Stevie, Bridal Portrait

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.

digital mockup

digital mockup

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.

"Stevie the Basenji" 8x10" pencil on vellum sold

"Stevie the Basenji" 8x10" pencil on vellum

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!

"Stevie, Bridal Portrait" 11x14" oils on panel Sold

"Stevie, Bridal Portrait" 11x14" oils on panel

Glossai Pyros

For the fifth year running, I attended a fall painting retreat last year. It continues to be an amazing highlight of each year. You'd think I would get blasé about it, but it's still a pinch-me sort of experience.

Hard at work. Lauren will kill me for this photo, but it was the only good one of me working

Hard at work. Lauren will kill me for this photo, but it was the only good one of me working

All but one year, I've worked on a studio piece, not a client illustration. As if fate was shaking its finger at me for the one year I brought a client commission to work on, it turns out that that particular painting got stuck in development limbo and has still not seen the light of day, despite being done 3 years ago!

This year, I was hugely busy leading up to the retreat. I spent a few months on a big, frustrating project that in the end went nowhere. The retreat landed right towards the end of it, but I certainly didn't want to spend my retreat working on it. I had an idea, but the time was approaching and I had not so much as a thumbnail, though I did have an idea in my head. I was getting worried that I would show up unprepared.

The weekend before leaving, I contacted a couple of models hoping to book a last-minute reference shoot I could take with me. I also reached out to a young lady I'd met a month before. I had asked if she'd be willing to model down the road, thankfully, and she was. She was the only one to respond with such short notice. As she lived out in the area I'd be in, we arranged for her to come down on Monday, while at the retreat. Whew.

The first day of the retreat is not always that productive. I brought a small side thing to work on a bit, but there are only a few hours after setup to work until dinner happens. Being everyone's first day in, we're all eager to catch up with one another. Afterwards, my model showed up and with the help of Lauren Panepinto--book designer extraordinaire--we set about shooting reference. Poor Lauren, she spends a lot of time attending photoshoots with illustrators, and here she was having to do it again on her "off" time. Well, it was a working retreat.

End of day 1 underpainting

End of day 1 underpainting

Prior to the trip, I ordered some string LED lights, and did a couple of self-tests to see if they would work. They don't let out a lot of light, being like very thin glow sticks. A tripod and time exposure and a dark room were necessary. With Lauren's help, I wrapped the LED lighting around the model, she'd hold it in place, and I'd go set the camera, shoot, review and reshoot as needed. We tried a lot of variations and got a few fantastic shots. I was thrilled by the results, and that evening got to work.

As with "A Fractured Mind" the year before, I set to work with no prior drawing. I had a board pre-primed and toned with a mixture of acrylic Raw Sienna mixed with a bit of gesso (if I recall correctly). From there I went straight into oils, drawing out the scene in oils directly on the board. As I've been happy with all my recent attempts to work like this, directly on the panel, I hope I can find more opportunities to do so in the future.

The next morning, I had an under painting in Mars Violet with a bit of Alizarin Crimson in it. I thought I knew what I was going for, but just in case I grabbed a small scrap of primed paper and did a tiny little color study. I don't do these often in this way, but it became a very simple and undetailed map of where I was headed.

Color study, 2.25x1.5" Oil on paper   The notes indicate that the background would be painted in a mixture of Raw Sienna, Alizarin Crimson, Burnt Sienna, (Gamblin) Chromatic Black, and a touch of White

Color study, 2.25x1.5" Oil on paper
The notes indicate that the background would be painted in a mixture of Raw Sienna, Alizarin Crimson, Burnt Sienna, (Gamblin) Chromatic Black, and a touch of White

A few people came over that day and made especially positive comments about this little scribble. I thought it was rather funny, I mean they're all accomplished painters and artists in their own right, so compliments can be hard to come by sometimes. This often happens with very, very loose sketches. Perhaps it's that the viewer can at this stage import into the image all the ways in which they can see it turning out more awesome than the artist will actually make it. I mean, the artist rarely hits his own vision, too.

But objectively, there's nothing really there. Ah well, I'll take a compliment where I can get one.

That said, as the piece went on during the week, the feedback was generally positive, which I appreciated. The vibe is always so fun and positive with these fine folks that it really would make a pretty wonderful day-in-day-out work environment, and this from someone who can go all week without saying a word to anyone, if left alone, and be just fine (arguably).

Sometime on day two, background blocked in

Sometime on day two, background blocked in

This year, the retreat moved from where it's been held for about ten years to a new venue in rural Pennsylvania, which was gorgeous, and the shared work room had large windows with a beautiful view. As I arrived first, along with Scott Brundage (who has suffered driving me to and from every year), I snagged this prime spot. Maybe an hour or two at sundown the sun would beam straight into my eyeholes, and we had to lower the blinds a bit, but really, it made for a wonderful week to have this out behind my easel.

From there it was just about executing. It was an exhilarating painting that came together last second, with the help of a great model and friend, and painted among inspiring artists, with their feedback. I got about 80% of the way through by the week's end and polished up the rest here and there after.

Every Day Original: This Twilight Garden

"This Twilight Garden" 6x8" oil on canvas sold

"This Twilight Garden" 6x8" oil on canvas

I'm pleased to share with you today a new small painting, produced for Every Day Original. The goal of EDO is simple: to present one new original work of art every day (even weekends and holidays!), which is priced at $500 or less; usually less. It's a great resource for collectors looking for smaller artworks for special wall spaces, who just like small originals, or who are on a budget and enjoy not being shown things they know are far beyond their budget. However, for those who've considered moving into starting a collection of original artwork, it's a great place to do so gently!

The works themselves are largely produced specifically for EDO, which is also interesting. Typically it isn't just art that's been sitting on an artist's site for awhile. It's a sort of online gallery of daily offerings. As such, this small painting is only available through EDO.

There are no guidelines besides, "Make it good." I decided to reach to music, which has been an occasional place I go for inspiration when illustrating other projects. It isn't a realm I've mined for illustrative purposes on its own. The great thing about illustrating music (especially non-commissioned) is that it has enough abstraction in it, typically, to allow me to approach it and experience it in a slightly subconscious way. It's different than illustrating stories, which I also enjoy, which requires a bit more in the way of comprehension and representation whether narrative or metaphorical. With music, it's much more...I don't know, I feel as if it puts me in the place where dreams come from--at least certain music, and specifically when I'm listening intently, as I did while having this track on repeat for a long time while sketching and working.

For this piece I picked a favorite track of mine, "This Twilight Garden" by The Cure. It was a b-side track so isn't perhaps as widely known, but for 20+ years now (!) has been a song I can return to any time and bliss out. There are a few songs that seem to have tapped right into a part of your soul, allowing it to manifest outside of you. Maybe you know what I mean. This is one such for me. It's like having a part of your emotional state reflected back at you. Amazing that music can do such a thing from time to time.

There's not much else to say about it, except that I hope you enjoy the resultant painting in conjunction, or quite apart from its source material.

Parthenope: Interiors

(For Part 1 about this project, see here)

Early on, the author communicated his hope that the book would have interior color illustrations. While I would love to do a fully painted book with multiple illustrations, such opportunities are rare simply due to the cost.

While talking over dinner, we got to talking about Bruce's love of older, more classic children's illustrators like Arthur Rackham and the like. I love those illustrators as well, so it was a nice commonality. It also resulted in the proposal that the interior art be done in some sort of style along those lines.

"Poseidon Saves Parthenope" digital over pencil

"Poseidon Saves Parthenope" digital over pencil

Were I a proficient watercolorist, that might have been the solution outright. But while watercolor can be faster than oils, it isn't necessarily, although the drying issues are of course not an issue. The number of times I've used watercolor are very few, and usually they involved my cat. It's a very different medium than oils, and I find it a bit unusual when an artist freely moves between the two. It's not unheard of, of course, and is certainly impressive. So for me to do the interiors in watercolor might even be slower than oils. You do build speed over time and repetitions.

Over the years, I've produced digital illustrations. Sometimes they were straight digital creations, but more recently they are some form of hybrid, usually beginning with some kind of traditional under-drawing. In them, there is some attempt to create a digital replacement for my painting. I've always known that would take a long time to accomplish, if ever, and I still work on a tablet, not a drawing monitor like a Cintiq. But it hasn't happened, quite, nor do I expect it to any time soon. My aesthetic has been molded in part by the medium. So those digital pieces look a bit like my work, but not really the same.

So I decided to make an attempt to create some faux watercolors. I would create fairly detailed drawings, as I might with an actual watercolor, scan them, and then use various tools and tricks to make Photoshop produce a look a bit like watercolor.

That allowed me to produce something faster than usual, in color, and without resulting in simply a less-successful oil analog.

It was a lot of fun, actually. Certainly I was learning on the job, and there was a bit of upfront experimentation before I could really dive in. The original drawings were done in pencil on bristol.

"The Sirens" digital over pencil

"The Sirens" digital over pencil

(To read the last entry in this series, click here)