Mystery Silken gets a name, and …

First: Happy Canada Day, to my Canadian readers!  Being so close to the Canadian border for the last several years has been very educational.  I love listening to the CBC while I work, and today’s radio has been full of their nation’s anniversary, and the first royal visit of Will and Kate.  Right now is a repeat of a show from this date in 1957, including an interview with a man who was then 80 years old.  Cool.

Allegante Delaney
11″ x 14″ Acrylic on panel
©Xan Blackburn, 2011

But, back to this painting.  Let’s give this girl her name, finally!  This is Allegante Delaney, who has moved to Canada, and was recently made the grandmother of a pretty litter born in California.

I lost a day’s work yesterday while enjoying a visit with H’s cousins (okay, mostly to housecleaning in anticipation of their arrival.)  When I came back into my studio this morning, it was to see that the elves had been working on my painting.  Or at least it seemed more finished than I thought two days ago.  Yeay!

Looking back at the last stage I showed you, everything is pretty much settled.  What remained was detail, and a bit of balancing working all through the painting, making sure the perspective was clear, and that the focus stays on Delaney herself.

I spent a lot of time with the smaller brushes, as I always do at this stage, working back and forth between shadows and highlights to pull out details of the fur.  I darkened the whole eye area on the shadow side.  I also continued to balance the light reflecting warmly up from the grass and the rather narrow cooler band of shadow coming down from the top edge.  Towards the very end, I washed up some of that yellow-gold into the underside of her face, up her sides, up her back legs.  It surprised me how much I had to add into her front legs and chest area, but I really liked how it brought a sense of atmosphere into those areas.  You can feel the heat coming up from the grass, now.  Every painting is a learning experience for me!  I love that.

Allegante Delaney, detail
©Xan Blackburn, 2011

A bit of red into the tongue, and a touch into each eye, brought a beating heart into her face.  I still had this red on the brush, and dabbed some into the edge of her ear and into her off back leg, to give a sense of the sun glowing through her.  Wild with abandon, I then dabbed some into the dark foliage behind her, to complicate the color there, more true to nature.

The grass got glaze after glaze, blades and blades, too distinct, too fuzzy, too white, too green, too yellow … until I think I can stop.

Which brings us to the sleep-on-it stage!

Again from the CBC:  One young woman who got to meet Prince William today said “he smelled so marvelous!” Love it!

Mystery Silken in progress

Work in progress
silken windhound
©Xan Blackburn, 2011

I’m bummed!  I thought I’d taken a scan of the painting on Friday, but I guess not.  Well, you’ll just have to look at it as it is now!

The underpainting was pretty much set in Payne’s gray by Friday, so today I started in on the color in the dog proper (occasionally zipping outside to adjust the background to suit the developing dog.  There will still be work to do in the background: it will need to be lightened up, particularly towards the edge of the grass along the dark foliage, and in a vertical band below the center of the dog.  It seems to have gotten a little muddy in there.  Some individual blades of grass might have to be added zipping off in odd directions to break up the uniformity, and some will be stroked in in front of the dog’s feet once I’m happy with them, as well.  The dark foliage is still a little monochromatic, so I’ll probably throw in some umber or reddish browns.

But let’s talk dog.  At this size, you could almost think this painting is done, but there’s much to do, yet.  The underpainting gave me a good foundation, all the shady areas or dark markings established, and the pale yellow giving it all a sun-soaked warmth.  Today’s work went into beginning to develop the texture of the fur, mostly.  The longer, more flowing areas on the throat, fringing the front legs, in the tuck and along the backs of the thighs needed to be defined with glowing warm whites, shading into the cooler areas, but also allowing the ruddier tones in the fur to come in.  I’m liking how that’s working, so far, with more to go.  There is an area along the lower rear ribs that got too ruddy, but I think building up the tawnier tones on top of that will look great in the end.  The reflected light coming up into the inner thighs and chest region are really a rewarding challenge.  I wasn’t quite sure how to handle them, consciously, so I just sort of let my eye and hand work together without consulting my brain so much.

The fringes that interact with the background are a give and take of positive and negative space, working both from the fur out, and then back in with the background to define the hairs where I want them to be clear.  Clear vs. fuzzy is also a consideration.  I don’t necessarily want the same level of focus throughout the dog, as that becomes distracting, as your eye darts all around taking in detail, rather than seeing the effect of the whole.  It’s just how our brains work.  It’s hard to remember when my own eyes and brain are 4″ from the painting, seeing it in individual hairs, rather than as a dog, much less a dog running through a field, but that’s why we have back pain: to make us stretch and stand back for perspective now and then!

So, this should give you plenty of visual cues to guess who this dog is, if you happen to know him or her.  Anyone want to hazard a new round of guesses?

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?  😉

Bados coming clearer

Bados; a work in progress
©Xan Blackburn, 2011

My silken windhound friends correctly identified Bados in the hazy earliest stages I showed you in my last post.  I only had a little time to paint yesterday (had to drive to Seattle airport to pick up my hubby after a week-long business trip — Yeay!), but I’m really liking this painting!!  The glazing medium I’m using is great, but I keep learning things about its limitations.  Like, once you lay down some paint mixed with this medium, you have very little leeway for moving or adjusting it, and woe be unto you if you try thinning it with water, or blending it into a wetter area!  It just lifts in the wettest area, leaving a hard edge with a bald spot.  Not good.  Another limitation is that it’s hard to paint on top of with anything other than more glaze, which is not opaque (by definition), nor can you get fine details, since the medium makes the paint more like syrup than paste.  So: get all the fine underpainting details in FIRST!

There is a lot still to do on this painting.  Lot of detail yet to pick out on the puppy, and work still to make the background play nice.  I’m really happy with the sky, which you can’t really see much here.  I used a damp sea sponge to work in the clouds into the wet sky-blue paint, and it turned out very well.  Subtle.

The green field fading into the hills at the horizon still need some evening out in their tone, and I have a little finishing touch to add once that’s all ready.  The shadow at the pup’s feet will need a little more deepening.

Bados – Detail
©Xan Blackburn, 2011

In the puppy, I found just the right tint of burnt umber mixed with white to capture the pinky tones under his legs, and washed over all the shadow areas, it very subtly separates his living warmth from the cool of the green grass.  There are also cooling layers of blue washed into the shadow areas to tone it down, and cool the shadows.  The hot white highlights where the sun is catching the edges of his downy coat is a mix of lemony yellow and white.  His almond-shaped eyes are in better focus (he looked cross-eyed in the first stage, didn’t he?), and his brindling is established.  His paws still look a bit like hooves, but that will be resolved in time.

I’m anxious to get to painting!