Inspiration in Unlikely Places.

An artists’ guide to finding brilliant ideas in a pizza delivery box – or wherever else you least expect it.

Big Night. December 2018. Oil on canvas. 24 x 30″.

This painting, and this post, are inspired by a photo of our three vizslas lined up and waiting for pizza scraps to be shared with them. But let’s back up a little bit. Our dogs are always hungry. They love to eat so much. This association with food and love and nurturing is all tied together in our relationship with them. It’s the basis for nicknames, inside jokes, and showing love.

Teelo dreams of beef.

We take a lot of care in feeding our dogs nutritious and tasty-to-them meals. Each morning they have dog food with a side of berry, spinach, and yogurt smoothie. Maybe some apple slices and peppers thrown in for good measure, leftover from lunch prep. Dinners are usually a variation of dog food with one of their favorites – sweet potato, scrambled eggs, leftover roast beef, steamed carrots. “What’s for dinner?” is a question that applies to the dogs as much as it applies to us when we open the fridge to figure out the evening meal.

Work in progress – December 2018.

That all three dogs are such food fanatics is a little surprising, especially for Teelo, who has reversed course in a huge way. From years one through three, Teelo was so busy, and such a picky eater. He was all dog ribs and long skinny teenager legs. We could not tempt with anything. And he could go days with only a few bites of food. To be honest, it was super annoying. The tides have certainly turned and Teelo has spent many years making up for lost time. We lovingly refer to him as, “The Beef Man,” (pretty self-explanatory – he loves it and looks like a pot roast). That Teelo is able to maintain a healthy weight is really only due to our extreme efforts to save him from himself. Teelo even eats a special “satiety blend” dog food to try to keep him sated – it turns out, he cannot be. He’s so clever and dexterous, that in his older (no filter) age he has taken to unzipping my bag packed with food for work, selecting a few snacks, and popping open the Ziploc bags to enjoy. This past January I came in one morning from cleaning snow off the cars to find Teelo in the middle of the living room, finishing off a peanut butter sandwich and carrot sticks (but not the celery, he left that littered around the carpet for me). There was no shame in his eyes for stealing my lunch. What a guy.

In comparison, our gruesome twosome Clicquot and Riggs are a lot less devious, but certainly are no slouches in the begging department and suffer from significant treat FOMO.

Good behavior is all an illusion.

And pizza – Pizza trumps all (except roast beef). It is king in the vizsla snack world.

Reminiscing about warm deck dinners in July.

This painting was inspired by our vizslas who love pizza so much that we lovingly refer to them as The Crust Dogs. Example of this used in a sentence: “Make sure you save your crust for The Crust Dogs”.

Clicquot.

The Crust Dogs do not discriminate – homemade or delivery. One summer we invested in a pizza oven for our BBQ and literally ate pizza for two months straight. As a hobby my husband set out to perfect his pizza dough-making technique a few years ago and in our house humans and dogs have enjoyed the benefits of this immensely.

At the same time, the dogs have granted the pizza delivery man a stranger-danger exemption – he is not to be scared off, but instead he is a stranger to be trusted, wagged at, toys offered to – and he is welcome to knock on our door in the dark at 10 pm on any random Saturday night – I can’t say that luxury is afforded to anyone else who visits us.

Just a typical Saturday evening in.

The reference for this painting was a picture I took of all three dogs lined up in front of me, good as gold, my three little angels, waiting for their share of my pizza crust one evening. They are never better behaved than when they are waiting for a valuable handout. This is why, “Dogs waiting for food,” is a standard pose for all dog moms. Other fail safes include, “Dogs sleeping,” and, “Dogs sun-tanning,” (the latter of two sometimes being one and the same – there’s often some overlap there).

This was such a great photo and I knew right away that I had to paint it.

Teelo.

Bringing this painting to life took a long time – the reference photo was taken last summer but I waited until I had transitioned to oils and then waited some more to think on this composition of all three dogs.

A single portrait is a big task, multiple figures poses many more challenges and I spent many months working on other paintings while the reference sketch of three vizslas hung in my art room. Sometimes even if I’m not physically working on a project, having it around to think about is like a type of work. And then when I sat down to finally get started – all those months of pondering it made the painting come together really easily. It was also painted against a backdrop of a lot of personal stuff – I was painting this piece when the email invitation to interview for my new job dinged through on my phone, and I completed the painting over the ensuing weeks of huge life decisions, serious conversations with my husband about what we wanted our future to look like, and the resulting upheaval that a big life decision brings. This painting was one of the very last items packed for storage before our move.

My paintings often play double duty – They capture a moment in time on the surface, but they are also closely tied to the time when I created them and everything I was feeling. While begging for pizza was the comical inspiration for this painting (picture me, I’m behind the lens probably with a slice in one hand, camera phone in the other), what is serious about this piece is how accurately it captures each dog. I love portraiture. I love capturing these moments in time and working through my feelings about my subject matter as I paint. In this case studying their sweet features and ruminating on my love for them.

Clicquot.

In this work, each dog looks just like their unique self. Teelo is Big Teelo, standing firm and gazing right at me, looking straight into my soul. Clicquot looks a bit like, hey, how did I end up here? Which is basically her standard. Always late to the party but never left out. The girl with the big, brown eyes. And that is a classic Riggs pose. There he is, with all of his middle-child narrative that we’ve created for him. He’s first in line, continuously inching his bottom forward with his head cocked in a pose that is at once inquisitive, but non-committal, eyes half closed but really fully alert, gaze partially diverted but still totally aware… ready to pounce if pizza is offered (deliberately or by accident).

Clicquot and Riggs.

I love these simple moments with the dogs, with my family. I love remembering them forever through my art. More and more I see my style evolving to remember people, places, memories frozen in time in my work. I find endless inspiration in this idea. A painting is really so much more than what you see. With so much change and uncertainty in my life right now, it’s comforting to reflect on a time and a place when I was at peace. I miss the routine of our quiet Saturday nights with The Crust Dogs. And I look forward to getting that familiar feeling back again. Soon.

Thank you for reading!

My Muse, Miss Clicquot.

To love her is to paint her. ❤️

Oh Miss Monkey Bananas Clicquot. Sweet girl with the biggest brown eyes. She joined our family when she was two years old. Clicquot is the younger sister to Teelo and Riggs. I did worry about her blending into our animal menagerie at first, and how that would go. I remember letting her out of the car her first night in our home and she trotted into the house like she owned the joint. She spent the next 48 hours chasing Beesa everywhere and she placed herself firmly and unwaveringly at the top of our animal hierarchy. Since then, she has ruled over our home like the Princess and the Pea with all of her delicate sensibilities and constant demands.

Like clockwork, every night at 9 pm she cries and grunts until you cover her with a blanket. Hers is a pushy, aggressive type of love. Clicquot thinks nothing of climbing up on an already crowded couch and camping out on top of one of her brothers until they make the sensible choice and leave, vacating their spot for her. Or body-checking her grandmother when she comes to visit (sorry mom!). Or head-butting everyone in sight when she knows it’s “walk time”.

She loves the fireplace in the winter, and sun- tanning on the warm deck in the summer. Sometimes you have to save her from her love of heat – turn the fireplace off or bring her in from the sun when it seems like any sane animal or human would’ve had enough. It is impossible to get mad at her, and that is how Clicquot gets away with it all. Really, all she wants is to be warm, and to be loved, and she is not shy to demand either when her meter is running low. And we – we are so happy to supply her with all the cuddles, blankets, and love she could possibly need.

With her almost cartoon-like features, and that face, Clicquot has been a huge source of inspiration for my art. She’s my little vizsla muse.

I realized I’ve done quite a few portraits of Clicquot and I thought I’d share them with you. Miss Monkey Bananas, below, represented a real level up for me. The solitary figure, vibrant colours, and solid background cutting in with confident lines around my subject – this is a style I returned to and experimented with many times in the latter half of 2018.

Miss Monkey Bananas Clicquot. August 2018. Acrylic on canvas. 12 x 12″.

My husband and I took Clicquot for an epic 35 km backcountry hike at Algonquin Park the summer she came to live with us. We planned it as a bonding experience for just the three of us (the boys stayed with their grandparents and were thoroughly spoiled). Clicquot was such a good little hiker. She stayed right beside me even when we was off-leash, and she was NOT interested in meeting any other hikers, human or canine. We hiked about 17 km the first day and when we arrived at our campsite at Hart Lake we spent the rest of the summer afternoon chilling on the rocky shore. Clicquot was our little lookout dog. This painting makes me want to take her back to the backcountry… such happy memories.

Clicquot at Heart Lake. February 2018. Acrylic and ink on canvas. 18 x 24″.

And finally, this painting was inspired entirely by Edward Hopper’s Pensive Lady in Pink, replaced by our own little pensive lady in red. I went through a bit of a Hopper tribute phase in the first half of 2018, covered in this post. Every time I finished a Clicquot painting, I would think of another painting idea, or take another perfect photo of her that was just begging to be painted.

Pensive Lady in Red. May 2018. Acrylic on canvas. 16 x 20″.

Clicquot 3 x 3

The Clicquot 3 x 3. I love this. This is an ongoing Clicquot project that I started about a year ago and which I would really like to return to and finally complete. My recent sketchbook tour sent me looking through other sketchbooks for fun and I was reminded of this series. This was inspired by a sweet book my husband gave to me many, many years ago: Arty Dogs. In it, dogs are added to famous paintings accompanied by a short story that explains how they ended up there, and it’s just really whimsical and great. It gave me the idea to feature sweet Clicquot in nine different scenes inspired by nine of my favourite artists. Whenever I don’t have another project going on, I try to finish a Clicquot sketch. Lately – that hasn’t been very often and this project needs some attention. I envision finishing all of these on hot press drawing board, with white frames, and hanging on a wall in a 3 x 3 formation (obviously).

This first sketch is inspired by Salvador Dali’s melty clocks and the Persistence of Memory. I absolutely love this quick sketch that I did in about five minutes during lunch at work one day. I hesitate to try to create a more polished, final drawing from this sketch because I think it might be difficult to reproduce the spontaneity.

The Persistence of Clicquot.

This is Clicquot standing outside looking into the old Apollo Grill at Hunter and George Streets. Inspired by Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks it puts a local spin on the classic painting. This makes me think of an independent little Clicquot who took a stroll downtown to get herself a hotdog only to find out, “No Dogs Allowed” inside the diner.

Nighthawks Clicquot

This is Clicquot starring in Edvard Munch’s The Scream and reimagined as, what else? The Howl. Clicquot doesn’t howl much. None of the dogs do. Teelo is the only one who ever really has, but the conditions need to be exactly right. He used to howl when we lived in Downtown Toronto, and he was still Downtown Brown. Sometimes when we were out for a walk, a firetruck would pass us with the sirens wailing. If the firetruck approached us from an adequate distance, so that the sirens were going for awhile, Teelo would sit down, throw his dog head back, and hoooooooooowl along with the sirens. Everyone on the sidewalk would turn to look. It was kind of his thing. This sketch reminds me of that, even though Clicquot is the subject.

The Howl.

Oh this is one of my favourites. I made many drafts of this sketch to get it just right. It is inspired by Roy Lichtenstein. We have three Lichtenstein prints hanging in our house. We spent many months trying to source that perfect trio of prints that explore domestic un-bliss and melodrama. I love pop art, I love Lichtenstein’s primary colour, dot-matrix portraits, and this is a combination of the “I don’t care…” sentimentality of Drowning Girl, and Kim Carnes’ song, “Bette Davis Eyes.” I always think of the line, She’s ferocious, and she knows just what it takes to make a pro blush. I’m pretty sure that Teelo and Riggs think Clicquot is a spy sent from outer space, or from our breeder’s house. Hence the title. 😉

All the Boys Think She’s a Spy.

I recycled this title for my Beesa painting, This is a Cat. I sketched this with Magritte’s pipe in mind – The Treachery of Images. I like it. It’s cheeky, just like Clicquot.

Another Magritte, another surrealist painting, another portrait of Clicquot. A cross between Magritte’s Green Apple and Decalcomania. I like how it pays tribute to three Magritte works in one. This will be the final composition for the Magritte drawing.

Ceci n’est pas un chien.

Below is a rough sketch of my Andy Warhol Clicquot Portrait. I think we all know the silk-screen Warhol Monroes on repeat, and the Campbell Soup Cans. This would be neat as a sketch but also as a mixed-media kind of decoupage that combines a black and white photocopy of Clicquot with multiple contrasting colours. I’ll have to think on its final execution a little more. I remember going to see the Warhol exhibit at the Art Gallery of Ontario on a wintery weekend with my MOM back in grade 10. I wore high heel boots that really hurt my feet and she insisted on taking the subway. After living downtown for ten plus years, taking the subway is no thing at all now but I was quite concerned for our safety on that first roundtrip into the big city. Anyway, the whole exhibit focused on Warhol’s work as a graphic designer. I loved it – I was really interested in graphic design as a career for myself back then and it was so interesting to see it elevated to fine art at the AGO. The exhibit was partly Warhol’s work interwoven with snapshots and pieces of his life. There was even a little display within the exhibit that featured a bottle of Clinique’s Dramatically Different Moisturizing Lotion that Warhol used. I used the same lotion then, and I use it now! And I’ve been a fan of Warhol since way back then too.

Candle in the Wind Clicquot.

My husband’s favourite artist is William Blake, the British Romantic painter unwittingly responsible for so much of the imagery in the Red Dragon movie (of Hannibal Lecter infamy). Unbelievably, he was a watercolour painter – I think his works are amazing. This is Clicquot howling along with the dragon in a sketch appropriately title, The Great Red Vizsla and the Dragon Clothed in Sun. Not sure if I’ll take my chances and paint the final work as a watercolour too… it’s not always guaranteed to be a success for me.

The Great Red Vizsla and the Dragon Clothed in Sun.

And that’s the entirety of my works inspired by Clicquot. Now that I’ve had a chance to return to the Clicquot 3 x 3 I hope I’ll be able to make it a priority to finish in the next few months and finally get it framed and on display. I counted and it looks like I’m two sketches shy of having all of my ideas. Kandinsky? Cezanne? Picasso? Seurat? We will see.

Representing my loved ones and my own memories through painting is a huge theme for my work. This is a subject I hope to explore more deeply through portraiture for the rest of 2019. I think it’s interesting to kind of push my own idea of a portrait a bit, paint my subjects from unconventional viewpoints, play with the colour and background and contrast. I have a number of paintings already lined up.

Clicquot has such an easy face to paint – I’m in the middle of a portrait of her and her brothers right now, and as soon as I filled in the darkest parts of her eyes I sat back and thought, I’ve got it! Those expressive features, and her fierce and pushy and lovey personality – we are just so lucky to have Clicquot in our family. I always call her my sweet girl. I feel like she’s been my little girl forever. There was no warming-up period, it was just an instant bond. That first weekend with her in our home my husband had to work. So I ventured out for a solo walk with all.the.dogs. It was unusually hot and when we got home it was quiet in the house. I lay down for a rest after the triple-dog-walk excitement (um, mayhem) and I remember distinctly that Clicquot just jumped right up beside me on the bed and curled close in next to me. It was love. It’s been her spot ever since (not counting her first few nights here when she was crated to stop her from hunting Beesa while we slept 🙄).

And there you have it – Little Miss Monkey Bananas Clicquot. Thank you for reading everyone and happy Monday!

Not Always Perfect.

A little bit of day-in-the-life and a few thoughts from this Thursday.

5:15 am – A bit of a sleep-in today (I’m serious) but now I’m up. The Winter Solstice has really been doing a number on my energy. Beesa is “Heeeeee-ing” for her first meal, pretty aggressively. I feed her ten kibbles. She eats three and screams for fresh kibbles. I oblige her. We repeat this a few times.

5:15-6:00 – I didn’t clean the kitchen before bed last night so I do a full kitchen clean-up, wash some dishes that don’t fit in the dishwasher, Dyson the main floor trying not to wake my sleeping husband, fold some towels, Windex all the shiny surfaces. That’s better, I can relax. Teelo is up now and not to be outdone by Grandma Beesa he is waiting to be fed. I shoo him outside and down the deck steps for his morning consitution. I shoo Riggs out too. Feed the boys, now Clicquot is up. Of course she is. Shoo her outside with a pat on her bottom before feeding her. Alright, now all animals appear to be happy… except for Wiggis… since I haven’t seen him yet I start to wonder if he’s locked himself in a closet again (this is a daily occurrence). Remind myself to look for him later.

6:00-6:40 – Finish prepping lunches. With the way our schedules work out, Thursday is always my easy meal prep day which gives me more time for cleaning 🙂 Peak into art room to make sure everything is ok. Makeup, hair, outfit. Find Wiggis in my shoe closet when I go to grab a pair of boots. Shoo Wiggis out of the shoe closet, it’s supposed to be off-limits to cats.

7:00-3:00 – Work!

3:00-3:45 – House-cleaning, life-organizing.

3:45-4:45 – Dog walk. They need it. I need it. We’re supposed to get a lot of rain for the next few days and I really want to get some art work done tonight so I want my sweeties tired and ready to keep me company in the art room (by napping not whining baby Riggs). It’s cloudy but warm for December. It’s my favourite type of dog walking weather. I tweaked my knee in kickboxing this week so we just walk. I hurt the same knee pretty badly two summers ago so I’m fine to take the warning pain and rest for a few days versus being out of commission for the next two months. I rationalize that I could use a bit of a Christmas vacation anyway 🙂

5:00-6:30 – Art time. Last night I transferred my sketch of Chris and baby Teelo on a TTC streetcar circa 2010, College Street to a canvas I tinted weeks and weeks ago. I silently thank “weeks and weeks ago” me for thinking ahead. Because of all the metals and shadows in the reference photo I used Payne’s grey for the tinting colour. It’s not very even. I’ve had more practice since then and I can do better than this now.

There’s a lot going on here and I do want to include a lot of the detail in the painting. I decide that I’ll start with the darkest areas of the reference photo. All of them. I use a mixture of Old Holland Scheveningen black, Payne’s grey, and burnt umber. My old standbys. My neck starts to hurt from the detail work. This doesn’t feel relaxing.

6:30-7:30 – Errands! I bring my husband a coffee at work then hit the bank, Sobey’s (my favourite grocery store), and Canadian Tire. Home and I’m starving so I have toast and Cheese Whiz for dinner (I have been on a Cheese Whiz kick recently).

7:30 – 10 – Back to work on my streetcar painting! I try to practice as much restraint as I can. This is my first human portrait in a really.long.time. It’s really challenging. I was going to call it a night with the black areas done, give them time to dry, but I decide to tackle the skin tones tonight. I couldn’t resist. I use a mixture of titanium white, burnt umber, gold ochre, and Scheveningen red medium. Emphasis on the titanium white. I try to see the skin as very distinct areas of shadow and highlight and in-between. No ombre blending nightmares here. I think I need to make a bulk purchase of new brushes because they are all irritating me, getting gummy and not holding a point. I wonder whether you should just always use new brushes for new paintings? Does money grow on trees? Sigh.

10:15 – My husband is home. The dogs go crazy. We make a snack and chat about our days. Talk about Christmas plans a little. I go and check on my painting, decide I should leave well enough alone and go back with a transparency outline when it’s dry to check for mistakes in the painting, which I will surely find. The reference sketch is really solid so if the painting deviates from that at all it’s a problem. I’m pretty sure it does. Probably won’t be able to get back to this until later this weekend. Let the dogs out one more time for bedtime business. Cuddle with the dogs. Give Clicquot some ear medicine. Time to call it a night.

Thoughts

It occurred to me as I was making my way through my painting tonight that I had the feeling that I was starting to tilt my head weirdly as I was working. I often have this sensation if I feel that something doesn’t look right. As I’ve discussed before I find it really difficult to assess the appearance of a painting when I’m seated right in front of the wet canvas. Taking a step back and taking a pic really helps. But that head-tilting sensation is usually a sign to me that something is wrong and I’m turning my head to get a viewpoint that will make it look better. I will definitely use my transparency check on this painting once it is dry.

I think the painting doesn’t look very good right now, as I’m working I start to think about ditching it. I wish that past me had chosen a larger canvas size. This is 18 by 24 inches which isn’t small but it feels cramped with all the detail and the size of my husband and Teelo. I’m considering making this a study for a larger final work. The Beesa paintings have been such a pleasure to paint and one reason is the size – so much room to work.

It’s important for my animal portraits to look real, but I feel like it’s even more important for this painting to be perfect. I don’t want my husband to cringe every time he walks past it hanging in a hallway, lol.

I actually toyed with the idea of not showing anyone my work tonight, including just forgetting about this Thursday post. I realized that I really only want to show my current art that I think is close to perfect. Then I realized that’s pretty dishonest and not really in the spirit of what I’m trying to achieve with this blog. Showing my artistic process is important. Isn’t that why I’m doing this? This being this art, this website, this trying to connect with fellow artists in the community at large….

Another angle.

I text my mom and sister the painting and show my husband, nobody seems as bothered as me. I think I need to just step away for a few days. I usually experience a really awkward point at some time in every painting and I just need to figure out the solution. When I work through that I’m usually happy with the results. I’ve only permanently ditched one painting in 2018… Maybe I just need to have a little more confidence in this process? Or maybe it’s terrible but I guess we will see…

Closing thought for today: Art isn’t just effortlessly easy. I really wish it was. I look at the work of my favourite artists and I just can’t imagine them struggling like I feel that I do, and pretty often. I’ve been on such a good run with my painting recently I feel out of sorts to have these doubts about my work. I just want everyone to say oh I love that so much! What I know is that it’s not effortless, it’s not just natural raw talent making beautiful art. It’s a lot of work, and thought, and problem-solving.

I will come back to this piece another day.

Thanks for reading everyone.


Charlee.

My FIRST niece also happens to be a dog. How I painted her, from start to finish. 

Charlee. August 2018. Acrylic on canvas. 16×20″.

Charlee, aka the cookie monster, is dog “cousin” to Teelo, Riggs, and Clicquot. Charlee is a Portuguese water dog. She was supposed to be a boy, but then my sister was handed a girl puppy on the day they went to pick “him” up from the breeder. True to form, my sister already had her mind made up that her dog would be named Charlee, so Charlee she stayed. Charlee and Teelo are both eight years old and a bit, born one month apart (Teelo is the older, more mature pup, obviously). They spent a lot of time together when they were little, especially before Riggs and then Miss Monkey Bananas Clicquot appeared on the scene. Nowadays, special planning has to take place to manage get-togethers of this four-dog gong show, but the cousins always remember each other (in one way or another).

Charlee is pretty quirky (aren’t all dogs weird in their own way?). She can’t be trusted around cats, Wiggis can attest to that. You can often catch her rocking a bandanna like a supermodel (or hot mess, depends when you catch her). Charlee also likes long walks with her grandpa, eating off of countertops, and being a big sister to my sweet nephew (although I’m quite sure she preferred being an only child, sorry sis).  

Teelo and Charlee sharing a laugh. 

I painted Charlee over a few days in August 2018. I always take a lot of pics to document my work as a reference for myself. Mainly I do this so that if things really go off the rails I have a breadcrumb trail to try to get back to when things were “good”. It’s also a great way to tell the story of a painting.

This work was done in artist quality acrylics (Tri-Art and Golden – if you asked me to choose I would say that I prefer Golden but they are hard to come by in-store where I live). The main palette was burnt umber, Payne’s grey, burnt sienna, cobalt blue (!), and titanium white. There was also some failed experimentation with naphthol red which I’ll get to. I painted on gallery stretched canvas, size 16×20″. As an alternative to black, mixing burnt umber and Payne’s grey will give you a beautiful nearly black colour that is so rich- I think it really captures the inky darkness of blue-black shadows and I used it extensively for C’s portrait. 

I started with this print-out of a photo my sister took of Charlee. I’ll often fiddle with filters and lighting of a photo before printing it out to sketch. Especially for… hirsute… canines like Charlee it really helps me to identify the dominant lines for my drawing. I always create a sketch, sometimes more than one if the first doesn’t suffice. The goal is not to have a perfectly detailed, shaded drawing, but quite literally a map of the most important lines and placement of anatomy. The sketch needs to capture the essence of the subject or it won’t be useful as a reference for the painting. It has to be pretty perfect. The more accurate I am here, the better for the painting. The Charlee sketch was pretty easy – maybe because I know her so well, but also I was really looking forward to sketching from that photo, the angle of her nose struck me as being really cute. I should say I did have to add in a body for Charlee based on another photo for reference of her. 

Once I was happy with the sketch I transferred it to the canvas. First using graphite transfer paper (my old standby) and then apparently I decided to go over those lines with a Sharpie? I am a huge Sharpie fan for watercolour and ink paintings, but I don’t normally use it for an under-drawing. I must have been feeling especially committed to this sketch? 

Nowadays, I prefer to tint the entire canvas with a uniform, neutral colour, prior to beginning a painting – for oil and acrylic. I find it kind of jarring to paint directly on to bright white gesso. I also prefer to have a neutral first layer so that if there is any unpainted canvas showing through it’s complimentary to the final painting.

Evidently, I didn’t start Charlee that way. I started with Payne’s grey and burnt umber for the darkest areas and slowly built that up in layers, then started working my way up to the highlights. Charlee has black fur, but within the highlights there are blues, and browns, and earthy yellows. When you paint from life, it’s so important to look closely and consider what colours you can see – sort of like that forest for the trees expression. Always look closely. What do you see? 😉

I kept layering in the highlights on top of the dark base.. I had to be careful to paint quickly and not let it dry too much between layers. I used a round, soft #6 brush which really worked to give the illusion of individual hairs. I use soft round and filbert (sizes #6 and #8) synthetic watercolour brushes for all of my paintings, regardless of the medium, usually short handle even if working at my easel.

I also always like to paint the eyes and nose right away because as soon as those are done, I will have a better feeling for the painting and how it’s going to turn out. In this case I loved Charlee’s little nose and the highlight detail right away. It’s the focal point.

Once Charlee was good to go, this is where it got a little bit tricky. I thought since Charlee is so dark, that a light background would really help to contrast with that. I really prefer to paint the background as I’m painting my subject now, otherwise you risk having the two look disassociated somehow. Anyway, once I had this light background in place, the whole painting seemed really washed out to me. And too streaky. I hated it. 

Fail!

Then I felt like I had a stroke of genius and decided that RED, pure naphthol red, would be the most striking background. So off I went. 

I was so sure of it, I signed the painting. Done. then I realized that actually I hated it too.

Double fail!

And so, that is the roundabout way I came to choose a dark background for Charlee. I decided to use the darkest shade in Charlee’s colouring, and the highlights of her fur provided the contrast. I decided I loved it. After all that. 

Charlee took about three days to complete including the background fails. I would paint after work and after the gym and whenever I had time between dog walks. There are always many dog walks. Day one was for sketching, transferring the drawing to the canvas, and underpainting. Day two was when the bulk of the painting took place, adding in details and working out Charlee’s features (I feel like every portrait is a bit of a problem to solve). Day three was final details, choosing the background colour, and sending pics to my sister to approve. 

I always use acrylics for commissions because of the fast drying time. And in Charlee’s case I was able to really exploit the fast drying to use a drybrush technique and add a lot of detail in her fur. In other paintings I have really struggled with acrylic paint drying too quickly regardless of using retarding medium. This has been a big motivation for me switching over to oils for my personal works recently where I can work all prima (and sound fancy doing so!). 😛 

It’s always easiest to paint dogs that you love because you know their personalities and you can kind of weave that into the painting as you go.

Charlee, the painting, now hangs proudly in my sister’s main floor washroom, because (according to her logic) that room receives the most traffic in the house. Also, according to my sweet sister, the painting receives many compliments from all of the visitors who happen to cross paths with it in the course of their business there. 

And that’s the story of Charlee and her portrait. Thanks for reading! 🙂