Scooby the Dachshund: #7 in the Spring Portrait Marathon

Scooby (Dachshund) Acrylic on Panel, 10

Scooby
(Dachshund)
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!

#5 in my Portrait Marathon: Puff the kitteh

Puff 10" x 8" Acrylic on Claybord panel © Xan Blackburn
Puff
10" x 8"
Acrylic on Claybord panel
© Xan Blackburn

Eponymous Puff looks quite ... stern.  Laura says he was a fearless guy, despite the fluffy fur and name, who taught many the greyhound just what cats are all about.  Lived to a grand age of 19 1/2, too!  

Puff's portrait was based on a photo reference that was less than perfect.  It's a great picture, showing his true attitude, but lacked detail.  That's alright.  There's more than one way to ... Oh!  

Uh.  

Well, there is more than one approach to a portrait!  

Puff - work in progress, stage 1
Puff - work in progress, stage 1

I hadn't got very far along when I felt that I was going to get stuck figuring out his fluff, and losing sight of the gestalt of PUFF.  You can see in this first stage that I was already lost in his scowl.

Puff - work in progress, stage 2
Puff - work in progress, stage 2

Okay!  Now we're getting somewhere.  Trying to think about swatches of color and value, knowing I could refine later, I went in with boldness, knocking in the background in colors that would echo his eyes, and fur.  Or so I thought.  Getting a feel for where the darkest places are, which is like making markers to help me refer other features to, I jumped on in.

Puff (altered reference image)
Puff (altered reference image)

This is my alteration of the original reference image.  You can see (if you look closely) that it is a snap-shot, not clear in terms of eye-color, fur markings, or eye color.  Or, maybe you can't, because I altered it to enhance these things, based on other photos sent to me by his human, Laura.  It's very helpful to have alternate reference images when the one chosen for the pose is not clear.  

Puff - sketch in Artrage
Puff - sketch in Artrage

I decided to try to loosen up and get the feel of him in Artrage 4 (a computer painting program).  I felt that I needed to take a more impressionistic approach to his portrait, given that the information was limited.  It's a real lemons-into-lemonade solution.  This quicky sketch gave me a sense of how to get into Puff's portrait.

Puff - work in progress, stage 5
Puff - work in progress, stage 5

Moving along, uniting the background more, adding essential detail ...

Puff 10" x 8" Acrylic on Claybord panel © Xan Blackburn
Puff
10" x 8"
Acrylic on Claybord panel
© Xan Blackburn

And this is my take on Puff.  At least, that's how I feel tonight.  If I need to tweak it, I'll work on it more tomorrow, but if feels done.  I don't want to over-work it at this point.

Red the whippet: #3 in the Portrait Marathon

I think I'm done ... 8" x 10" acrylic on panel © Xan Blackburn
I think I’m done …
8″ x 10″
acrylic on panel
© Xan Blackburn

I’m pretty sure Red’s portrait is done.  I’ll sleep on it (not literally – that would not be comfortable at all!)  Since it’s almost 9:30 at night, and tomorrow is Chris’ greyhound, Cash’s turn at the Marathon, I’ll just give you a gallery of progress pictures to look at.

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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!