“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!

#12 2014 Portrait Marathon: Feyd the Silken Windhound

Continue reading #12 2014 Portrait Marathon: Feyd the Silken Windhound

Timber, completed. #10 in the Spring Portrait Marathon

Timber (borzoi) 8
Timber (borzoi)
8″ x 10″ acrylic on canvas panel
© Xan Blackburn 2014

Continue reading Timber, completed. #10 in the Spring Portrait Marathon

Timber in progress: #10 in the Portrait Marathon

  • Timber (work in progress, 1)
  • Timber (work in progress, 2)
  • Timber (work in progress, 3)
  • Timber (work in progress, 4)
  • Timber (work in progress, 5)
  • Timber (work in progress, 6)
  • Timber (work in progress, 7)

Continue reading Timber in progress: #10 in the Portrait Marathon

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