Friday, 26 June 2015

Just chilling

oil painting of dog, a greyhound, pet painting by Karen
Posting very late today as I have only just managed to finish this one. I started out intending him to be really brightly lit, imagining him lying on the patio in the baking sun. As the painting progressed, more and more blue crept into the palette, in step with the volume of rain that appeared out of nowhere and began cascading down my window as I worked. So now I don't know if he really is just chilling after all.
Last post for this week, I hope you have a lovely weekend whatever the weather and thank you for looking at my paintings.

Thursday, 25 June 2015

Santa's Little Helper

Santa's Little Helper, oil painting of a greyhound, pet portrait by karen
When I chose to paint this dog, it was because he reminded me of Homer Simpson's dog, who I had remembered as being white. However, Santa's Little Helper is, of course, bright orange. 
The challenge then was how to represent him as an actual real-life dog: I have never painted a brindle coat before with large amounts of Cadmium Orange!

Cartoon dogs - cartoon anything - normally have very defined outlines, usually black. I needed a defined outline but I needed my version to look like a real dog and not a cartoon. Having him looming out of a dark background was my solution. 

I used transparent oxide brown around the actual dog and brought the black from the sides of the painting in towards the dog, carefully blending it into the brown. I used this method as a means of keeping the black away from any direct contact with the orange paint. I have remarked before how orange and black only seem to need to look at each other across a crowded tube in order to make cow pat brown.

The palette was brown, orange, black and white. The reasons I am using these limited palettes more and more are:

  • I have discovered that this is what Rubens did: he used far fewer colours than you might expect on individual paintings. Readers of my other blog will know I am presently in love with Rubens.
  • It makes it easier to create a painting which is coherent and harmonious
  • There are fewer decisions to be made in the painting process - you've got what you've got on the palette so it reduces "faffing about"
  • The painting will hopefully look like a painting and not like a poor colour photocopy of a photo
  • It is more fun
  • It wastes less paint

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

He's making eyes at me

He's making eyes at me, a dog painting, a whippet painted in oils, pet portrait by Karen
This whippet oil painting is made using 3 colours: black, Rembrandt Transparent Oxide Brown and Gamblin Warm White. I have been looking at Renaissance paintings over on my other blog and thought the deep shade and high contrast so common in portraiture would work beautifully for this elegant dog. 
Sometimes it is fun to try and capture the comic, playfulness of dogs. Mainly, though, I notice - and am interested in - their innate dignity. 
Even dogs humans tend to laugh at have this dignity, you can see it in their eyes.

Friday, 19 June 2015

Pack: Head Studies

foxhound: head studies, oils on linen board

These head studies are all of the same dog, Skye - she lives in High Peak, Derbyshire - and I have painted her a number of times which makes her a sort of Muse, I suppose.
I have spent a good deal of the last couple of years puzzling about what my "style" is. When I began, it seemed a sufficient achievement just to get a likeness of whatever it was I was painting; "style" didn't appear to come into it. 
The other factor is that I offer to paint people's pets to commission and as a rule people expect photographic realism in their painting. 
As they are handing over good money up-front, I feel it is important to give them what they want. 
Advice to artists almost always revolves around the truism that your style will sort of emerge all by itself so long as you keep working. I suppose that is true, but you still have to make choices and there are still forks in the stylistic road. For me, the most significant one was not to take the photographic realism road. 
Even these head studies - which are certainly intended to be accurate and realistic - are not photographic. I have now got to the point in developing a style where I feel quite affronted if someone says it "looks just like a photograph!!". If that is indeed the case then why, I wonder, did I labour for many hours to create something that could equally well have been achieved in a split second depression of the shutter?
Good question.
Don't know the answer.

Have a great weekend everyone and thank you for looking at my paintings.

Thursday, 18 June 2015

He went that way

"He went that way" oil painting of foxhounds in golden light, a pet portrait by Karen
Well this was super tricky as well. It lulled me into a false sense of security: unlike yesterday's painting where there were multiple dogs, this one effectively has 3 with a few blobs and shapes in the background to indicate more. Can't be so hard, I thought and dived in. That was yesterday and the result was a wiper.
Today I started again, hence I am late writing this blog. I tackled it exactly like "Pack Together": first a few lines, then seal it with a wash of brownish acrylic, then weak acrylic to wipe in the darks, then the lightest lights on the tops of their heads and muzzles, etc.
I thought about why I had a wiper yesterday and decided: too much of a rush, lack of focus and too many colours on the palette. Especially: too many colours on the palette.
Today I used: black, burnt umber, cad yellow deep, yellow ochre, transparent oxide red and white. 
For the brindle-like markings on the foreground dog I also used the tiniest touch of my new colour: Rembrandt Caput Mortuum.
I bought this because I am working on some Renaissance portraits over on my other blog and this colour is cited as being used by various Old Masters. It has an interesting history. The name means "dead head" and comes from alchemy, where it was used to refer to the muck at the bottom of a heating flask after the solution's "nobler" elements had "sublimated". The alchemical symbol for the discarded residue was a death's head
Symbol for caput mortuum (bottom right) from a m.s. by Isaac Newton.
In the past, painters used a version of caput mortuum as a substitute for mummy brown. If you've ever seen a real mummy, you will remember the ochre and other warm earth tones of the ancient wrappings; mummy brown was a pigment made from ground-up bits of mummies, both humans and cats. Artists stopped using it once they learned what was in it. 
At least, I hope they did.
The thing about caput mortuum is that it has a pigmenting strength like you would not believe. If you squeezed out a pea-sized spot, you could probably paint all the walls in your house and still have some leftover.
This was the main reason why yesterday's painting went wrong. A dead head painting.
Today I swiftly waved the tube at the brush from a distance of about 25 feet and thus was able to create a lovely rich, deep, warm violet-brown. I like it.

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Pack Together

Pack together, oil painting of foxhounds in bright sunshine
Well, this one was a Rubik's Cube of a painting. I didn't really know where to start - or maybe which dog started and ended where. I roughly drew the dogs out onto board then sealed the drawing with a thin wash of acrylic raw umber. My objective was to make the light really bright on the two key dogs. The pattern of values was sufficiently complicated that I realised straightaway if I simply began with the top left ear and worked along and down systematically - as is my usual method - I would get very muddled. Not to say muddied. So I blocked in the main values in acrylic:
value study, preliminary value study for a painting of foxhounds
I looked at this and went downstairs and made a cup of tea, thinking it had made the confusion worse. On creeping back in - it sometimes seems to help to sneak up on a tricky painting and attack it by surprise - I decided to begin with the lights, specifically the golden light on the tops of their heads. After that - eyes and noses. Then tongues. Then I started systematically filling in the darks. I have to be honest - it looked terrible almost all the way through. 
I don't know why I persevered, but I did: it seemed to me that there was no reason why it shouldn't work provided the lights and darks were clearly delineated. 
Anyway, once I placed the very last dribbles of highlight - especially on that dear little nose poking in on the left of the painting - it seemed to come together somehow. 
For a brief moment I thought I could smell this pack and I thought how wonderful it would be if you could post smells on to the internet like you can pictures and sounds. 
Then I remembered the smell of the last foxhound pack I encountered and thought better of it.

Friday, 12 June 2015

T.G.I. Friday

oil painting of a yawning basset hound, a pet portrait by Karen
Well, I am not sure what to say about this one as I think the picture and the title rather says it all.

Painting tongues: the key is to get the balance right between warm and cool colours. The bit of a dog's tongue that is poking out - mostly all of it in this case - needs coolish colours because the cool light of the sky is bouncing off the surface. Whether or not the sky above the dog is blue - it probably is in this case - the light will be cool. Alizarin crimson, a touch of ultramarine and titanium white for the cool pinks. The back of his throat - the bit where the sky can't reach! - is warmer. Cadmium red medium is what I added to the previous mixture together with rather less white to darken it all  up a bit. This then creates the sense of depth. The shadow from his jowl is also important in that respect. I used the same colour but added a bit of blue and a teeny bit of black to kill the chroma.

Last post for this week. Have a great weekend and thank you for looking at my paintings.

Thursday, 11 June 2015

Basset Hound 2

oil painting of a basset hound
A smaller painting than yesterday's, this is my imaginary basset hound, called Maud. I used the same colour palette as yesterday. The effect appears rather different because the whole dog, rather than just her portrait, has been painted on to a smaller support. Also, it is amazing what a difference the support makes: today's is gesso'ed MDF, yesterday I used fine portrait linen. That is my absolute favourite but it is too expensive to use on a daily basis. 
On my other blog (see sidebar) I am sharing my experience of teaching myself to paint portraits of people. The impact of that work carries over to work on animals whether I intend it to or not, so I find myself practising painting colour and value shapes rather than features.
It is a magical process: I started with Maud's eyes but after that I painted "a triangle of yellow ochre", a "little square" of white in the shadow, a "a teeny parallelogram" of burnt umber in the light and so on. After about 25 minutes I had a dog's face looking back at me.

Wednesday, 10 June 2015

Basset Hound

oil painting of a basset hound, a pet portrait , dog painting by Karen

Painting a portrait of this particular dog appealed to me because, like most Basset Hounds, he manages to exude an air of quiet dignity but inexplicable comedy both at the same time.  I think a comical dog that makes you laugh simply by existing would be a highly desirable thing to have. I started thinking about  names for basset hounds. This one is Meldrew. Look out for Maud tomorrow.
The first mention of the word “basset”, in referring to a breed of dog, comes from a French text of 1585 and includes a woodcut of a huntsman out on the hunt with his “badger dog”. It is thought that the friars of St Hubert were the key to the selective breeding of various hounds to produce a lower set, slower moving dog which could be followed on foot. The word “basset” is derived from the French adjective ‘bas’ and means “dwarf” or “low structure. The friars of St Hubert were also instrumental in the creation of the bloodhound, and this breed of dog is the only other one that has a more highly developed sense of smell than a basset.
Painted with a fairly restricted palette, I used Transparent Oxide Brown, Burnt Sienna and Yellow Ochre, with a touch of ultramarine for the white of his eye and shadows.

Thursday, 4 June 2015

Tennessee Walking Horse

Tennessee walking horse, oil painting of horse
Today's painting was something of a breakthrough for me: I managed to draw out the horse on to the board, in charcoal, free-hand without a grid and get it right first time. Admittedly, it did take a while.
The "secret trick" was in a little pdf pamphlet about the techniques of John Singer Sargeant, sent to me by my friend E.E. (if you are reading this, E. - thank you). Sargeant said to always use a plumb line, that you can make one easily enough with a bit of string and a hex nut. He said that everyone has a left or right hand bias and a plumb line is essential to have at all times.
Well, my tendency to get things on the wonk would indicate that I am ambidextrous on the bias front: could be wonky left, or could be wonky right. So I went up the shed and made a plumb line, which I used to draw this horse. Once I was clear about the angles - and there are a great number - he started to come alive on the board. When I was in doubt, I rummaged around in the cupboard until I found a protractor - a little mathematical tool I have not used since school days - and I measured the angle.
In case you are wondering the key angle of his body is 50ยบ.
The palette was limited: burnt sienna, cerulean blue, transparent oxide brown.
I was very pleased with my little 'achievement'. Until I read yesterday  that Sir Edwin Landseer could draw a stag's head with a pencil in his left hand and a horse's head with a pencil in his right hand, simultaneously, and both drawings would be correct. *Sigh*.

Wednesday, 3 June 2015

Brown Study (3)

Another little, monochrome study. I used Rembrandt Transparent Oxide Brown and Red, Gamblin Warm White and a few little pieces of colour for her eyes - they were so beautiful I couldn't quite bring myself to paint them brown. These exercises are to help me get better at separating tones. 
My work still has a tendency to dissolve into mush especially with cats, which I find difficult to paint.