I've been thinking about what I could post here, and I think progress pictures of some of my favorite pieces may make sense. Let me know if these are helpful and I'll continue the series!
Kevin is one of my two rescue babies. He came to us a mess from Sunny Sky's Animal Rescue in Puyallup, WA. He was dropped off covered in scabs, scars, and emaciated. Because of his overall condition, we assumed he had too little to eat, but it turned out he had some major health issues. After going on a prescription diet, he is one of the prettiest dogs I've ever owned. He's also the biggest cuddle bug.
I draw my two dogs all the time, and the funny thing is Kevin hates it. He goes to war with colored pencils, rolling across paper and pawing at pencils. He loves being held and looks at anything that takes my attention away from him as competition.
Noses are interesting to me, and Kevin has a good one with a lot of variation in color, although you wouldn't think of it at first glance. It ranges from flesh tones to a solid dark gray with some nice browns in the mix. I started by drawing the little white circles in the highlight area. I encourage you to look closely at the texture of dog noses. It's very interesting with a tightly packed area of circular cells.
Because of the black paper, what seems initially bright, isn't. It takes many many layers to build up a piece. In this shot, I had layered down a lot of color, trying to keep the strokes in the direction of his fur. some areas have the right texture, such has the bumpy landscape of the nose, the glassy roundness of the eyes, and the fine hairs on the muzzle beneath the nose, but some of it is still a chalky looking mess. The nose also has some highlights in the wrong places, making it look flat rather than rounded around the nostrils. The color is good and close to where he is with his red hues, but the black paper is still showing through.
In the final piece, he has some softness to him. Kevin is actually velvet soft to the touch, so it was important to me to show that a bit in the drawing. I also love, love, love his random eyebrow whiskers winging off in front of his ears. I added a little more color and detail in the eyes and some additional shading to give depth to the nose. The color is much lighter, and I'm happy with how it turned out. You'll notice the typical broad swaths of color such as the pink on the left ear and some thick bans of white that are very much part of my style.
Here are some of the sample photos I worked from:
Let me know what you think! I'll go over a few new pieces in the coming weeks and would love to hear from you.
I've done portraits of people and animals that have already been painted because the client isn't happy with what they've received from another artist. From time to time, this could have been avoided with more dialogue between the two parties to help make sure the client is happy with the output before venturing too far into the finished painting. I've found a guide to choosing photos helps clients define how they'd like to remember their beloveds.
Choosing portrait pictures can be very difficult. After all, your fuzzy friend is cute all the time. However, there are some things to keep in mind when selecting photographs to send to a portrait artist. These also apply to human portraits!
1. Give a Description
A description of the character helps me gauge whether I'm choosing the right photo from an array and can put a little extra spark in the painting. The eyes truly are the window to the soul and knowing whether your friend is very serious or a goofball can only help the portrait be closer to what you envision.
This is one of the most important steps to me, but it isn't enough on its own. I don't know any portrait artists (although I'm sure a few exist) that will create a piece from a collection of photos and a description and come up with a unique pose and likeness. Many of us (if not all) prefer a photograph that is as close to possible to what you'd like.
2. Lighting & Color
As the time of day passes, the lighting changes with it. It's important to picture your dog while you look through your photos and think, "Is this the color I think of?" Natural lighting is absolutely best, but squinting isn't. A bit of sunlight will give a better idea of the true color, but may need to be paired with a better expression photo.
Good (Natural) lighting examples:
The dog on the far left has hints of apricot in her light coat, which can be seen in this photo. The expression is squinting, so I'd probably pair this with a better expression photo so the artist sees her colors. The dog on the far right is a rich red. In poor lighting these dogs can look white or brown respectively.
Neutral lighting examples:
For neutral light, think indoors during daylight. You're not in the direct sunlight, but the color of the dog is clear. You can see the eye color and see shadow and light. If your dog has blue eyes and they don't look blue, it's not good lighting.
The first photo on the left is close to Neutral. However I can't see the eye color and the dog's color is actually close to a red cattle dog. I'd never know this without additional photographs. In the other two photos, the angle and expressions aren't good in addition to filters being applied to distort the color.
Important: Just because the lighting isn't good, doesn't mean your photograph should be discounted. Expression is queen, and should be considered above all else.
3. Angle & Clarity
While an expression may be cute, it's very important it's taken at a natural angle (unless it's really, truly what you want). Cocked heads are cute, but a craned neck distorted because your dog is doing acrobatics for a treat won't look natural. Be sure to have the photo and story ready when you talk to your friends because they're going to wonder if the artist was having issues while painting :)
If the dog is in the position you want but the photo is blurry or the dog is not the prominent (read "large") feature in the photo, it may not be usable. Talk to your artist and they may be able to help you.
Poor angle examples:
As an artist, I want you to enjoy your painting for the rest of your life. This is why it is critical for you to choose a photograph that embodies how you want to remember your pet, even after they have departed. Pick four to five photographs, walk away for a bit, and then try to look at them with an unbiased lens. Does your dog look grumpy, mad, happy, or goofy? Is this who they normally are? Is this a happy moment you'll cherish? If the answers to the last two questions are yes, you've found your photograph.
In each of these photographs, the dogs are looking straight on at the camera. The first on the left isn't the greatest angle, but his smiling expression makes up for it. Note that the two dogs on the right are the same dogs in the "bad" expression category.
Feel free to link pictures in the comments if you have questions or reach out to me via email! I'm happy to browse and give pointers, even if you've hired someone else.
Dogs have always been an integral part of our household. One of these dogs was a gorgeous boy named Beauregard. He turned a lot heads at dog shows, especially when he was moving around the ring. The poor boy was a hot mess structurally, his tongue jutting out to the left and the rest of him moving in an odd corkscrew, limbs flailing in all directions. Standing still he was near perfect and a favorite model of mine.
There's one picture that really shows off his good looks while highlighting that goober tongue of his. I've been playing with toned paper and colored pencils, and it made sense to take a dog with natural high contrast points and put him on black paper.
There are definitely scary moments during a drawing where I question everything I've done up to that point and want to stop. This was not an exception. I alternated going brighter and then layering in darker colors on top to give more depth. My favorite phase was one of the last where I used a nice dark blue to define the outlines on his shadowed side.
Perseverance paid off and I thought he came together really well.
The process of drawing, painting, or writing is healing. When I struggle with illness or stress, sitting down and working on a piece is restorative. I hear this from other artists. However, not everyone embraces their creative side. When I hold classes for friends, the hardest part of the lesson is trying to get them to silence their inner critic. Art is only fun if failing is acceptable.
This was something I had to hold onto after I decided to use a new product (without reading the label or trying it on a black piece of paper to make sure it was compatible) and completely destroyed the piece.
That blurry white stuff is not highlighting or glare from the camera. It's permanent.
At least this wasn't a commission piece! Lesson learned. Read labels, test a blank page with the fixative to see if the color warps, and leave well enough alone.
Perhaps the hardest part is knowing when something is done. Knowing I can try again helps dull the pain :)
Friday was a big night! I packed up eight pieces and brought them to the Flying Bike Cooperative Brewery. Several businesses in the Phinney neighborhood make an Art Walk possible by allowing artists to come in and showcase their work. My artwork perched on one of the many walls, allowing me to talk shop with patrons and, because it was Flying Bike, ogle some adorable golden retriever puppies, a cattle dog, a spicy little chow, and a gorgeous German shepherd. I narrowly resisted caving into my usual behavior and rolling around on the ground to interact with the puppies, but I digress (seriously, they were so stinking cute).
The one thing I was surprised to hear from a number of people is that they have a desire to learn how to paint, but don't try because they "know it would suck."
This makes me so sad!
Do art for you. Don’t hold yourself to the expectation of selling, gifting, or hanging on the wall.
The process is the most valuable part for those of us called to create. I do it for the thinking I do while sketching, painting, or coloring. Art and writing is how I get through physically tough times, how I process grief, and how I connect with what I’m feeling. It’s even how I express love and joy when verbal interactions aren’t enough.
Remove your judgment from the process. That’s when art brings the greatest joy.
I love hosting art classes for friends. The one thing I challenge them to do before starting is to leave judgement at the door. I don't want them evaluating themselves against their neighbor or what someone has hanging on the wall. I want them to give themselves permission to put a brush on the page without the expectation that it will resemble anything.
To help perpetuate this expectation, I start the session always by exploring. Many of the people who participate have never interacted with watercolors before. We start with experimenting. First wet the page in one section and then add a small amount of paint on a brush. Seeing how the paint reacts on wet paper is always fascinating and resembles a bloom. I love the reaction it brings from first timers. It's a magical moment when people forget about structure and resemblance and just marvel at how weird the process is.
One of the coolest things about the creative arts is the fact that an artist will continue to evolve as long as they continue to practice. Some of my biggest changes come about through experimentation with materials. The image on the left below was four months prior to the image on the right. Since the first image, I've discovered colored pencils that leave behind much more vibrant pigment, allow for more details, and handle layering much differently. I've also found that drawing on pigmented paper allows for more contrast. I can tell it's the same dog in the drawings, but the materials, a more interesting pose, and taking more license with contrast led to what I strongly feel is a better piece.
The one subject I continue to struggle with is people. My artist grandmother and mother continue to remind me how much better I would be at human portrait work if I had spent as much time drawing humans as animals.
I'm sure some of you can relate to why I generally like animals so much more than many humans.
There are exceptions though, and it's something I'm continuing to work through. Perhaps I'll have some inspiring before and after posts in the next year or two.
Another visually interesting change: I tend to go back and forth on is how painterly or loose my drawings are, which isn't good or bad. There are days when I aspire to achieve photo realism, but the longer I'm practicing again, I spend less time on details and more time on structure, colors, and contrast. Art is so subjective, and I'm not sure what I prefer from day to day.
The two images above were created with the same materials, on the same paper, but the output is very different. I like them both.
Hopefully I've provided a little bit of inspiration and you feel compelled to create. If not, what's holding you back?
I'm new to the colored pencil game and the learning curve has been steep! I have always admired the photo realism that a few monstrously talented artists can achieve. I wanted to retain my painterly affection for smooshing colors together (very technical term) and using tones one wouldn't think of for people or animals, but I needed to understand how the heck those masters achieved textural perfection.
Naturally I turned to YouTube.
In case you're curious, I've linked a few of my favorites here:
Each of the specific videos I've linked covers different styles, materials, and preferences. I had no idea how many options are out there before browsing videos.
Paper is Everything
In my years of oil painting, I learned that you can get by with less expensive materials, particularly brushes and canvas. Synthetic brushes can last some time with the proper care, and achieving detail and textures isn't very inhibited by a more economical choice. Paper for colored pencils is an entirely different game.
Left to Right: Stonehenge paper with 11 yo Berner subject, sketch paper with Berner puppy, Strathmore toned paper featuring Kevin
The key to finding the right paper involves a lot of trial and error and is greatly up to personal preference. Some artists swear by Stonehenge, but the texture doesn't work for me. It's similar to watercolor and I find that I'm not good at wearing down the tooth (texture that grabs pigment). Pastelmat gives a very luxuriant texture, but some of the detail is sacrificed in exchange for a blended look.
I've landed on toned paper with a smooth finish for now. It's far from the most expensive option, but I love the way colors pop and the way textures play on the page. Unfortunately, because of the lack of tooth, color will smear and smudge, so I take extra care during the shipment process.
Colored Pencil Brands Do Matter
Paper is important but not necessarily expensive. Pencils on the other hand... I'm finding you get what you pay for. Right now I'm loyal to Faber-Castell Polychromos. I've tried discount brands and not so discount brands, and I'm in love with the pigment and texture I can get with Polychromos.
The key to texture and pigment layering is an ultra sharp pencil. See the first video I linked above for excellent pointers.
It's not that the drawing of "Champ" is bad. In fact, I rather like the wilder colors. However, the amount of detail I've found possible with the Polychromos on smooth paper is amazing. For example, the little bumps and texture on Kevin's nose are fascinating. I genuinely thought I was having some hand-eye coordination issues during my first several rounds with colored pencil, but changing the pencil brand was life altering.
I even texted my mom. Seriously. The change was amazing.
Because having a sharp tipped pencil is so critical in this form of art, I recommend putting some thought into a pencil sharpener. I've found that even the best brands last through only 15-20 portraits, so bulk or auto repeat ordering makes sense here.
Derwent or Faber-Castell erasers are best so far.
Lastly, I really like my Faber-Castell 60 color tin. I burn through some colors much faster than others, and simply order those in bulk online and then place them in the tin when I'm ready. My dog, Kevin, enjoys walking on my stuff and I don't enjoy busted color fragments in my pencils. The tin helps!
Do you have any brands you prefer or questions about details I've left out? Please comment below.