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!  

PM – Luki’s portrait complete

Luki's portrait complete
acrylic on panel, 8" x 10"
© Xan Blackburn

Delicate Luki!  I really enjoyed building up these hot and cool layers to create this pup's portrait.  It feels like that may capture her personality, in a way, maybe echoing her own internal contrasts.  

I only took a couple pictures besides the final scan today, but I think you can see enough to give you an idea how it went.  I'll go with the tried and true, "a picture is worth a thousand words."

Tomorrow, Eliza is passing her turn to the next person ready to go (we'll get back to her soon), so attention Lynn!  😉

PM – Luki (greyhound portrait)

Luki - work in progress 8" x 10", acrylic and conte crayon on panel © Xan Blackburn

I'm pleased with this stage, though I had hoped to be a bit further along by quitting time tonight.  Well, life, in all it's variability, will make hash of the best of plans, eh?  

Here's a quick run-through of how we got here.

Luki - reference original
Luki - reference original

Luki is a delicate thing, a bit shy, a little un-sure.  Of the reference photos, I had to choose this one, for the lovely lighting, her alert gaze, pricked ears, slender muzzle and cautious mouth. 

Luki - reference photoshopped
Luki - reference photoshopped

 As usual, I took it into Photoshop, and experimented with the background, composition, lighting, etc., until I was content.

Cleaning Pallet

Once I got my pallet cleaned up (so cathartic!) after Sadie's portrait ...


my painting area all set up ...

Studio dogs - Check!
Studio dogs - Check!

and my studio companions in their places ...

I began.  First, I transferred the drawing I had refined in photoshop by re-drawing on the back of the printed paper with conte crayons (dry pastels).  I chose to use different colors for this, as this method does leave definite traces in the painting, and I wanted to enhance the painting, not create something I'd have to fight with later.  Cool gray for the muzzle areas, and a hot yellow-orange for the rest.  Taped it to the panel, and drew over it again to transfer the drawing to the panel.  I set the drawing using a brush wet with a bit of dilute acrylic polymer, letting the color of the pastels act like paint as it spread into the acrylic.

I was on the fence about how to go forward: bold, like in Sadie's portrait, or more cautiously, in glazes, as I generally do?  Like Luki, I decided on the more cautious approach to suit her personality.  What with one thing and another, this is as far as I got today, and I'm pretty pleased with the feel.  

Tomorrow: more Luki!  I have a feeling these are going to average 2 days/painting.  Let's see if I'm right!

Surprising Sadie, Done

Sadie greyhound portrait
8″ x 10″ Acrylic on Claybord panel
© Xan Blackburn 2014

Wow.  Well, once I got rolling, this just went like a flash!  Isn’t it funny, ha ha, that the painting part of this portrait actually went quickly, but all the hair-pulling, sketching, sighing and laying in bed at night imagining the painting took days!  I should be used to that, but there ya go.

I have to show you some details, as I really enjoy how there’s both opaque and translucent layers, strokes showing over/under strokes.  I like the life, the potential for motion, the undiluted immediacy of the overall effect.

Sadie (eye detail)
Sadie (detail)
Sadie (detail - muzzle)
Sadie (detail)

Okay, I know I didn’t invent impressionistic painting, but it’s always seemed oddly out of my reach ’til now.  Allow me my moment of rejoicing, eh?

Well, now that Sadie is done, and the Portrait Marathon doesn’t start for 5 whole days, what will I do with myself??

I do have a few donations I need to be doing.  Okay, a whole truck-load of donations!  One is a graphic illustrating the different sighthound shapes for easier identification by non-sighthound-savvy rescue volunteers (for Team Inch).  That should be interesting.  Then, there’s the Hope for Hounds collar design for 2014.  And a top-secret project for Kindred Hearts Transport Connection.

So, yeah, no problem with idle hands, here!

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.  

More Katie …

Katie – work in progress
acrylic on Aquabord panel
© Xan Blackburn

Some good work on this, today.  Building up more layers of color in the background, approaching the values (light/dark) I want around the portrait in general, and pretty close to done in some areas.

I had the idea today to make the shadows warm, and the highlights cool, which is the opposite of my general rule (very general), and I like how it’s working.  My idea is to make the shadows, which is where all the detail is in this portrait, reveal the life, the blood under the skin and fur, the translucence of a living being by allowing that warmth to glow through.  The highlighted side of her face is almost featureless, a silhouette in reverse, but making that side glow with an almost blue light will give a sense of reflected sky, and really make the warm shadow areas pop.  In the end, the background will suggest a leafy background on a sun-filled day, and Katie will be emerging from that like the bright spirit she was.  Her lower body will fade gently back, so all our attention will be on her face, her expression, the gesture of her tilted head and half-raised ears.

It’s really hard to show you what’s going on in some areas.  My scanner can’t capture the layers of color bouncing around in the background.  This just mostly looks like green, but there are blues, greens and gold-greens all laying on top of each other like leaves in the sun.  The eyes are too dark to scan well, but there is more subtle color going on there, too.

Katie (detail) – work in progress

This shows a little bit more.  There’s a sketchy quality to this that I like right now, but it will get a bit more smoothing out before it’s done, with more glazes pulling it all together.

So, that’s where we are tonight.