My young friend Elise and I are doing a lot of painting while she’s here visiting us on holiday.
Yesterday we took on a fun project – painting her dog Zee -
Elise wanted to try a more painterly approach, something expressive with simple colors and enhanced edges.
We started by covering the 16×20 canvas with a dark plum color and sketching Zee out with white charcoal. Elise decided to change Zee’s to a standing pose which required a little thought and imagination.
Elise then painted the background with a coral pink wash, being careful to leave the charcoal sketched lines exposed.
The next step was to fill in the body of the dog with some color. A small amount of the background color and yellow ochre was added to white to tone it down.
At this point we’ve managed to keep the loose style by making sure the outline (and background color are still exposed. The next step is to decide on a limited color palette for the colors of Zee’s fur. We chose yellow ochre, raw umber, burnt sienna, and ultramarine blue. We also planned to bring in the background plum color with some paynes gray for shadows and color softening.
Because this was an imagined pose we had to decide on a light source. We chose a soft light from the upper left, just forward of the canvas.
Using the photograph and a larger brush, Elise went to work on Zee’s brown spots, paying attention to the color shifts from dark to light and also noticing where the shadows would fall. To help get the nose right, we temporarily taped a copy of the photo very close to the subject. This really helped Elise see the shape and tones around the nose.
The last stages were shadows and making some of the edges a little harder. Elise added some paynes gray to the white mixture to create shadows and added blue to the browns to create distance in the far side if the dog’s face. Finally she used a darker plum (with gray added) to enhance the outline around the outside of the dog.
In the end we decided the pink was a little overwhelming for the background so Elise created a whitewash with the left over white mixture and applied it to the background.
I think this is a beautiful portrait of Zee and we managed to accomplish out goal – a painterly portrait in a loose style. Well done Elise!
For myself, it was a really interesting exercise in translating things I do without thinking into steps that someone else could follow. I had to find words and sentences to express what is often just a hunch or a feeling. I think it also helps me to be a better painter because I have to be deliberate in describing the creation of a painting from beginning to end and this gives me insights into how I approach a work of art I am creating.
Having only painted for around 5 years I was not sure I could tell someone how to paint but I think I like the challenge and might do more of it. Stay tuned!
If you’ve tried to teach someone to paint or draw, what do you find the most challenging?