Thursday, May 29, 2014

An exercise in fauve-a-licious simplicity

As practice makes perfect, I cannot but make progress; 
each drawing one makes, each study one paints, 
is a step forward.



A Walk in the Woods © 2014 Karen Mathison Schmidt
6 x 6 inches • oil on GessobordTM
private collection • Shreveport, Louisiana

After working on my larger landscape today, I did this little one as a challenge to myself, an exercise in simplifying the landscape. I started with the photo below, which I took on a walk in the woods one morning. As you can see, I abandoned the photo pretty early in the process and went running ahead with my imagination. As a result, well, I think the composition is somewhat successful, but I don’t think I was successful in depicting the scene in my photo. 

I was, however, totally successful in having fun with it.

It will be interesting to try it again earlier in the day and see what happens.

A cute mess, plus step-by-step painting photos

I was just getting ready to publish this post with my work-in-progress photos for the Dilly painting, when I glanced across my left to the various and sundry piles strewn across my desk and thought: I really need to clean this up before I start painting, what a mess! 

My next thought was: it’s kind of a cute mess, though.

I think I have a problem.

Anyway, here are my work-in-progress photos for Dilly:

The initial sketch in was in pencil, then I loosely traced over it in burnt umber acrylic using a round size 0 brush. After a couple of minutes letting that dry, I filled in Dilly’s body with an acrylic glaze of caput mortuum violet, and the background with a phthalo blue glaze.

After another couple minutes drying time (one of the great things about acrylic: quick drying time) and I added a glaze of pink madder to Dilly, and a really diluted Mars black glaze to the surrounding blue, bringing it to almost a Prussian blue look.

Because Dilly’s mom wanted a kind of a soft look for the colors in the finished painting, I decided Dilly’s base was too vivid, so I deepened him down just a bit with a burnt sienna glaze. I love this deep blue-orange complementary underpainting.

Before starting with the oils I let the underpainting dry completely, usually about twenty minutes or so. This is the point where I usually tiptoe around the house with my camera to see if there are any irresistible canine or feline “napscape” poses to be captured for future paintings. Then I pour a fresh cup of coffee and head back to the easel.

If you’ve followed my blog long enough to see my previous step-by-step posts, you know on a pet portrait I always like to start with the face. It brings personality to the painting right off the bat, and makes the painting really inviting to continue.

Even working on a portrait, when I’m trying to get as close a likeness as possible to my subject, I consciously try to keep the brushstrokes nice and loose, and steer away from getting too nit-picky and tight. I’m also intent on seeing the different colors in the highlights and the shadowy areas. There are really so many colors, especially on a “white” dog.

Note: between the last two pictures you can see that I painted out the highlight dot on the tip of Dilly’s nose, and the next picture shows that I added it back in, a little bigger and softer. It may sound silly, but that little highlight is my favorite part so far. Well, his whole nose, really. I love it.

Now, with the blocking in of those fluffy front paws, Dilly is really starting to emerge. What a cutie!

In assessing my reference photo, I see that Dilly’s closed eyes, the front of his nose where his snout rests on the quilt, and the triangular shadow area between his snout and front paws are the darkest parts of the picture (along with the shadow between his back legs and along the edge of his left shoulder and front leg), while the sunny highlights on his right eyebrow, the right side of his head, and the ridge of his right shoulder are the lightest parts. To get a nice range, I make these lights as light as possible and these shadows really dark.

Now that I’ve established those extremes, I know all the other values will fall in between. That is, there are multiple places on his fur that are highlighted, but none will be quite as light as his right shoulder, and there are other shadowy areas, but none will be quite as dark as these shadows.

I’m making decision as I go along where to blend different color areas smoothly and where there needs to be a definite difference, and hard line. Sometimes I leave a little border of the dark underpainting showing between two areas, giving a kind of outline effect, like along the outside edge of Dilly’s left ear, and the line that defines the center of his skull. 

Interesting side note: In most cases this indentation dividing the two sides of the skull is much more defined in dogs than cats. You can feel it when you kiss them on the forehead. And don’t even try to pretend you never do that. 

Anyway. Back to the painting!

 It’s easy to keep your colors clean when you first start with the oils over the dry acrylic, but as the painting progresses and you’re painting more wet-in-wet with the oils, I find that I have to limit myself to only one or two strokes before wiping and reloading my brush.

It’s a little difficult at first to make yourself do this, but once you get a rhythm going it becomes sort of automatic and over time you don’t have to think about it as much. Kind of like when learning how to drive. At first you have to consciously think about every little movement, but then it becomes more instinctual and easy.

I read about an exercise that Carol Marine had her students do, where she had them paint a whole painting only one stroke at a time between wiping and reloading the brush. It takes patience but it’s a good way to practice when painting in oils.

Now Dilly is mostly done, and I like him so much that there’s just the tiniest bit of hesitation on my part to start on the surrounding comfiness.

It’s that old “what if I mess it up?” syndrome. Gotta get past it and keep on going! I once saw a picture of Colin Page painting, and he had a little sign he had made and taped to the easel which said, “It’s not the only one.” I love that. I took it to mean, don’t let perfectionism be a stumbling block. Get over it. There were lots of paintings before this and there are going to be LOTS of paintings after this. Remembering this helps me relax and do my BEST work!

Starting on the soft teal blanket, I kind of overemphasize the warmth of the shadowy folds, knowing I can adjust them as I go along.

Between these last two pictures I let the painting dry for a few days while doing other projects, and now it’s dry enough to add some oil glazes on Dilly himself to “sunny up” his color. (I make a glaze by mixing a little oil paint with a generous amount of stand oil for a really transparent color.)

I also worked on making his right back leg a little softer looking. Nothing much, just a stroke here and there, sometimes with a fully loaded brush, and sometimes with an almost dry brush.

The final picture shows that I softened the teal blanket by doing a little more blending, and I cooled down the too-yellow parts on Dilly’s face. I also lighted the shadow on the left side of his snout (his left, our right) and softened the center dividing line on his head by adding some lighter color and blending, not so much as to take it out completely, but to suggest it more subtly.


And now back to my current painting, a larger version of the sun through the oak trees. But first a little chocolate chip cookie break, I think. With ice cold milk.

Later, taters!

Happy painting!

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Alla prima warm-up


Shortcut  © 2014 Karen Mathison Schmidt
6 x 6 inches • oil on 1/8" GessobordTM
private collection • Shreveport, Louisiana

Today I’m working on a larger version (20 x 16 inches) of this scene, the shortcut through our broken-down old picket fence, just as the sun is beginning to set beyond the pasture. I started with this small warmup. No underpainting, just a quick bare-bones sketch lightly in pencil, then starting right in with the oils. An exercise in trying to capture the scene as simply as possible and still get the feel I wanted. I was just the right way to jump into my painting day!

Friday, May 23, 2014

Dilly’s done!


Dilly  © 2014 Karen Mathison Schmidt, artist
8 x 10 inches • oil Museum Series cradled GessobordTM
Commission  •  Solihull, England

Here’s the final version of Dylan, known as Dilly to all who know and love him. I’m still cropping and editing the progress photos, but they’ll be coming soon.

Sweet dreams!

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Dilly the Dog painting almost finished

Some of our greatest treasures we place in museums.
Others we take for walks.

Dilly WORK-IN-PROGRESS • 8 x 10 inches • oil on cradled GessobordTM

Last week I spent all week getting ready for the home-and-garden sale we had on Saturday. Some friends came out to help, which made it a lot more fun, and seeing as how the main purpose of the sale was ending up with less stuff it was a roaring success!

So much so that it has taken me a few days to recover my energy.

Today I finally got back to the easel in earnest and the result is that this painting is oh-so-close to being finished. The painting so far had had time to dry in my absence, so today I was able to add some oil glazes to heighten some of the color and give some of the highlights a sunny glow. I plan to finish tomorrow, the good Lord willin’ and the creeks don’t rise …

Sweet dreams!

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Jo and the Jo-ettes


Entourage © 2014 Karen Mathison Schmidt
6 x 6 inches • oil on Museum Series GessobordTM
private collection • Atlanta, Georgia

Here’s Jo, ensconced with a bright floral blanket and her (and my) favorite Laurel Burch kitty pillow. I used iridescent copper acrylic in parts of the underpainting, and let some of those areas on Jo’s fur and the background kitties show through the oil paints. Fun!

Here are my step-by-step progress photos. Check back for commentary Monday morning.

And for all you mothers out there …

Happy Mother’s Day!

Friday, May 9, 2014

A new Jo painting in progress ...

untitled work-in-progress • 6 x 6 inches • oil on GessobordTM

I’m letting the Dilly painting dry for a bit before I add some glazed colors. Meanwhile, here’s a new painting in progress: Jo posing in front of one of my Laurel Burch kitty pillows. You can’t tell from this photo, but this one has some iridescent copper accents in the underpainting, which I’ll let show through in the final version.

Happy painting!

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Joyful surprises


Dilly (commission) work-in-progress
8 x 10 inches • oil on GessobordTM

Here’s where I stopped on the Dilly painting today. 

See how the folds of the blanket in the foreground sorta kinda echo the flourishes on the pillows behind him? I would love to be able to say that I planned it that way, but in actuality I’m just now noticing it. I LOVE it when stuff like that happens!

I can hardly wait until tomorrow so I can continue …

Good night, all!

Monday, May 5, 2014


Inspiration does exist, but it must find you working.


An artist must first of all respond to his subject, 
he must be filled with emotion toward that subject 
and then he must make his technique so sincere, 
so translucent that it may be forgotten, 
the value of the subject shining through it.


Just a reminder: The auction for this redbone coonhound painting ends tonight!


King of Hearts © 2014 Karen Mathison Schmidt
6 x 6 inches • oil on 1/8" Gessobord
private collection • Poway, California

Just look at that face. Don’t you want to take him home? Hmmmm?

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Sleeping dogs

 This morning when I went in to make the bed, this is what I found.

A little while later, after the bed was made …

 … I found this. Our dogs lead such a tough life.

Anyway, it put me right in the mood to tiptoe upstairs 
with my coffee and continue on the Dilly painting:

Shhhhh ….

Sweet dreams!

Friday, May 2, 2014

A new commission in progress ...

Dilly • WORK-IN-PROGRESS detail • 8 x 10 inches • oil on cradled GessobordTM

Here’s where I stopped on adorable Dilly today. Dilly lives in Solihull, England, and his proper name is Dylan, but his family call him Dilly.

As a matter of fact, I know very few dogs who are called by their proper name. Our Trixie, Andy, Roadie, Matilda, Sophie and Blue are perfect examples of this. Around here we call them Trixie-Gooz, Panda Man, Roads (or Rodeo), Tilda-Whirl, Sophalita, and Blue Man Chu. The only one of our dogs who mostly goes by his proper name is Buster, because, well, his proper name is already a nickname, on account of he used to bust out of the backyard gate every chance he could get when he was a youngster.

Anyway, back to Dilly. He has white fur with sunny highlights, fluffy feet and is an absolute joy to paint. Here are my work-in-progress photos so far.

I went over my initial sketch in burnt umber acrylic, then added a glaze of burnt umber to Dilly and phthalo blue to his comfy surroundings.

 Next I added a black glaze to the surroundings and a glaze of pink madder to Dilly ...

 … and then a layer of caput mortuum violet glaze to Dilly.

 Now, after the underpainting is completely dry (I went and did something else for twenty minutes or so) I start with the oil paints on Dilly’s face.

I’m sticking with mainly blues and oranges for this composition; here are the colors I chose for my palette:
Mars black
Old Delft blue
French ultramarine
Cerulean blue
Sheveningen green deep (similar to phthalo green)
Naples yellow
Sheveningen yellow medium (similar to cadmium yellow light)
Shev yellow deep (similar to cadmium yellow deep)
Cadmium yellow extra deep
Cadmium red orange
Brillian rose
Quinacrodone magenta
Mars orange red
Burnt sienna
Burnt umber
Mars black
Titanium white

There’s Dilly, slowly emerging from the underpainting ...

 … and here are his fluffy paws. My favorite part so far is his reddish nose, with that little dab of a highlight right on the tip.When you’re painting an animal with white fur, look extra hard for all those different colors which is the light colored fur reflecting the light bouncing off surrounding objects.

Happy Painting!