly over the mouth area, re-kneading and re-wadding as necessary to keep a clean surface.  It eventually picked up enough so that I could work back in the shading I wanted.  Yeay!

Now to conquer my timidity!  It’s looking so cool the way it is that I was afraid to mess it up, and intimidated by how much work there is still to go to reach my original idea.  I started pecking away with my pencils, taking frequent breaks to compare hardness on various other surfaces, sharpen them, step back and squint, check my reference again ….  I realized I wasn’t going to get anywhere like that, so I decided to try using a stump (a blending tool made from soft paper, rolled tightly and with a conical tip on each end) to very softly smudge in some areas of shadow, get me over the hump of treading on all that freshly fallen snow before me.  That helped.  Then I decided I needed a broader stroke, to block in large areas where shadows were deepest.

Using the matte medium I bought yesterday, to keep (hopefully!) enough texture to the surface that I can still draw on it, I diluted a mix of payne’s grey and burnt umber, leaning towards the warm umber, to wash in some shadows along the back of the face, under the chin, and behind the ear fringe.  Very light washes, since I’m still feeling timid, and I don’t want to commit to too much, nor take away from the pencil work I’m still intending to do there.  All that is in the first picture above.

Work in Progress
mixed media (acrylic, graphite) on panel, 11″ x 14″
©Xan Blackburn, 2011

That brings us to this picture.  Next, I decided to wash in some of the subtle tawny color this dog has.  (Now any guesses who this is?)

Work in Progress
mixed media (acrylic, graphite) on panel, 11″ x 14″
©Xan Blackburn, 2011

Another look at my reference and I realize I’ve foggily edited out the back of the ear, where it lays against the neck (it’s completely shadowed out in my printed reference!)  Trying to decide whether to work it in, or leave it all softly shadowy and vague back there, I look closely at the reference photo, and see all these lovely internal shadows and highlights within that area, including the edge of the ear.  I decide to do it.

I guess I took this photo when the paint was still damp enough to glare.  That’s a bummer.  Well, at least you can see the back of the ear, and how I’ve worked in some of that tawny red tone around and into the eye as well.  I also used that color, mixed with white, to add some warm color to the teeth, and warmed up some of the highlights elsewhere as well.  Now the molars are too light, but that’s easy to remedy.

Okay!  Between lunch, making this post, taking the dogs out one at a time *sigh* and answering the intervening emails, it’s now quarter to three!  Back to painting!

Silken Windhound #3

And now for something completely different!

Well, it’s still a silken windhound, but I’m working on this one really differently.  I figured I’d better write this down before I forgot what I did, and what my original thought is, so here goes.

I wanted to combine a graphite drawing with acrylic.  My original concept is a little vague, since I’ve never done this before, but it involves layers of paint, pencil, sanding, glaze, more sanding, more paint, more pencil, more of all the above ….  Sort of the lasagna approach, if you will.  I did a couple little sample bits, just to work out the way that might end up looking (which I will not show you!), and then decided to jump right in.

I chose my subject as a head-only portrait.  (Any guesses who this is?)  Working on an 11 x 14 gessoed panel, I started with some acrylic gesso, mixed with blues, burnt umber, and Naples Yellow, keeping the blues where the dog would go, more or less, and the warmer tones around it, loose and vague.  I’m not at all sure how much of that will show in the end, but that’s the first layer.  I chose to use the gesso because I want the surface to still have some more tooth than straight acrylics; more like a chalkboard than the side of a water bottle.

I transferred the drawing, using white transfer paper (like carbon paper, but leaves white marks), and keeping it pretty simple.  I didn’t want the transfer to interfere with my pencil later, just give me some key locations to work from.  In this first pic, you can sort of see the drawing in places, and the glowy eye is actually where I started working in some pencil, which made a glare.  Sorry!

Work in Progress
mixed media (acrylic, graphite) on panel, 11″ x 14″
©Xan Blackburn, 2011

I got the eye established a bit before I realized I might really want to get in those white areas first.  

Maybe.  I don’t know.

I’m really flying by the seat of my pants, here!  Just in case, I started working on the highlights.  I’m already liking the feel of this, and I hope I have the courage to do the experimental stuff to it when the time comes!

Work in Progress
mixed media (acrylic, graphite) on panel, 11″ x 14″
©Xan Blackburn, 2011

Here you can see I’ve got the whites fairly well placed, but only in a ghosty sort of way.  I wanted to work in the pencil some more, starting in the face.

Work in Progress
mixed media (acrylic, graphite) on panel, 11″ x 14″
©Xan Blackburn, 2011

Sorry about the shadows running down the side there.  That’s my hand rest thingy, to keep me from sludging my hand or sleeve through my work.  I made it myself!

Anyhow, this is still pretty subtle, but it’s got a very ethereal feel to it that I like.  Let’s take a closer look at the face.

Work in Progress, detail
mixed media (acrylic, graphite) on panel, 11″ x 14″
©Xan Blackburn, 2011

That’s better.

I had several days away from my artwork, what with the holiday, a family visit, and a sudden panic that I wouldn’t have the stuff I need for the event (frames, mat board, a way to display my prints, a way to take credit cards in case my fancy new [used] device doesn’t work …), so it’s good to be back to it!  I think my original idea of how much stuff I’d be bringing was ambitious, but I’m getting to be okay with what I will have, so there you go.

Any guesses who this elegant hound might be, from what you can see so far?