Those of us who paint are always in awe of painters in the past century. They had to work under much tougher conditions. They could not go down to the local art store and buy a canvas pre-stretched. When I decide what size canvas I need, it is a simple trip to the art supply store and I can purchase canvas of any size or type. On the other hand, many of the old masters’ paintings were painted on wooden boards. In addition, frequently the canvases were of varied sizes due to the non-standard hand work of making and stretching canvas.
Recently I visited the Houston Museum of Art where they had a Edgar Degas exhibit. The museum had a large showing of many of his early works. He is well known for painting groups, mostly famously dancers. One of his frequent group subjects was also race horses.
While at the exhibit, I learned one of the techniques that he used to save time and add variety. I always thought of these artist as purists. I did not realize that they were always thinking of ways to make a painting better without adding a large amount of time to the process.
What Degas did was so simple that I wonder why I did not think of it before. He would use tracing paper and draw a dancer on it and then reverse the paper and trace it. What he would have then is two dancers that did not look alike but were in effect the same. They were being viewed from a different angle. Of course, I cannot do this, as I am never painting duplicates. Each animal I paint has a distinct look and personality that I need to capture. But it is interesting nonetheless!
Now have discovered this, I wonder what other labor-saving techniques were used by the great masters. I feel fairly certain that other painters have used tracing paper to reverse an image for repetition. It will be interesting for me and maybe you to try to look at paintings with repetition of images and see if it is an example of the techniques of using tracing paper.
Drama on Canvas
In this blog post, I am sharing with you the step-by-step process as I painted a portrait of Kodos the cat, capturing drama on canvas. The owner and I selected a photograph (on the left above) with a unique pose full of drama that would translate well to canvas. In the middle above is the sketch I made to begin the process. On the right is the wash which defines the areas of dark and light for the final painting.
This photograph and the resulting painting is a perfect example of the artistic device called foreshortening. During the Renaissance in Florence in the 1400’s a new technique of painting called foreshortening was first used to present dramatic perspective. Up to this time painters were not concerned with realism in art. Painting did not have the depth that we have now grown accustomed to.
As a pet portrait painter I am constantly using techniques to represent three-dimensional objects on a two-dimensional surface in a way that looks natural and realistic. Foreshortening occurs when an object appears compressed when seen from a particular viewpoint. The effect of this perspective causes distortion. Foreshortening is a particularly effective artistic device used to give the impression of three-dimensional volume and create drama in a painting.
What do you think of the final portrait of Kodos?
Doing a pet portrait is more than a creative outlet for me. I would like to tell you three recent stories that touched my heart.
First Story: A Beautiful Memory
A lady called and told me that she had a wonderful pet that was sick with cancer. Her beloved pet’s face had a big tumor. She wondered if I could paint a portrait that would show her dog the way she was before she fell ill. She wanted a beautiful memory.
We met in a park and I took many pictures of her dog in this natural setting to capture her spirit. When I delivered the painting, she was very pleased and said it looked just like her pet at her best. She sent me a picture of the painting on her wall with the dog lying below the painting. She and I were so pleased that we had created a lasting memory.
Second Story: The Best Picture
The second story is about a daughter who wanted to give her dad an oil painting of his best buddy for his birthday. I gave her a gift certificate to present to her dad. Shortly after that, I spoke to her father and he sent me four photos of his buddy. I emailed him that I thought the one on the couch was best. I thought the one of the dog in his car was not the one to use. He responded that he liked the one in the car best, but he would agree with my judgment. I decided we should talk on the phone about the painting. During the discussion, I discovered the dog went everywhere with him. He always rode shotgun in the truck. After the discussion, I agreed that we should paint the dog in the car setting because the two buddies went everywhere together.
I delivered the painting and the owner was pleased. We have discussed other dogs that he might want me to paint. I hope someday I’ll have the opportunity since I have learned a lot. The best picture to paint is not always the one that is potentially the most artistic. Portraits of dogs and cats are memory makers.
Third Story: The Rest of the Story
A client asked me to paint a pet portrait of a pet that was getting up in age. The man knew his wife would love to have a portrait. I asked him to take several pictures in secret because he wanted to surprise his wife.
The next week he said that he was not going to have the painting done as his wife had seen him taking the pictures and he had to confess why. She said that it would cost too much and not to do it. I said fine, but if you think it is something that she would like why not surprise her. I offered him his money back if by chance she really didn’t want it. The long and the short of it – she loved it and called me to help place it in the best place in her home.
As Paul Harvey would say – “here’s the rest of the story”. I got a call at home one Saturday night, months later, telling me that they were sitting with a glass of wine looking at the picture. They had wanted to call to tell me how happy they were to have this oil painting in their home. Their loyal friend had died that day.
What I hope you get from these three stories is that for me the reward of the painting is the knowledge that I have helped to create a lasting memory.
Do YOU have a memory in the making?
Not this kind of oil and water!
Painting with acrylics requires water. Painting with oil does not. Now, mixed media is a whole other story!
As a professional painter, I have been asked several times why I use oil and not acrylic paint. Acrylics, created in the 1940’s, are faster to paint with since they dry very quickly. In fact, a spray bottle of water is a must if you are painting with acrylics. Depending on the environment, you spray water on the painting and the palette to keep the paint from drying while you are in the process of painting. Acrylics are less expensive to buy and easy to clean up – no ruined clothes!
On the other hand, oil paint used for centuries, has its own advantages and disadvantages. The famous masters of painting had to create their own colors from ground-up stone such as lapis mottled with white calcite and brassy pyrite to create blue. Their palette was dictated by availability. As a modern painter I am fortunate that I am able to buy pre-made colors in many shades and blend oils on the palette in such a way that I can create the exact shade of color that I want. This gives me much more flexibility and the expanded palette that I desire. Oil takes longer to dry than acrylic paint, but it gives me the chance to continually “edit” my painting because it takes so much longer to completely dry, and i can touch it up for a long time.
When i first started painting, I used acrylics for the obvious reasons listed above. With acrylics I could produce a painting quickly. Next, I branched out into combining acrylic and oil. This is called mixed media. With mixed media, I would use acrylics for the base and wait a few hours for it to dry. After the painting dried, I would apply oil paint over the acrylic. It is not possible to paint acrylics over oil. After experimenting with the three processes, I settled on oil painting which gives me the opportunity to create the best possible product.
What Other Painters Use
The next time you are in a gallery, take note of what medium is used in the painting. All three are popular. I venture to say that paintings which are very thick are generally mixed media or acrylic. I find it interested to try to figure out what medium the artist used and then guess why they used it.
I wanted to paint a picture that was out of the ordinary. I really like this look. The lighting and the perspective are unique.
What do you think?
Over the holidays one year I was given a rush project. The two dogs involved were captured in a terrific photo. I was really excited by the subject so I pushed the envelope and delivered it on Christmas eve…
My Bible study class asked me to create a painting of Moses for display in our classroom as a special project. I agreed, but quickly realized that the biggest challenge was to decide what expression and perspective to portray in the painting.
I decided that Moses would have a wild look coming down off the mountain with the tablets, so that is what I tried to capture here. What do you think?
A proud dad asked me to create an oil painting of his daughter, Lindsay, a high school senior. I thought she would be a great subject, but I wanted to make sure that Lindsay had a say in her own painting. When I paint a pet, I can only satisfy the owner because pets don’t really seem to have an opinion on how they look. Humans tend to have stronger opinions about such things.
I went over to their house for a pre-arranged photo shoot and took several poses. When I sent her the photos that I thought would work, Lindsay picked out her favorite. I sent her my preliminary sketch, which she also approved.
Lindsay’s portrait appears above and has a place of honor in the Gallery under Portraits.
This was a fun painting to create of a great looking six-year-old Springer Spaniel named Holly. Terrific subject!
In this photo, you can see my client Russell receiving a Larry Gekiere-Artist Gift Certificate for his birthday. The gift certificate was earmarked for a custom oil painting of his beloved sidekick, PJ. Although Russell has three dogs, the only one who gets to ride shotgun is PJ.
In this post, I am sharing with you the steps to create a custom oil portrait of Russell’s beloved PJ.
Step One:Selecting the Right Photograph
It took us some time to select the pose we wanted for PJ. Russell wanted to have his friend in his usual place, where he sees him on the way to work on the front seat. That was a first for me. However, the more I thought about it, the more it made sense.
So when Russell and I selected the picture, the right pose for his custom oil painting was obviously PJ riding shotgun. I would paint PJ in his usual place in the front seat of the car going to work with Russell.
Step Two: The Drawing
The next step in the pet portrait after selecting the photo is to do the drawing that will form the basis of the painting.
Step Three: Wash
This is the first run-through of the custom painting of PJ. It is a ‘wash’ which defines the dark and the light areas of the final custom painting.
Step Four: Before Detailing
In this step, I am layering color into the painting. I’m not going for detail here, but rather for perspective.
Step Five: Closeup With Detail
In this closeup of PJ, you can see the little details I added to the portrait shown in Step Four.
Final Step: The Finished Painting
And here we have the final custom portrait of PJ – Russell’s sidekick in his usual spot riding shotgun with Russell. Check out his portrait in my Gallery, along with the custom paintings of many other beloved companions.
I hope you enjoyed this walk-through of my process!
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