Mystery portrait wraps up, and Marathon begins

I’ve been processing photos submitted for the Fall Portrait Marathon, wrapping up my big mystery commission (that ran over into Portrait Marathon time!  :rolleyes: ), communicating with the winners, and sketching up the first Fall Portrait Marathon (hereinafter referred to as FPM) painting.  

Digital painting, ©Xan Blackburn 2011
I did a quicky ArtRage painting to get the feel of an idea I’ve been playing with, and I kind of like the sketch, even though I don’t think that’s how I’ll end up doing the painting, exactly.    This is Christine’s Hailey (sketch!!!)

She made a special request to use this particular collar, which is really cute.  Don’t you love her ears, and that head tilt?  This is going to be fun.  

I’m having my usual difficulty transferring the drawing to the canvas.  Anyone have any fabulous ideas for that??  I use transfer paper, but the canvas flexes away from the pressure of the pen, which means that I don’t get a good transfer.  It’s a challenge, what can I say.  

But, let me sort of wrap up my mystery portrait’s progress.  (Sorry for the layout.  I realize it’s a mess.  I can’t seem to fix it!)  I still can’t give you the full reveal, but let me just give you a series of pictures to show bits of it as it evolved.
Monday 1
work in progress
©Xan Blackburn 2011
 Monday 1: This one shows a little progress since Friday.  This is where I picked it up on Monday morning.  A bit of highlighting, and some color in the eyes.
Monday 2
work in progress
©Xan Blackburn 2011

Monday 2: This one shows a little more detail going in.  Still no color.  Working in Payne’s Gray on the dilute Naples Yellow background.

Monday 3
work in progress
©Xan Blackburn 2011
Monday 3: More detail, some added whites …
Monday 4
work in progress
©Xan Blackburn 2011
Monday 4: Some color going in!  Basic underpainting is done …

Tuesday 1
work in progress
©Xan Blackburn 2011
Tuesday 1: Big jump here.  You can see I have all the basic colors in over the underpainting of darks and lights.  Details and more details will be layered on top of this stage.  

Mystery completed!
acrylic on Gessobord, 16″ x 20″
©Xan Blackburn 2011
Mystery Complete:  Well, not really, since it’s still a mystery, eh?

When the gift is officially handed over, I’ll show you the whole thing.  There were lots of challenges here, involving questionable colors that had to be shifted dramatically, many small heart attacks of the usual sort (I’m such a chicken!), but I think in the end I’m pleased with the final result.

Stay tuned for the FPM progress reports!  I’m so excited.  There are cats and greyhounds in the mix, and I can’t wait to get at them.  Wait ’til you see the stripy cats, and the quirky pups.  Oh yeah.  This is going to be fun.

Mystery Portrait: Friday

Mystery Portrait, work in progress
©Xan Blackburn 2011

I was working kind of slowly today.  My usual timidity, where I’m sure I’ve forgotten how to paint, and will just mess everything up if I dare to actually put visible amounts of paint on my brush. Nonetheless, I did make some progress with my underpainting.

In this bit, you can see how I’ve begun to be more specific with my darks, even suggesting fur a bit.  This eye is coming along, with plenty of room to get some depth even in the pupil.

A few hours later, I’ve reached this stage. You can see that I’ve added some white, which will begin to give the proper hair color in these areas, and also give the whites of the eyes that are so expressive.

There’s lot more work, but I can’t show it to you.  HA!  ‘Cause it’s such a big secret!  ;D

Just to remind you, the Fall Portrait Marathon sign-ups start at 9am PST (don’t forget to set your clocks back!)  Don’t dawdle: these always go fast!  😉

For all the details see here.

Mystery Portrait; shading begun

Mystery painting, shading begun

That looks so awkward, doesn’t it?  Well, I promise it makes more sense when you can see the whole thing together. 😉

I’m beginning to glaze in the shading using Payne’s Gray to keep the shadows cool.  My intent is to keep the focus tight and high-contrast only on the faces, letting the rest of the bodies to blur into the background.  At this point, it looks a bit like a watercolor painting, and is fairly loose and brush-marked, but it will start to look more like a black and white photo as I go along, later getting the color that will make it “real”.

I think I’m done for the day.  Catch you up tomorrow!

Busy Day!

Fluffy, Work in progress. 8″ x 10″ acrylic on panel. ©Xan Blackburn 2011

Fluffy’s portrait is coming along nicely.  As usual, I was a little afraid of messing it up.  Again.  But just pushed on forward.

The background is looking intriguingly like leather, somehow.  I didn’t mean it to, exactly, but I like it.  Fluffy is looking less amorphous, though he does need to stay at least a little amorphous!  Glazing in his soft swirly hair is just the perfect way to control how fuzzy he stays, especially at the edges. 

There’s a lot of raw umber and raw sienna, with a bit of white, worked into that background, as well as glazed into the fur.  The play of the warm and cool tones keeps him from becoming a fuzzy ice-sculpture, and unites him with his background.  The white fur would reflect some of whatever color was around him, besides just letting it show through at the frilly edges.  I’m really enjoying his flyaway twists of fur!

This is how we left him last time you saw him. 

Fluffy, earlier. ©Xan Blackburn 2011

Shows up a bit more now, eh?  I can see finishing this up in the next couple days.  I’m pretty sure his owner will be happy to finally have his portrait!

I’ve been asking for reference photos for my demo portraits, and have received some great ones!  So far, I’ve got a Berger Picard, a Cardigan Welsh Corgi, and a Miniature Aussie.  I just need one more.  I’d love to do a smooth dog, like a Xolo.  But I’m open to anything on the ICKC breed list, at this point. 

You can now sign up to get my Xan’s Art Friends Newsletter, and/or to be on the Commission Alert List by following This Linky.  Some of you are probably already on my list, in which case you’ll still be signed up.  But if you’re not, and want to get the highlights, it’s a good way not to miss the most important stuff (like, sign-ups for Portrait Marathons, upcoming events that might bring me to your area, stuff like that).  I’m trying to get more business-like around here!  The link will stay in my sidebar, up at the top, and in a few places on my website, too.  I have a newsletter all set to go, but I’ll give you a day or two to sign up first.

Another Little NEWS FLASH:
Since I’ve started taking commissions again, I’ve updated my website with the info, including my price list.  So you can start planning your gift list for the year.  😉

That’s been my day!  Does that seem like a lot or a little?  You wouldn’t believe how long it took me to set up my newsletter thingamabob! 

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

Hunter gets a name! Silken Windhound #3 portrait update

Work in Progress, “Hunter”
silken windhound
Graphite, acrylic, on gessobord, 11″x 14″
©Xan Blackburn, 2011

HUNTER!  Yes, his name is Hunter.  Christina of New York’s Hunter.  The cats are yelling at me for their dinner, so I’ll be brief.  Here’s where we are today, with a fair amount to go.  As you can see, I spent a lot of time in the ear fringe and mane.  I’m mainly happy with this, but I see some saccharine sweetness that may have to be expunged in some way.  Motel art is not my goal, here!  A dog, and a dog with a name like Hunter, and an athlete like a sighthound, should not just be pretty.  My husband said I was expressing the “My Little Pony-ness” of the breed, but that’s not what I want, here!

Okay, anyway, the cats are still yelling.  I gotta go.  Enjoy!

Silken portrait #3, Stage 2

Man, I really hope someone guesses who this is, soon!  My titles are going to start looking like a math lesson!

Work in Progress
mixed media (acrylic, graphite) on panel, 11″ x 14″
©Xan Blackburn, 2011

Today started with some corrections, and some timidity.  I got a used Galaxy Tab recently (I might have to give that thing its own post at some point), which has a better camera in it than my phone, which made it convenient enough to choose it over taking multiple stage scans at every little stage.  It also has a nice little display (7″) which I can zoom in on, etc., which makes it a great reference tool.  Usually, I print out my reference photo, and have that on my work table while I paint.  But, my printer isn’t the greatest, and, looking at the Tab’s version next to the printer’s version showed me a LOT that I had missed or misinterpreted.  All that might have been okay, for the purposes of this portrait, but once I had the better picture, I had to work from that!

I had gotten a sort of uniform darkness in the mouth that wasn’t right.  I had tried to correct it yesterday, but wasn’t happy with that, either.  The graphite just would NOT come off the board in the usual way (kneaded eraser, Blu Tack) or the unusual ways (sanding, cursing).  I had dabbed some of the background paint I had kept, but that needed to be smoothed and re-integrated into the whole.  This morning, I decided to return to the Blu Tack.  That’s great stuff for pencil work!  As it’s actually adhesive, without forming any residue, it picks up the graphite dust rather than spreading it around or rubbing it off.  I made my little wad about the right size, and rolled it repeatedly over the mouth area, re-kneading and re-wadding as necessary to keep a clean surface.  It eventually picked up enough so that I could work back in the shading I wanted.  Yeay!

Now to conquer my timidity!  It’s looking so cool the way it is that I was afraid to mess it up, and intimidated by how much work there is still to go to reach my original idea.  I started pecking away with my pencils, taking frequent breaks to compare hardness on various other surfaces, sharpen them, step back and squint, check my reference again ….  I realized I wasn’t going to get anywhere like that, so I decided to try using a stump (a blending tool made from soft paper, rolled tightly and with a conical tip on each end) to very softly smudge in some areas of shadow, get me over the hump of treading on all that freshly fallen snow before me.  That helped.  Then I decided I needed a broader stroke, to block in large areas where shadows were deepest.

Using the matte medium I bought yesterday, to keep (hopefully!) enough texture to the surface that I can still draw on it, I diluted a mix of payne’s grey and burnt umber, leaning towards the warm umber, to wash in some shadows along the back of the face, under the chin, and behind the ear fringe.  Very light washes, since I’m still feeling timid, and I don’t want to commit to too much, nor take away from the pencil work I’m still intending to do there.  All that is in the first picture above.

Work in Progress
mixed media (acrylic, graphite) on panel, 11″ x 14″
©Xan Blackburn, 2011

That brings us to this picture.  Next, I decided to wash in some of the subtle tawny color this dog has.  (Now any guesses who this is?)

Work in Progress
mixed media (acrylic, graphite) on panel, 11″ x 14″
©Xan Blackburn, 2011

Another look at my reference and I realize I’ve foggily edited out the back of the ear, where it lays against the neck (it’s completely shadowed out in my printed reference!)  Trying to decide whether to work it in, or leave it all softly shadowy and vague back there, I look closely at the reference photo, and see all these lovely internal shadows and highlights within that area, including the edge of the ear.  I decide to do it.

I guess I took this photo when the paint was still damp enough to glare.  That’s a bummer.  Well, at least you can see the back of the ear, and how I’ve worked in some of that tawny red tone around and into the eye as well.  I also used that color, mixed with white, to add some warm color to the teeth, and warmed up some of the highlights elsewhere as well.  Now the molars are too light, but that’s easy to remedy.

Okay!  Between lunch, making this post, taking the dogs out one at a time *sigh* and answering the intervening emails, it’s now quarter to three!  Back to painting!