Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Working dog, on a golden day

oil painting of a German Shepherd on a golden background. A pet portrait by Karen
This handsome chap belongs to Maria, who kindly permitted the use of her photo. In real life he lives in Russia, but in my painting I have placed him on the top of a Tor on Dartmoor. He struck me as being master of all he surveyed, so I painted him high up. The background is largely imaginary although I based it on my own photos taken from the top of Brentor. Interestingly, the photos show a sort of whited-out, bleached light - although my memory of the day is that the light was gold. So I painted my memory of the light.
Here are some WiP photos. I drew the doggy out first on 10x8 board that I had gessoed the day before
drawing of German Shepherd, first stage of a pet painting by Karen

The horizontal line on the right of the board just below his neck, was an accidental stroke and doesn't mean anything. I try not to use too many lines, but equally this is one of my daily paintings and if I am to complete 3 per week alongside larger pieces and commissions, I feel I can't afford to have the drawing go off. There are plenty of other things that can go off, let's face it. I decided to use my favourite start as per Richard Schmid: the selective start. As I have explained before, it means: select a place and start there and proceed accurately and in one pass, one brush stroke at a time. In theory, anyway. I started with his right eye:
2nd work in progress photo of a German Shepherd, painting the eye. A pet portrait by Karen.
In reality, I did fiddle a bit to get the direction of the fur right. I also put some extra fur on top later. But mostly, I tried to get it right first time. The benefits of this selective start approach for me are: 
(1) it is clear how to begin. I don't have to sit there looking at a blank canvas thinking - yikes! Just pick a point and start 
(2) for subjects like this with two colours in their coat which can create difficulties together (orange and black will make cow pat green if mixed), it reduces the risk of this happening  
(3) I can get up and potter off for a coffee anytime and I will know exactly where to pick up again when I get back.
Richard Schmidt explains all this better than me in his book Alla Prima - Everything I know About Painting. The book is available on his website. It is expensive but worth every penny. No, I am not on commission!
oil painting of a German Shepherd: work-in-progress stage 3. A pet painting by Karen.
It was at this point that I felt him come to life under the brush and I was on a roll. So only one more photo of the process, I'm afraid, as I forgot to take any more after this:
oil painting of a German Shepherd, 4th progress shot, a pet portrait by Karen
Anyway, I just carried on until the dog was complete. Then I waited about 5 hours for the paint to tack up a little bit so I could better control how much of his coat went into the background: I wanted to lose the edges a bit on his right hand side but I did not want black fur merging into my sky and making mud, so that was the trickiest bit. The fields I re-did a couple of times to make them go back sufficiently: if the chroma is too high they come forward and it doesn't look like the dog is high up. The rock I painted with a palette knife. And voilĂ :
Oil painting of a German Shepherd on a golden background, a pet portrait by Karen

Hope you like him!

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