When I painted, "Lady Leanna Lynx," about a year ago, I was surprised and pleased. Surprised that I had agreed to paint it, and pleased with the result. Not only the result, but the production of the painting was also a ton of fun. It also occurred to me that if I wanted to push in that direction I might be able to do more costumed pooches. Whether I should push in that direction I was at the time unsure about.
It didn't take long before a second commission came, without my trying. Having been shared by the owner, another basenji owner got in contact with me about a similar commission. The goal wasn't to do another renaissance dog, which was good: it would be fun doing others of that era, but back-to-back might've killed my motivation to continue down this four-legged path before I'd really gotten going. Instead, as this dog, Stevie, was sort of amorous of one of the owner's other dogs, we talked about portrayals that might communicate that. There was of course the option for a western or other kind of wedding gown, but as early conversations indicated an eastern flair, I went this direction.
I proposed a bride's outfit. In particular, a traditional Japanese bridal dress, complete with tsunokakushi--the characteristic and gorgeous headdresses they sometimes wear. I mocked up a study to show the owner based on a generic dog of the breed, just to give the taste of the thing.
One of the keys to Leanna's success as a painting was that I was able to visit Leanna and shoot reference. Because Leanna was extremely compliant, it made life easy. Her particular expression was a bonus, but not unusual for her, being a bit of a goofy dog. I told myself that if I did others like this, I might want to limit them to dogs I could visit and photograph myself. There are just too many variables to try to base it on someone else's photos. Like painting a human portrait based on a random photo a person might send you versus seeing the person live, in the flesh, and getting to choose lighting and pose while getting high-resolution shots.
As it turned out, if we waited a bit, I could visit Stevie. The client, living in Southern California, was within striking distance from my parents who now live in Central CA. Not close, mind you, it's still a three hour drive or so. I was going to be visiting my folks at Thanksgiving, so I proposed driving down to take some photos. To make the drive more worth it, I promised myself a visit to Pinks Hotdogs in Hollywood on the way home. Any excuse to get down to Pinks is a good excuse.
I was thus able to shoot some reference of Stevie, another basenji, but one with such a different personality and look, really. I'm new to that breed still, so it was interesting to meet two very different examples. She wasn't quite as compliant, and had injured a foreleg that morning while playing, but we did our best and got some good shots.
From there, I set about working. I knew the look of the silk kimono through image hunting online, the way the patterned white silk has various sheens. But I wasn't confident in my ability to translate that straight to paint in my version. So I went to eBay and picked up an inexpensive under-kimono (juban) which exhibited the material qualities I needed. That set the project back a bit.
In the meantime I changed the headdress. One of the breed's characteristics are the tall pointed ears. You can see that even compared to the digital mockup above, that I was starting to back away from it in the drawing. Though the tall, horn-like ears of the basenji made a too-clever-by-half pun for those who know that tsunokakushi literally means something like "hidden horns," hiding them so much under the headdress wasn't sitting right, so I removed the headdress and added in the decorative hair pins and ribbon bow that accompany other bride's ensembles. The client loved the change and finally we were off. I used the heart-medallion on Stevie's collar and placed it over the knots of the tassels.
Once again however, trouble arose as I attempted to paint a sort of actual environment in the distance, in a flash of inspiration...which just shows that not all flashes of inspiration work out. It just didn't work, and so was repainted. As with Leanna, an attempt was made to paint Stevie in nearly life-size. I also adjusted the pose from four-legged standing to sitting on haunches quite last-minute.
As Rockwell said, "Some come easy, some come hard." I had to fight for this one! But in the end it too was fun, and leaves me wondering if there is something other than basenjis in my future? It's a great breed I've gotten to know better, but the world of dogs is so very, very wide. So far this series has been great fun, so we'll see what comes!