Friday, March 31, 2006

When is a Commission not a Commission?

One of the definitions of 'commission' is 'a task given to a person to perform' and for me, that simple statement is what puts me off doing pet portrait commissions.
To me, I see the task as giving the owner a portrait that is a permanent reminder of their pet, not just its physical appearance but something that encompases its personality, and that is where my difficulty lies. If I have never met the animal then how can I 'know' it well enough to include personality. I can get the physical appearance right from a good quality photograph and I can ask the owner about personality, but I still do not feel I am able to include that certain something that defines each individual animal. I have five sable and white Rough Collies that all look similar to strangers, but when I look at them, I see their personality in their eyes, in their movement, in the way they react to each other, and so on. An artist once painted one of my own dogs and while it was a very good study of a Rough Collie it was not my 'Saska'
So, I very rarely accept commissions, and for the ones I do, I like to meet the animal if at all possible. I take my own photographs watching the animal in its own surroundings reacting to the people it loves. When that happens I am confident I can embody the animal on canvas or paper and the commission is no longer a commission but becomes a journey of discovery for me as the portrait takes life.
Even when the above conditions are met I still only take on certain commissions as I am becoming increasingly busy producing my Limited edition prints.
However I have agreed to produce a head study of a delightful Black Labrador called 'Poppy', who I met and photographed.
The portrait is in pastel on a cream coloured ingres mountboard and so far I have transferred my drawing and started working on the undercoat. I have put one eye in as is usual with my work.
I will block in all the ear and then bring it to completion next.

Friday, March 24, 2006

More About Drafting Film

The more I work with drafting film, the more I like it. So far it has done everything I've asked it to do with littl;e resistance.
One of the nice things I've found is that because it is semi-transparent you can put different colours of mountboard behind it to influence the colour temperature of the whole piece.
As an example I photographed Hallie with a piece of yellow mountboard underneath, then a piece of grey and a finally a piece of white. The white stage is slightly further on than the other two.
This is the white one.

This is the grey

And this is the yellow.

I'm not sure which I like best, and might even decide to go with nothing behind when it is scanned for the prints, which will give a softer out of focus feel to the distant background.

I am going to do a step by step approach to my next painting, so that anybody who is interested can see exactly how it works.

Juno is at another show tomorrow, this time it is Scottish Breeds Championship show at Ingleston near Edinburgh, so an early start is required. Juno is preparing for that by neglecting his squirrel watching and sleeping peacefully. However no self respecting squirrel would be out and about today as it is absolutely pouring with rain, so he isn't missing much. The house has that pleasant aroma that five long coated, damp dogs give off, I'm hoping that I don't have visitors for a while, as all the dogs are out of sight in the Conservatory, leaving me in possession of the pong.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Lazy Sunday?

Sunday started off with a phone call at 6.55 am from our eldest son wanting collecting from his friends house. He had wanted to stay over after a party last night but then decided that he needed his own bed. Now that wouldn't be so bad as we're already up and about sorting the dogs out at that time, but usually the first car journey of the day is to take the dogs for a walk on the moor. They were not happy that they were left behind and proceeded to howl. As my neighbours are normal and do not rise at this hour on Sundays I had to go round giving treats for being quiet, which only worked until I reached the end of the line. Eventually they gave up and decided to sulk instead, at least that was quiet.
Yesterday the sun made a fleeting appearance so we put the dogs outside in their run for a while, they decided they really prefer being couch potatoes and pleaded to be allowed back in. You can see that Roma isn't quite tall enough to see, so she extends her ears like periscopes. Saska decided to let the other dogs do the pleading, her older back legs don't work quite so well now. Juno was quite happy in the run as he likes squirrel watching and there was one doing tricks to entertain him while hanging from the bird feeder.

I am continuing with my painting on the drafting film, I am very impressed with it. For anyone who works with coloured pencil it is well worth giving it a try. The pencil point lasts longer and there are no little flecks of colour flaking off and getting impressed into the picture. Even dog fur has nothing to cling to and floats away to await the vacuum.
If you want to see where I'm up to with Hallie the Dachshund. have a look at my website.
I am going to start a new piece either today or tomorrow and will include a work in progress.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

After Crufts

Well Crufts is over for another year, so we can all begin frantically trying to qualify for 2007.
Juno did really well, he came 5th out of a nice class of 16, so we went home happy. The light is pretty bad for taking photographs but here we are smiling at the camera.
The smile faded a little when it took us over 2 hours to exit the West Car Park at the NEC, but it's all part of a day in the life of a show dog.
When we finally arrived home, his sister Roma beat him up for being absent all day without her, so life soon returned to normal.

Apart from Juno, another thing I took home from Crufts was the idea of working on drafting film. I saw an artist that I greatly admire working on it and producing the most fantastic paintings. I already had some Polydraw, which is a double matt drafting film in the cupboard so I dragged it into the daylight and gave it a try.

I'm using a photograph showing my friends Dachshund standing in the Autumn leaves, it is a wonderful photograph so I hope I can do it justice.
I first airbrushed some acrylic to create a soft background, having diluted the acrylic using a mix of gloss medium and water so the airbrush nozzle didn't block up.
I then started working in coloured pencil which just glides onto the film, and even better, erases completely without damaging the film.
Here's the stage I've reached, so far, so good.

Next stage involves rather a lot of detailed leaves, never mind, five rough collies bring in plenty each day for me to choose from.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006


It is Juno's big day at Crufts on Thursday and we are in the middle of preparing him to look his best. This is how Juno views the proceedings.

I have a methodical method of getting him ready. First he has his bath, then I trim his hocks, then starting at his tail I brush all his fur the wrong way, then again starting again at his tail I brush it all into place.

Thing about preparation, made me realise that I work my dog and cat portraits in the same methodical way.
I start with the eyes and work outwards till I come to an area I don't understand at that time. I then find an area I do understand and work outwards from that, and so on, until the whole thing fits together.
As an example here's where I'm up to with the graphite Elkhound I'm working on.
I started with the eyes, because if they aren't right I don't carry on, they are the most important part of an animal portrait to me. I then couldn't quite work out the fur direction on the muzzle, so I worked the nose and now I can see how it will all fit together.
I have also left finishing the ear until I can better judge the light tones.
I also bring each area more or less to completion before I move on to the next.
I would be interested to know how other artists deal with pet portraits.

And as for Juno, well I hope he looks a little bit more lively in the ring.

Friday, March 03, 2006

A Dog's Life

Time to introduce Zeus, father to Roma and Juno, reluctant mate to Jorja (more about that later). His pedigree name is Carostar Castaway at Glenspey, and sometimes we wish he had been cast a bit further away than here.
He now lives with my mum and has a wonderful life ruling everyone with a muddy paw.

Zeus is eight in April and was our second Rough Collie and first show dog, and from the start had a mind of his own. The little things we laughed at as a pup came back to haunt us later on.
For instance, he didn't like the shiny floor at the vets and would have to be dragged to the consulting room on the doormat, or carried. Everyone smiled at him being towed along, but what we didn't realise at the time, was that he had decided he was never, ever going to walk on a shiny floor. He used to move through the shiny floored conservatory by leaping on to the chair and jumping down to the mat by the door. Not being completely stupid we did make him walk on the floor if we caught him, but he would then slink along with his belly inches from the floor.

So he grew up and at six months was taken along to his first small show, and as is usual with open shows held in the winter in this country it was held in a sports hall. Of course the floor positively shone it was so shiny and Zeus decided point blank he would rather suffer the consequences than put his snow white paw on that floor. So we carried him in and explained to him that he would be able to move on mats, he just had to walk up and down it twice, so the judge could see how he moved.
With plenty of bribes we got him moving slowly along the floor, then it was time for his class. We went to the end of the line and he inched slowly up the mat till it was his turn to shine. He stood beautifully for the judge to go over him, then we set off down the mat, well actually I set off down the mat Zeus didn't move a muscle. I went back and tried bribes, no way his eyes said, and just to make sure I understood, he slowly fell to the floor. Thank you, said the judge as I picked him up and carried him back to the mat.
There was no rosette for Zeus that day and even now he doesn't like shiny floors, although he did go on to win several rosettes, usually at Summer shows, on grass.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

What Makes an Impression?

While I'm waiting for Juno in oil to dry, and the real furry Juno is beginning his countdown to Crufts I thought I'd share this little story from my human family.
My young niece Holly is five, and likes to paint and draw. She had been naughty one day while my brother was looking after her, so he sent her to her room. There was silence for a few minutes then Holly came back in the room with a little card she'd made. On the front was a little drawing and inside it said 'sorry for being naughty Daddy', but what made my brother smile was when he turned it over and written in large letters on the back was 'Made in England'.
For Holly, the writing on the back of cards she had seen, had made as much impression as the pictures on the front...

Must remember to make sure Juno's tail is as smart as his head when he goes to Crufts.