Libby’s Portrait Takes Shape

Doesn’t she have a sweet smile? She fills me with Awwwwww!

The clients wanted me to make a few adjustments for the portrait, including adding her ears at half-mast, and cleaning up the tear stains below her eyes. I also opted to remove the collar hardware and her body as it extends behind her head, to keep the focus more on her face. The reference is pretty fuzzy, as it’s cropped out of a snapshot with two other dogs and background, so I’m going to have to do a balancing act of making stuff up, and basing it on my experience and what’s visible in the reference. Let us begin.

Here’s the cropped and edited reference photo.

The ears were grabbed from an even smaller photo, so I’ll be using another dog’s ears to remind me of the anatomy involved. I decided to leave in the leaves and their shadows as I like the nice summer-day feel they convey. I also knocked out the background to an indistinct mottle of summery blues.


I prepped my panel-backed canvas by lightly sanding and gessoing it a couple times, to give it a little smoother texture. Then I transferred my working sketch onto the panel, and carefully added detail and corrections, referring back to the photo constantly.

Okay, good to go. On to the underpainting.







By Monday evening, this is where I left off.

Everything is pretty well in place, ready for more detail and deepening of values throughout.



Tuesday was not a painting day, and here we are on Wednesday.




Lunch break had brought me to this point. Details and values more defined, and ready to toss in some background color to get started. Notice that I’ve brought some of that sky blue into Libby’s face as well, as that blue light suffuses the atmosphere, and influences the colors we see.

Lunch break is over. Time to get back to it, and start layering up colors and details.

See ya in the next update!

FPM Painting #5: Faye Oops!

Fall Portrait Marathon, Painting #5: Faye Oops
Okay, not exactly “legal” to take a break during a marathon, but, there was Thanksgiving, and I had a sick dog (now much better, and bugging me to play with him), and then there was a lot of communications going on about some rescue dogs coming from Seoul, one of whom I may or may not get to foster, or at least give a ride to.  *update* Nope.  I don’t even get to give her a ride.  🙁  But, I wish her well in the next phase, and congratulate her foster mom for all that she’s done for  Coco so far!

But anyway!  Back to the marathon!

Faye Oops reference photo

Faye Oops, Laura tells me, came to them as a 10 year old bounce last year, and new right away she was in her forever home.  When she was diagnosed with osteosarcoma last month, it made that final horizon look awfully close.  Laura and Faye Oops know each other’s souls.  She’s “the ultimate cuddle hound”, and loves to lay her head up on a pillow as in the picture we’re using as reference.

This is the photo, already cropped and the eyes repaired from their flash-bulb blot-out.  I also colored her collar to the royal blue Laura asked for.  I like how her face is a little squished against the pillow.  It’s so relaxed and un-posed!

I got started in the usual way, transferring my drawing using pastel.  This time, rather than try to glaze over the whole drawing, I went over it carefully with Payne’s gray glaze, since that’s what I’d be doing in the next step anyway.  That worked just fine.  I don’t know why I make extra work for myself!

Faye Oops – work in progress
© Xan Blackburn 2011

I didn’t take any progress pictures between blank canvas and this point, ’cause I was just on a roll!  I had some classic rock going, and I just kept going to the next bit and the next bit.

You can see a bit of the blue pastel has become part of the early paint layers.  That’s quite alright.  I picked that color to work anyway.

I’ve used three colors so far; the Payne’s gray, a raw sienna (the pale tan of the couch, and the first layer of color in the eyes) and some red mixed with the payne’s and the sienna glazed into the areas where there’s a little pink showing, in her nose, lip, ear and the corners of her eyes.  Also glazed some of that mix into her eye color.

I decided to do some of that pattern in the pillow to give some dimension to the pillow, but also to introduce a sort of natural element (the leaves), and because I just felt there needed to be some more action in that large area of canvas.  I plan to keep it subtle, as in the original pillow in the photo.  I plan to add more shading to the couch and pillow, to keep the focus on Faye Oops’ intimate gaze.  Camera flashes tend to flatten shadows out, and make everything the same level of importance, but with ART, we can do what we want!  (Saw that in a gallery years ago, and instantly took that as my mantra!)

Most of the underpainting is established.  Now it’s all detail; layering up subtle color, stroking in individual hairs for focus, building up both shading and highlights.

Off we go!

FPM #3: Skyy is done!

Fall Portrait Marathon, Painting #3: Eliza’s Skyy  

5″ x 5″ acrylic on canvas
©Xan Blackburn 201

Skyy threw me for some loops.

With her elegantly simple coloring, and gentle gaze, should have been simple, right?  Ah, that’s always the way!  It’s the simple stuff that’s hardest to do beautifully!  But, I couldn’t look away from her.  I took her through some pretty strange colors, I changed the direction of her gaze in mid-painting, this particular canvas seemed uncooperatively rough, my brushes seemed to either not let go of the paint, or leave it in puddles ….

But those are just typical growing pains for a lot of my art.  In the end (I think it’s the end!), I think it all came together.

Skyy – work in progress
5×5 acrylic on canvas
©Xan Blackburn 2011

Let’s walk through it.  Starting Friday morning at this point. That is a lot of bright color going on there!  If you click on the picture, you can see that I’m not quite clear yet where I’m going to direct Skyy’s gaze.  The drawing has turned into the basis for the underpainting by smearing into the polymer medium I used to seal it.  I guess I’ll have to just figure that that’s the way that works, and control that.

I went at the painting with the Payne’s gray to achieve my darkest dark areas, carefully working out the complexity of the ears, and the flow of the hair patterns.  I also worked on the background, glazing the brighter blues with ultramarine, and bringing the cantaloupe orange over into a more Naples yellow range, at least close to Skyy.

Skyy – work in progress
5×5 acrylic on canvas
©Xan Blackburn 2011

I decided to move the direction of her gaze up towards us, and started to warm the iris color with a glaze of warm yellow.  But, I’m not liking the effect.  It’s too coy.

I also worked on the whites.  Since the blue pastel from the drawing had smudged around so much, it gave me a basis to come UP the scale from, making highlights of whiter-white against the slightly blue-white elsewhere.  I started establishing a shadowed area on her body, behind her muzzle, as well.

Skyy – work in progress
5×5 acrylic on canvas
©Xan Blackburn 2011

Here you can see I moved her gaze back, but I’ve messed with the shape of her eye, and will need to correct that as I go.  I’ve also continued to tone down the background, and push the area behind her muzzle back into the shadows, making her face more prominent.  Notice the pinkish lavender tones now in her lower body.  A lot more detail has gone in, refining the fur, particularly around the eyes.  The nose continues to evolve, and the ears never stop getting more detail and deeper darks.

5×5 acrylic on canvas
©Xan Blackburn 2011

You can see in the final version that I decided to make some major changes in the background.  I just kept feeling like that wing of orange on the left was too distracting, and tended to stop the eye on its way around the painting.  I also changed the color of the shadowed area of her body behind her muzzle.  That was pretty much a last-minute decision, done while holding my breath, but I like how it came out.  I corrected the shape of her eyes, glazed in many layers of raw sienna (a beautiful red-brown) and raw umber (a very dark brown with much less red in it).  I heightened the white areas on her face by mixing my white with just the tiniest hint of … well, I don’t know what.  Maybe a few things.  That’s one of the happy miracles of a slightly messy pallet.  I know there were both browns and maybe even some Naples yellow swimming at the edges of my white.  The effect was to warm the white, separating it even more from the bluish whites around it, and making those warmer areas pop.  I also used my Payne’s Gray on the blue areas of the background.  Glazing it in as a transparent layer added a richness to the blues beneath, and also brought them down even darker, allowing Skyy’s white face to become the star in the spotlight.

I see a couple small tweaks I want to do on the painting before I send it off, but they won’t be really visible here, so I’ll leave it at that.

Next up is Lisa’s kitty, Spencer.  That boy was loved so deeply, and was such a personality, that a friend of Lisa’s who was also part of his life is giving the portrait to her as a gift (which she hasn’t been told yet!), and has even written a bit about him.

He’ll get his own post, though.

FPM Painting #2: Toni is done!

Toni – work in progress
©Xan Blackburn 2011

Toni is all done.  I think.  It’s after 11pm, so I may change my mind in the clear light of day.  We’ll see.  Right now, I say she’s done.

(See the finished version at the bottom of the post.)

Toni’s portrait got started 2 posts ago, and we left it in the last post looking like this >>
Above, you can see that a lot more work on the underpainting was done, deepening the darks.  The eyes weren’t quite behaving.  I wanted to focus them towards us, with intensity, but they still seem to be looking off over our left shoulder, with an indeterminate expression.  I’ll keep working on that.  Watch the shape of the eyes change as I progress.
In this next phase, you can see I’ve gotten into the highlights, and some more color.  I’ve dropped in some orange, in the collar and eyes, which are shaping up slightly better, and some pink in the closer ear.  
Toni – work in progress
©Xan Blackburn 2011
I need to work on the couch, too.  I think that’s the next thing I did, really laying on that blue, shaping up the arm, with it’s pleats and piping, and suggesting the curve of the cushion as it curves under Toni’s legs and face.  
A particular challenge here was to keep the brindling warm and dark, or highlighted  more cool, which is less common than the other way around. 
I also found myself layering a lot back and forth into the red-gold stripes, making sure they didn’t get too yellow, or brown, or pink (??!!).  
As of right now, I’m pretty pleased.  I think I got enough attention and focus into her eyes to draw and hold our own attention.  The couch seems realistic enough without being more interesting than Toni.  The strongest areas of contrast are right where I want them: in the area around her eyes.  Yes, I think we might be done.  I’m going to go to bed and sleep on it.  

5″ x 5″ acrylic on canvas
©Xan Blackburn 2011

FPM Painting #2: Toni gets going

Fall Portrait Marathon, painting #2

“Toni,” says her mom,

is a pistol!  She’s very much a tomboy girl – always wants to rough house and wrestle and play, though both these pics show her more pensive and sweet side.  She’s smart and sassy, loves squeaky toys and balls, and LOVES the water!  Her favorite color is orange.

Well, I’m a big fan of orange, myself!  In the Spring Portrait Marathon, I did a portrait of Toni’s sis, Dorie, and the color scheme was a *ahem* rather bold red-orange and sky blue.

5″x5″ acrylic on canvas
©Xan Blackburn 2011

 Chris asked if Toni’s portrait would be “similar or complementary to the background for Dorie’s.”  So, of course, I started my sketch with that in mind.

Digital.  ©Xan Blackburn 2011

As you’ve probably noticed, Toni s a gorgeous dark brindle, with gold and charcoal stroking her fur, where Dorie is mostly white, at least on her face.  Big difference.  If I do the background hot orange, it will compete with Toni’s gold stripes, and win all the attention.  That won’t do.  I finally gave up trying to cool Toni down enough to win over that hot orange background, and reversed the color scheme.  Now, the blue that shows up in Dorie’s pirate scarf appears in Toni’s background, letting all her golden glory shine.  Here’s my ArtRage sketch. —>>>

The colors are in their approximate places; I didn’t want to spend too much time on the sketch.  It’s just to work out the concepts.  She looks kind of worried in the sketch, but I’ll make sure she looks more poised and alert in the painting.  My goal is to get a sense that she’s ready to spring off the couch at the slightest excuse.

My own greyhound, Brilly, had a big dental the other day, losing something like a dozen teeth, which has made a rough couple nights for us all, and a couple of days of cleaning up blood and doing laundry.  It’s not even 4pm, but since I was up by 4 AM, after about 4 hours’ sleep, it feels much … much … later.  I’m not going to attempt something with actual paint that I’ll have to fix tomorrow; I’m calling it a day!  Sunday during a Portrait Marathon is no day of rest.  I’ll be back at it in the morning.  See you tomorrow! 

FPM: Christine’s Hailey is done!

Christine’s Hailey
acrylic on canvas,  5″ x 5″
©Xan Blackburn 2011

Fall Portrait Marathon: First painting is complete.

Christine’s pretty fawn greyhound, Hailey, was simply a joy to paint.  This is what I had in my  head while I was working, from Hailey’s mom:

Hailey was diagnosed with osteo when we got back from Dewey.  She started limping while she was there.  
Hailey is my sweetpea.  My special princess.  We call her princess a lot of the time.  Princess, angel puff and sweetpea are her nick names.  J  Hailey is my cuddler, my love.  She thinks she’s a lap dog.  She is the sweetest thing on earth but she also has a funny side.  If she wants something and I’m not quick enough, she will stomp her foot at me!!!  I love her.  She’s my life.  All my kids are.  Fur or skin.  She gives me happy teeth all the time and she looks right through me with those eyes!!!

 I didn’t want to make a sad painting.  Hailey is alive, and I want to give Christine something that will always remind her of the joy and simplicity, the love and sunny day memories they are still collecting.

Hailey- stage 1

So, how did we get from this >>>
to that up there?

Well, you might remember I was complaining that I was having a hard time transferring my drawing to the canvas, right?  So, what I did was the same thing I did for the big Mystery Painting, basically. I scribbled the back of the drawing with conte crayon (like chalk pastel), flipped it back over, onto the canvas when it already  had this paint on it, and then traced over my drawing nice and hard.  The pastel made a very good transfer, thank goodness, which I then glazed over with a bit of gloss medium mixed with Naples yellow, so the pastel dust wouldn’t get funky with the layers of paint on top of it.  I had to adjust my edges quite a bit, since I only sort of eye-balled the shape in that first step.  So, Hailey 2

Hailey – stage 2

shows you the drawing, glazed over, with the background in the first stages of being pulled back up to the edge of her face, or pushed back out in a couple places, and one pupil painted in.

Next time, I won’t bother with the background before I transfer the drawing.  That didn’t work out the way I imagined it would.

At this point, I started in with the under painting, laying in my shading, and coming way up with the highlights.  I really liked how this looked.  I like the vague and dreamy feel of it.  Except the one eye is so much darker.  But, it’s just a phase!

Onward.  I kept building, darks, lights, details, and then color.  I used some pretty straight blues in the shadows, which I really liked.  Unfortunately, despite my best efforts at reproducing it here, this just isn’t showing you the real look of the final painting.  Close, though.  I actually scanned it, and took a photo with my Tablet, then dinked with both in Photoshop, and then sandwiched them together to get as close as possible.

I’m quite pleased with this little painting!  I hope Christine is.  🙂

Now, on to Chris’s Toni!

FPM #1: Hailey

Hailey-work in progress
acrylic on canvas, 5″ x 5″
©Xan Blackburn 2011

Fall Portrait Marathon, first painting.

Hailey is up first.  You saw my digital sketch in my last post.  I decided to bring some of that feel to the canvas.  Hope this works!  I used a retarder (an additive to slow down the drying time of the paint, so I could smoosh the paint around with less rush), which means it needs a little time to dry before the next step, so here I am writing about it.

I probably could have skipped the retarder.  Oh well.

Okay, it’s still wet, and I don’t have anything else to say about it.  So, I went ahead and started working on the next one!

Toni: reference photo

Second painting is Toni, also a greyhound.  A gorgeous dark brindle girl her owner describes as “a pistol”!  This is the reference picture I’ll be using.

Her owner also says orange is her favorite color (Toni’s, that is).  I’m waiting to hear back if I should use it prominently in the portrait.  Since it’s also MY favorite color … I may go for it anyway!

Hm.  Hailey is still sticky.  I’m going to work on the sketch for Toni’s portrait.

Stay tuned!