Saturday, August 13, 2011

Painting process--photo selection & sketch

So here we go with the first part of the portrait process itself -- selecting the absolute best photo of your animal, and then my creation of a composition that will be interesting.

To illustrate, here are the first few images related to my painting, "Even three-legged shepherds dream of herding sheep."

I had taken a TON of photos from my morning in June at the Lucky Mutt Strut, to benefit Denver's MaxFund no-kill shelter. And a lot of them are usable as references for paintings. But I kept coming back to this photo of a lovely little red merle Australian Shepherd dog with three legs.

(No, you cannot TELL that the dog only has three legs from the photo, and, to be honest with you, it seemed like a bit of a sensitive point for the owner --although NOT, of course, for the dog. Dogs seem to be a lot less defensive than people about things like diversity and "challenges." I suppose when, as a species, you have such HUGE variety in terms of hair length and color and size, making distinctions based on these things stops being very meaningful to you. Maybe we, as humans, are just too much ALIKE to get there.

Although maybe I am imagining the whole defensiveness thing on the owner's part. It just seemed that when I asked if the dog was a rescue dog -- and since this was a walk to benefit shelter dogs and there were a LOT of rescue dogs around, many with all FOUR of their legs, so this didn't seem like an OUTRAGEOUS question to me--the owner got kind of huffy and said, "NO. No, he is NOT." And then she tried not to talk to me anymore. So I guess it was lucky that I had already gotten the shot.)

But again, I digress.

Anyhow, what I liked about this photo was the clarity of the shot, the dog's expression, the light, and the fact that I kept wondering WHAT ON EARTH WAS THAT DOG LOOKING AT? So I really wanted to capture that in my composition.

So on the right (or below--I am not sure, depending on your browser) you can see my first sketch on canvas. I already knew that I wanted a large piece for this painting, so I made the sketch on a 30" x 30" canvas. Because I was so fascinated about the dog's gaze, I kept that part of the composition and left a lot of blank space to the right of the dog (and, yes, that pesky human in the photo got cropped out).

I KNOW, all you students of composition--one of the first things they tell you is to LEAD the viewer INTO the painting...don't have things facing OUT of the painting, etc. etc. etc. All I can say is, after you've worked long enough, you know how to break the rules successfully. So I used THIS composition. And it works!

I reference photos extensively throughout the whole process, but at the sketching stage, I'm focusing on locations of eyes, ears, and noses--making sure that everything is correctly proportioned and located. I usually use PhotoShop tools or the "grid" approach (which has been used by just about every artist since Da Vinci) to make sure that my sketch has the correct anchor points at the right places. This ensures that the drawing is right and that I don't have to go through a whole lot of fundamental corrections as I paint!

Sometimes I don't do this, but inevitably I regret it. And, as you can see, what I come up with is a relatively rudimentary sketch--outlining the main parts of the animal, as you can see above. The next step is the REAL magic--making a painting that lives and breathes!

I'll get to that next week! Happy weekend! I am off to my brother's/dad's combined birthday party!

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