Wednesday, January 23, 2013

How the portraits come to life

Sue is owned by a young man I've never met.  His mother asked me to paint her as a gift to him.  The first photos I was given were not usable - too distant, too indistinct, out of focus - so I asked mom to have her son email me photos.  I soon received a bunch of photos.

A number showed Sue in costume: 

Not the look for the portrait, but it gives me a glimpse into her personality.  She happily wears whatever her human puts on her without objection.  

One really caught my eye for it's fun factor: 

  Again, not for the portrait, but can't you just see the personality shining through?  This is a happy, loving dog!

The photo we selected, and both of us had input, was pure Sue.  I cropped it to a more close up view, and this became the basis for the portrait.

Next step, choosing a background.  In certain light some of Sue's shading appears almost lavender.  Nah, not a color for a young man's home.  White or off white would certainly pop her coloring, but on a wrapped canvas, it would melt into light walls.  Nope.  None of the pastels, she's too strong a personality and look for that.  
Finally, I settled on a brick red with quite a bit of brown thrown in.  The owner wants to be surprised, so the balance of the process will be without his input.

Next I laid in the background and did a very rough sketch of our girl. 

Sue gets laid in in almost a color block fashion.  I always like this stage, well except for the empty eyes, as I can begin to see the dog take shape. 

More shading and detail goes in over the next couple of days, then it's time to let it sit, step back and look for things I don't like. 

OK, fix the one ear, it's just wrong.  Soften the shading.  Emphasize the eyes.  Notice that I turned her pose just a bit more forward to have her looking at the viewer.  I like the feel that her eyes look directly out from the portrait. 


 Done!  All that's left is to deliver and wait for feedback.  I'm really anxious to hear from the son/owner and see if it says "SUE" to him.

As an aside, I really loved painting this girl.  I dubbed her Sweet Sue as we went through the process.  I very much admire the American Staffordshire Terrier, aka Pit Bull; and I detest what some humans have done to and with them.  This lovely lady is an example of how they are when treated with love and gentleness.  

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