Dad and Lilly
acrylic on canvas, 11 x 14
© Xan Blackburn

I realized today that I’d never shown you the final version of this painting!  Silly Xan.  It started way back here, and I wrapped it up right before the Portrait Marathon.  I now realize I didn’t get many progress pics either, so this will have to do!

Now that the Marathon is over, I’ve built a page to see all the paintings on together.   A friend on Facebook suggested I make a calendar from the images.  Hm!  What do you think?  Would you be interested in that?  Let me know!
I certainly hope you’re all signed up for my newsletter.  Just sayin’.  😉

Dad – detail
© Xan Blackburn

Lilly – detail
© Xan Blackburn

Meanwhile …

Digital painting (ArtRage Studio Pro)
5″ x 7″
© Xan Blackburn 2012

While sign-ups are going on, I still have some commissions to wrap up.

These two are digital paintings, of wolfhound mixes Sara and Roscoe.  Wow!  That was FUN!

(More below … )

Digital painting (ArtRage Studio Pro)
5″ x 7″
© Xan Blackburn 2012

Lily and Daddy
Acrylic on Canvas
11″ x 14″
© Xan Blackburn 2012

I’m also working on the portrait of Lily and Daddy.  I’m now going to take a real run at it.  Here you can see that I’ve begun to wash in the warm vermillion that suffuses the painting with intimate warmth.

It’s too big for my scanner, and my phone camera is pretty … primitive, so the picture is not great.  Still, you get the general idea, right?

Okay, back to it!  Gotta finish this before the Marathon!!!

People in my Pet Portraits

In my last call for commissions, I made a point of offering to add humans to the mix.  I got some wonderful reference photos from several of you!  This is fairly new territory for me, at least in commissions, but I’m very excited (and anxious, and fascinated) to be here.

What I’m passionately interested in is how we humans relate to non-humans.

A guy and his cat
(I took this pic.
You can tell by how badly done it is)

Let’s face it, it’s complex.

A little girl and the family collie
(another of my lousy photos)

The relationships vary between any given person, and any other given animal, and at different times of our lives.  There was a time when we were little where maybe it was hard to distinguish between our stuffed toys and real live critters, where the toys could be imbued with a magical kind of life, and the live animals could be considered to be no more than toys.  Friendships, enmities and phobias form up, shaping the way we see the others in our world.  Many of us have wept, time and again, over the plight of animals we have never met, and also vowed to kick, hit or pepper-spray any dog that threatened to attack one of our own.  We’ve signed petitions, we’ve argued on various social media, we’ve volunteered, we’ve walked the talk, all with such strong emotions we have for these non-human animals.  Some of us will go to various kinds of war with our fellow humans over them.  Some will dump buckets of unwanted babies on the side of the road, drive off and never miss an hour’s sleep over it.  That’s a pretty wide range.

A popular guy seen at a parade

That area, that emotional territory, is what really drives me, and I hope it comes through in each of my portraits, even when you can’t see the human (because you are that human, looking).  The inner world of the animal is a glorious and irresistible mystery, but I assume they have their own individual rich experiences and emotions which they bring to the mix as well.  It certainly looks and feels like it, anyway.  What is it, passing between us?  Or, how is the relationship different when we aren’t paying any attention to the animals in our midst, and they seem not to be paying us any mind either?  
That’s a whole ‘nuther subject I plan to do a show around someday, but in the mean time, let’s get back to portraits.
This portrait is of Dad and Lilly (not my dad; the pup’s “dad”), and a moment they shared.  Here’s the reference photo.  Let’s take a moment to look at the relationships we can see.  Dad is gazing at Lilly.  He looks calm, he’s close, he seems to be smiling gently, and his eyes are fixed on Lilly with what looks like total adoring absorption.
Lilly herself is looking at “us”, at “Mom” (I think).  Her expression is harder to read.  She seems perfectly relaxed to have Dad so close.  Maybe they were just playing, which explains why her ear is turned over.  Maybe she’s curious about what all the attention is about, or is about to spring up and plant a nose print on the camera lens.  Whatever is going on in her mind at this moment, she’s not as focused on Dad as he is on her.  
There’s a tension in that.  It fights with our desire for the perfect symmetry of sentimentality.  I like it.  It’s honest.  It’s a real moment.  It reflects what is probably a pretty common state of affairs: Dad adoring Lilly, while Lilly has any number of other things on her puppy mind.  I infer (because I’m human!) that Lilly is comfortable with Dad’s love, and just doesn’t need to confirm it right this second, when something unpredictable is going on.  
So, that’s What the Painting is About, for me.  Let’s move on to the progress of the painting itself.

I love all the reflected reds in the photo, and that will be a major theme. I’m not so keen on the busy blotch of color in the lower left. I’m going to do some fiddling.

There. That’s a bit better.

I’m painting this on an 11 x 14 inch canvas with deep sides – 1 1/2″ deep. As I discovered immediately, that means my home-made wrist-rest is nowhere near tall enough to clear the canvas, so I’m having to prop it up on some bars of acrylic that I had lying around. I transferred the drawing onto the canvas using a light orange pastel, to make sure the drawing would melt into the general warmth of the painting. Getting right down to business, I started laying in the underpainting in Payne’s Gray.

As usual, I am terrified. It’s almost reassuring that I’m no more afraid to do this larger portrait with two subjects – one a human – than I am when I do my small one-pet-face portraits. It’s an old, familiar fear, and I know the only way through it is to sink into the magic zone of paint, light, shadow, color, texture, wet and dry that becomes so compelling once I’ve crossed the threshold.

My scanner isn’t big enough to scan the whole painting at once, so I’ll be taking photos with whatever comes to hand. In this case, my tablet! Not so great. But, here’s a close up of Dad’s face.

Dad – work in progress
© Xan Blackburn 2012

Very watercolory, at this stage, as usual. The warm tones you see are from the pastel bleeding into the pale washes of Payne’s gray. The intense highlight on one side of his face creates the wonderful intense shadow at its border. Then his face picks up gradually more reflected light, revealing his features with intimate glowing tones. This is really going to be fun.

So, I’ll get on with it, shall I?

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

Back to Bados, and Beyond!

Bados, the BadAss Puppy
©Xan Blackburn, 2011

Let’s take another look at Bados.

I’ve re-done the background pretty much entirely, removing the hills and sky, which seemed distracting, a separate thing going on in Bados’ painting.  I’ve been sitting with this state for a couple days, and I’m now sure I’m done with it.  I’ll be giving it a final coat of clear glaze to give it a consistent level of shine across the whole thing, so there’s no bothersome shiny patches.

I pronounce Bados complete!

So, on to the mystery dog, still un-guessed (well, ONE person guessed, but it’s still a secret!)

Work in Progress
©Xan Blackburn, 2011

I spent quite a lot of time working on the background, making a suitably blurry wall of dark foliage behind the dog (I’ll be happy when I can give him/her a name!  Keep guessing!!), and a bright sun-lit summer field of wild grass sloping towards us.  The dog is still only a pale silhouette.  I’ve washed some of the sunny yellow up into the underside, to catch the glow reflecting up from the warm ground, but that’s about it.  The grass is full of color, with layers and strokes of different yellows, purple, greens, and some white-mixed highlights just starting to go in.  Still a lot of work to get this where I want it.  I meant for it to be more impressionistic than it is, but it’s these along-the-way evolutions that keep things lively!

This scan isn’t all that great (it’s too big for my scanner), but you get the idea.  My pallet is still covered in background colors, with no room for dog colors, so I’m stuck working on the background exclusively for now, since I’m much too thrifty to throw out perfectly good paint.  I’m champin’ at the bit, though.

I’m still waiting for that correct guess, people!

Bados was NOT done. He’s STILL not done!

I am trying to move on to the next painting (follow along, now!), but Bados, it turns out, is a star.  A star needs to shine alone for full effect.  That is, the hills and sky had to go (see that last stage here).

Now, you might think that’s easy.  Just paint green over them and voila, right?  As it happens, not so much.  Acrylics are translucent, so it may take many layers to truly obscure something underneath.  In severe cases, such as when one has already tried to cover something with many layers, and it persists in showing through like a stain, one may have to resort to primer or gesso.  If one is smart, one will at least tint it towards the final color.  But not too much, since adding paint to the primer makes it less opaque.  How do I know this, since I never went to art school?  You might say I’ve been a trainee in the on-the-job training program for … a good many years.  So, smart = lots of experience with being the other thing, that opposite of smart.*

Okay, so let’s now say that one has tried the many layers, then the tinted primer, and are now on to trying to blend in the primered zone with the rest of the existing painting, most of which one is already happy with.  Another plot twist in this adventure is that acrylics do tend to shift color a bit from wet to dry, so one may think one has blended it nicely when in fact one has not, which becomes evident when it dries.

No worries. You need to do layers to get a feel to match the layers in the other part of the painting anyway, so you start layering.  Oh, do you remember how I mentioned that acrylics can also be a bit testy about overworking an area that’s only partly dry?  How it makes these bald areas permanently outlined by dense areas?  Yeah.  One must keep that in mind, as well.  So that one doesn’t get impatient in frustration.  As one might.  It will all work out in the end, one must keep telling one’s self.  Take your time, one says.  One may reply that there is a deadline to consider, but one must again remind one’s self that ruining the piece will not get one any closer to a happy deadline.

Let us leave that painting for a moment, while it dries.  Thoroughly.

Meanwhile, the next painting.  I just took this with my phone camera because it’s too wet to scan.

©Xan Blackburn, 2011
Work in progress

Okay, now it has crashed photoshop.  Hang on … Re-launching.  Re-editing for clarity.  SAVING.  Dum di dum dum …  Okay, that’s good enough for now.

So, this silken running through sunlit grass with a backdrop of dark foliage is on a 12″x16″ gessoed panel.  I decided to close in on the subject for this painting, and pretty much fill the frame with the joie de vivre of the moment.  I toned the board first with some warm yellow-tinted primer.  Then transferred my drawing onto the board, washed in a few tentative beginnings of shading in the ear and face with some of the payne’s gray left on my pallet from Bado’s painting.  As I also had a bunch of greens on the pallet, I dove into those next.  Here you see many layers of greens already layering up, from a warm yellow to heat up the sun-lit grass, to deep Hooker’s green in the foliage beyond.  It’s all very monotonic at the moment, but there will be purples and even some rusty reds working into the background before we’re done.

So, any guesses who this happy hound is?

While you’re thinking, I will get back to Bados’ background.

*If this were the only criteria for being smart, I should now be a genius!

Bados: done?

I think I’ve reached the sleep-on-it phase of Bados’ portrait.  (Looking again, tilting my head, going back and adding some more greens to the shadow area at his feet …)
I’m going to eat my leftover pizza (from Pizza Pi in Seattle – oh, people!  YUM!), by which time it should be dry enough to scan so you can see.  Back in a few.

Pizza eating ensues.  Lip-smacking, and crumb-gathering, followed by a last mournful stare at the empty box.

©Xan Blackburn, 2011

Okay, let’s take a look.

A few more passes over the meadows and hills, some attention to the sky, some little suggested wild flowers down in the foreground.

Bados himself received a lot of tiny-brush attention: Heightening details with both shadows and highlights, getting all the sketchy brindle patches right, bringing the back-lit fringy bits into focus so he glows like the star he is, and washing here and there with more glazes of burnt umber and white, pinks, even some Payne’s gray.

I like it!  What’s he looking at?  What’s he thinking about?  He is on the verge, that moment between going one way and then another.  Will he go towards what he’s watching, or the other way to play “rabbit”?

Bados, detail
©Xan Blackburn, 2011

Here’s a closer look at Bados.  Is that close enough?  Let’s look just a little bit closer at his face, just for fun.

Bados, face detail
©Xan Blackburn, 2011

What do you think?

I’ve made a start on a second painting.  I’ll get to that in a new post.  Who will it be?  😉