“Alex”: A Christmas Story

"Alex" 8" x 10", acrylic on panel, © Xan Blackburn
“Alex” 8″ x 10″, acrylic on panel, © Xan Blackburn

Steve and Gayle are artists in their own right.  I’ve been honored to be asked by their friends to do two memorial portraits for them (Sadie, and Katie), so when their daughter, Rachel, asked me to do another of the legendary Alex, I was thrilled.  I had a crush on him that was tragic: I never knew about him during his lifetime, only later from his legacy in Steve’s photography, and presence on the greyhound forum, Greytalk.

It always starts with a photo.Alex © Steve UyeharaAlex © Steve Uyehara

As it was taken by a pro, I had little to do to make it paintable except to crop it, and get started interpreting it in paint, so I was off and running.

"Alex" (work in progress) 8" x 10", acrylic on panel, © Xan Blackburn
“Alex” (work in progress) 8″ x 10″, acrylic on panel, © Xan Blackburn

So, that was a bold move, eh?  Starting with that intense yellow?  Yeah.  I can’t remember now why I thought that was such a great idea, but I really like the complexity it lends to the final portrait. This stage shows that I approached the underpainting differently than I usually do (starting with a monochromatic painting establishing the form and shadows, then glazing color layers on top of that).  I like how this looks even at this stage.  Kind of ghostly and loose, but with all the elements in their proper places.

"Alex" (work in progress) 8" x 10", acrylic on panel, © Xan Blackburn
“Alex” (work in progress) 8″ x 10″, acrylic on panel, © Xan Blackburn

I started layering in the background so I could make sure I got the contrasts between the dark green foliage and the mostly-white dog right.  I don’t know if you can tell, but I was using a lot of violet tones to tame the yellow, as they are complementary colors (opposites on the color wheel).

"Alex" (work in progress) 8" x 10", acrylic on panel, © Xan Blackburn
“Alex” (work in progress) 8″ x 10″, acrylic on panel, © Xan Blackburn

Getting closer. Adding blues to the foliage and into Alex’s mid-range shadow areas, and continuing to refine throughout the painting.

"Alex" 8" x 10", acrylic on panel, © Xan Blackburn
“Alex” 8″ x 10″, acrylic on panel, © Xan Blackburn

And done!  You can still see that yellow warming the shadow side, and glowing through the foliage like summer sun.  I hope they enjoy the portrait for many years to come.

I’ve also been working on some secret projects not yet ready for public viewing.  Watch this space for the reveals!

Cole (greyhound), #9 in the 2014 Portrait Marathon

“Cole”

(greyhound) 8″ x 10″ acrylic on panel, © Xan Blackburn

Continue reading Cole (greyhound), #9 in the 2014 Portrait Marathon

#4: Cash’s Portrait

"Cash"  8" x 10"  acrylic on canvas panel © Xan Blackburn
"Cash"
8" x 10"
acrylic on canvas panel
© Xan Blackburn

Chris' greyhound, Cash, at age 10, is on her second life!  That's pretty good for a spooky grey, I'd say!  She had a bad reaction to routine shots, actually died, but was brought back to life - a modern-day miracle!  And, a gorgeous, blue-brindle gal, to boot.

Cash's portrait is painted on a canvas panel, which is a very big switch from the much smoother Aquabord panel I used on Red's portrait, right before this one.  The rougher texture was a nice change, though it makes getting good pictures tricky.   Let's see how we got to stage: Done!

Cash, original reference photo
Cash, original reference photo

Starting with this reference photo ...

Cash, work in progress stage 1
Cash, work in progress
stage 1

Once my drawing was ready, I dove in with Payne's gray for the underpainting.

Cash, stage 4 almost there ...
Cash, stage 4
almost there ...

This is where I left it last night, with some serious tweaks, and lots of fine-tuning to do, but generally close.  Notice the lighting changes between this and the final version, especially on the right side of her face.

Cash, altered reference
Cash, altered reference

I cropped, played with the lighting a little, made the bed a little more luxurious, but removed the pattern that I felt would compete with Cash's subtle stripes.

Cash, stage 3
Cash, stage 3

The underpainting is well under way, here.

Unfortunately, the photos I attempted of the early color phases just did not come out at all, so you'll have to content yourselves with a big jump here.

"Cash"  8" x 10"  acrylic on canvas panel © Xan Blackburn
"Cash"
8" x 10"
acrylic on canvas panel
© Xan Blackburn

PM #2: Stella – done!

Stella greyhound portrait
Stella
acrylic on Aquabord
8" x 10"
© Xan Blackburn

I think I'm done with Stella.  I hope Lynn agrees!

As it's Memorial Day weekend Saturday, my husband and dogs are all wanting dinner, and I'm rather hungry myself, I'll just show you some progress pics to show you how I got to this point.  Enjoy!

Stella, the Sleeping Beauty

Stella greyhound portrait in progress
Stella - work in progress, stage 3
acrylic on Aquabord
8" x 10"
© Xan Blackburn

Stella, the sleeping beauty!  Okay, she's not sleeping in this portrait, but her owner tells me that she sleeps a lot, and sent me several photos of her in that state.  Sounds like a greyhound to me!  (Contrary to popular belief, greyhounds sleep a lot more than they run.  A lot more.  Like, mostly, they sleep.)  But, I couldn't resist this pose, even though it shows her being awake.  At least with this portrait, her owners can imagine what she looks like standing up when the memory grows dim between naps.

The image above shows where her portrait stands at quitting time, Friday evening.  I'm seeing a pattern of slow starts, and quick finishes, so far.  My budget of 2 days/portrait for this marathon seems about right.  

The panel I'm using for this portrait is called Aquabord, which is an archival panel with a clay surface that has a texture and absorbent quality rather like watercolor paper.  I've used it before and really enjoyed it.  This time, it wanted to fight with me, but I've taken the upper hand.  It is too absorbent for what I wanted to do here, but once sealed with a layer of acrylic, it behaves much better.  I probably should have chosen one of the other panels, but ... oh well!

Stella's reference photo  cropped, and altered in photoshop slightly
Stella's reference photo
cropped, and altered in photoshop slightly

The reference image I chose had good lighting, and was well-focussed, showed her entire face, and gave a good sense of her (waking) expression.  You can see her dark brindle markings, and her glossy coat, as well as her deep burnt-orange eye color.  

Stella, reference photo, altered in photoshop
Stella, reference photo, altered in photoshop

As usual, in Photoshop, I decide what I want to do with the background, and alter the photo as necessary to make a good portrait in the proportions we're working in.  For Stella's rich, dark brindle, a mahogany-dark background really set her off nicely.

Stella - work in progress, stage 1
Stella - work in progress, stage 1
acrylic on panel
8" x 10"

This type of panel requires being flushed with water, to allow air bubbles trapped in the surface of the clay to escape, and to manage the absorbency a bit.  I almost forgot that, but they handily put a little "tip" sheet in the packaging, thank goodness.  Flushed, allowed to dry a bit, and the drawing transferred, I decided to start laying in the background, first.  I thought it would help me keep the balance of tonal contrast right if I had a good sense of the background while working.  It will take several layers, but I wanted to start with this raw sienna, to warm the later layers of burnt umber from within, rather like Stella's warm rusty stripes alternating with the almost-black stripes on her coat.  

Stella - work in progress, stage 2
Stella - work in progress, stage 2

Once I had a couple layers down in the background, I started in with her eyes, but the one on the right wasn't quite working, and the Payne's gray seemed too cool, so I left off for the moment, and started the underpainting in raw umber.  Beginning to layer up the shadows and darker tones.  

Once I switched to the raw umber instead of the Payne's gray, it started to come together better.  Plenty to do tomorrow, but we're off to the races, now.

Stella greyhound portrait in progress
Stella - work in progress, stage 3
acrylic on Aquabord
8" x 10"
© Xan Blackburn

I'm hoping for a view of the meteors tonight.  I hope you got a chance to see them, too.  Back to work tomorrow!