Friday, January 17, 2014

Calliope the Suliki

Oil on Canvas Board
11 x 14

This was another practice painting for dog portraits. This was VERY difficult. I would say that the wicker was almost as hard as the dog. This is a champion show dog that belongs to my cousin. I liked the regal pose on the chair.

I was feeling more confident, but it was very hard. I re-read my Norman Rockwell books, and paid close attention to his steps of procedure.

First, I transferred the drawing to the canvas. During the drawing phase, I paid very close attention to the wicker and the pattern on the upholstery. I figure that if a drawing is off, it does not matter how well it is painted, it isn’t going to look right. Norman Rockwell spends a LOT of time on his charcoal drawings, so I figure it’s worth the trouble: less things to correct later.

Secondly, I covered it with a burnt sienna wash. I went back over the wash with more burnt sienna to work out the darks.

Thirdly, I blocked in all the basic colors. For the wicker, I painted it all pretty dark, so that I could put on the highlights later.

My pallet was very limited. Aside from a few browns, and black, I only used Alizeran Crimson, Dioxanine Purple and Ultramarine Blue. I like using ivory black because it is completely predicable when I mix it with other colors.

I made all grays out of just black and white. I warmed the gray for the wicker with Naples yellow. I cooled the gray for the upholstery leaves with blue. I made a brown-gray for the dog by adding umber to the gray. The upholstery was just crimson and purple mixed, with a touch of gray to de-saturate it. With such a limited palette, I didn't have to keep remembering how I made a color. I noticed that for Norman Rockwell's first printable "color" covers, he only used black, white and vermilion. 

Fourth: I repainted everything with a second thin coat of color. This smoothed things out and made the colors look more real. The dog was very, very hard. It’s hard enough to get all the lights and darks correct to give the face shape, but it was even harder that the local color kept changing. It made me think that people portraits might be a lot easier: they only come in one color per person. I found that the fluffy parts of the dog are easier to paint that the short-haired parts.

I really wanted to give up on this one. It seemed impossible, but I just kept plugging away. When it was all done and dried, I put on the whites, like the last painting, and I put the last few highlights on the face, the nose, and the eyes.

I am so happy with how this one came out, I think I might enter it in the fair. 

This painting gives me a lot of confidence. I am feeling more comfortable with the colors that I am not groping around trying to make the colors I want. I have a system now that seems dependable. I can concentrate on making a good picture, and not so much on wrestling with the oils. 

Buffy and Lilah

Oil on Canvas
11 x 14

My day job slowed down, so I thought I might give pet portraits a try. I got a photo from my stepmom of her two dogs. I was not even sure I could do fur.

I transferred the picture to the canvas, and did a burnt sienna wash like I always do. I see now that is what works for me. Then I worked on the whole background first, which was safer since I have done many landscapes.

I was feeling nervous about doing the dogs, so I got out my Norman Rockwell books and looked at all the pictures. I realized that Norman Rockwell didn’t do anything very fancy with the colors, he just painted things as he saw them. I saw a layout of his pallet and it had many neutrals on it. So I just dug out all the browns that I needed, and black, (all colors that I have never used before. and I went at it.

I blocked in the basic colors of the dogs, and let it dry, then I went over the dogs again with little strokes of the similar colors as the under colors, in order to make fur. I found Naples Yellow to be an EXTREMELY useful color. I completed the dog in back first, and then the dog in the front.  I tried to stay true to the values, and that really made it pop. When it was all dry, I put on the pure whites in the fur.


I am really amazed at how well it came out. I didn't think I could do that. 

Hibiscus: Susan Sarback Style

Oil on Canvas Board
8 x 8


Since I had a stack of 8 x 8 canvas boards from the butterfly project, I wanted to try this hibiscus reference that I also found on Wet Canvas. I found this a long time ago, and I said, “Someday, when I am better, I want to do this as bright and dazzling as I possibly can. I did this exactly the way Susan Sarback taught, and I am very happy with it. 

Butterfly: Eastern Comma




I heard that the local Art Association was going to have a “small paintings” show. I ran down to the art store and picked up a package of  8 x 8 canvas boards. I dug through the images on Wet Canvas looking for a good small subject, and I found this.

I transferred the drawing to the canvas as exactly as I could. I painted all around the butterfly in a Burnt Sienna wash, leaving the butterfly area white, and treated the flowers just like an impressionistic painting.

I knew the butterfly would have to be perfect, so I used glazing techniques on that. First, I did an underpainting of thin, bright yellow. Then I would let that dry, and slowly build up the colors using the most delicate brushstrokes. When it was all done, I put on the white highlights on the edges.

I didn't know what kind of a butterfly this was, so I searched on “orange butterflies” on Google until I found one that matched it. It was an Eastern Comma.


The gallery had a small paintings show, but they had another show where I could buy a 6’ x 5’ piece of wall space and show whatever I wanted. I did that instead.

I'm very happy with how this one turned out. 

Sycamore Cove Plein Air

Oil on Canvas Board
8 x 10

I am NOT happy with this one, but I am trying to post faithfully, the good and the bad, in order to show that never every painting is a winner.

I went down with a group to paint this plein air. I don’t like that the sun moves and the waves won’t hold still. When I started, the rocks were in shadow, but by the time I was done, the rocks were in the light, so I had to “make them up”, which I don’t like doing. Also, it started out misty and overcast, and then the sun came out nice and bright. 


I also don’t like all the extra challenges of schlepping around the equipment, dealing with the wind, etc. I think I am too much of a perfectionist for plein air painting. 

Matilija Canyon #2

Oil on Canvas
16 x 20

It’s been a while since I posted, and it’s been a while since I painted too. My notary work has been very busy, so I have not had much time to paint. Also, we moved, so I had to pack up my studio and then unpack it and set it up again. At the old house (the mobile home), everything was always set up and ready to go, so when I wanted to paint, I just had to flick on the lights and sit down in front of the easel. But since we moved, we put all the unpacked boxes in the “studio”, and that took a while to clear out. Then my sister needed to move somewhere, and hey, the “studio” was empty so in went her bed and furniture. I finally just said, “I’m setting up in the living room”, so I commandeered a corner of the living room, and I got back to painting. What I learned was: if the equipment is not set up, nothing is going to get painted.

I was asked to show my work one Saturday, and they wanted me to paint during the day too, in case it would help generate interest. My “Matilija Canyon” had been pretty popular among my friends, so I printed off a photo reference and brought it along to paint. I was not going to pressure myself, just something to do while I sat there all day. I got it half-way finished by the end of the day, then I set up my easel at home and worked on it every night until it was done.


I am feeling more comfortable and confident in my painting. I don’t stress as much. But also, I was trying to paint this one looser and less perfectionist, so that also helped take off the pressure. I am happy how this one came out.