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!  

PM – Luki’s portrait complete

Luki's portrait complete
Luki
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-P001
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 ...

TableReady

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
Sadie
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!

Portrait Marathon Date Set: May 20

You know what that means, right?

A flat-out painting dash, where I throw caution to the winds, take on all comers, and paint your portraits one right after the other 'til I run out of canvasses.  Or, in this case, a baker's dozen of 8" x 10" panels.  (For a bit more in-depth info on how that works, and some samples to whet your appetite, click here.)

I will be sending you a special newsletter Tuesday afternoon (after 5pm Pacific time) to serve as the "opening bell", with a link directly to my sign-up form.  Jump on that link as soon as you get it.  Only 13 openings this time!

Now is a great time to get the portrait you’ve been waiting for.

Of course, they make extremely thoughtful gifts as well.  This is a very popular size portrait, painted on easy-to-frame panels, and at a special price 10% off my current price.  Everyone has lot of fun.  It's a rush for me, and exciting for you (I hope!) to watch the portraits take shape so quickly, counting down to your own position in the list (first come, first served!  😉 )

Who, what, why, where, when and HOW?

  • Who?  Any species of pet
  • What?  An 8" x 10" painting of your pet, head primarily, on a panel, for $225 (10% off my current price!)
  • Why?  Because it's fun.  😀
  • Where?  In my studio, but you can watch on my blog and Facebook page
  • When?  Sign ups start May 20; I'll publish a link after 5pm Pacific time
  • HOW? 
    1. Sign up for my Commission Alert list (this goes out first!) or very carefully watch the blog and Facebook page for the link, to be one of the first 13 to sign up.
    2. As soon as I publish the link, snap to it to sign up.
    3. If you make the list, when it's your turn I will send you a Paypal invoice to pay for your portrait, and then we're off and running.  Or painting.  And just me.  Unless you want to paint, too.

Roheen, Irish Wolfhound, Done!

Roheen Irish Wolfhound digital painted portrait
Roheen (Irish wolfhound) 5″ x 7″ digital painting © Xan Blackburn 2014

Roheen’s portrait is the fourth and final digital portrait in a series.  Her wild fur was the biggest challenge for me, and took several tries to get the right approach.  I tend to be finicky, and she was turning out looking too groomed.  Challenging photo references are often part of my job (for some great tips on how to get photos that will allow me to get right to the business of capturing your pet’s likeness and spirit, see the article linked on my commissions page), and this series definitely gave me plenty of opportunity to hone my skills for dealing with that.  In the end, the client and I are both pleased with how they all came out, and I feel like I’ve learned some new techniques.

It’s amazing how closely this painting program (ArtRage 4) approximates the experience of painting with traditional paints.  What I practice in the digital paintings always translates to my traditional paintings (with no messy clean-up!)

Here’s a look at all four in this series:

I’ll be taking an indefinite break from digital portraits now, in part because of their extreme editability, which allows, and even compels, me to zoom into crazy small details, and re-work and start from scratch, and keep trying new approaches and new techniques … and just take far too much time to complete.

Next up is another memorial commission, a gift from friends to the same couple who recently lost Katie, and then lost Sadie.  To lose a beloved pet is always hard.  To lose two so close together can just be devastating.  I hope these two portraits will be part of a comforting, even healing process for Gayle and Steve.

Following Sadie’s portrait will be the Spring 2014 Portrait Marathon!  Make sure you’re signed up for the Commission Alert List and ready to JUMP when you get the Alert!