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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.