I have just completed one of my favorite projects. I have painted lots of labs over the years, and I just love it. This one is of three Labradors from Adora Kennels in Ellensburg, WA. I showed you their new logo that I did for them a few weeks ago. This painting is about 16 x 20 inches will go on the wall in their wonderful wilderness home.
I always do an underpainting in watercolor (shown at left). I found with pencil that you can always see the paper underneath unless you burnish your drawing very hard and go over it multiple times. I just don't have the patience, and am not such a purist that I have to stick to one media. So technically this is mixed media: watercolor and colored pencil, which is what I most often use. It would not be eligible for a colored pencil show or a watercolor show. But then, I'm not entering it in a show!
For this painting I did something I've never done before. I blew the photo up very large on the computer screen and looked at it while I painted. This gave me the chance to see lots of detail I miss when I'm looking at a printed photo, even when I use a magnifying glass. The black dog's eyes were shut, so I had to improvise. The chocolate dog's eyes were squinting, so I had to open them up a bit.
There's a lot to think about when painting a dog portrait. If a dog hunches over while sitting, then his neck will be too thick and look awkward. If he is nervous while being photographed, his ears will go back and not look as natural as they do in this painting. If the ears aren't perky, it can ruin the pose. All three of these dogs are very alert and intense.
Getting a good photo of a black dog is difficult. This dog was photographed in the sun in the snow, so there was a lot of glare, and he was closing his eyes. The best way to get a good photo is to shoot it on an overcast day. Shadows that are too strong from the bright sun hide all the detail that is in the shadows. Sometimes I have to look at photos of another dog to see all I need to know for a painting. I loved this pose- he's a big dog, very noble, and the shadows were easy to define.
Photoshop is a wonderful tool. I can lighten the exposure so I can see detail that seems lost. I don't always get such nice samples to work from. Then again, sometimes a lousy photo makes a great painting. It may have a dumb background, poor color and all sorts of other problems, but if the pose is good, I can change all the rest. Sometimes I can see detail (especially the dog's markings) in another photo that doesn't show up well in the one I am working from.
It seems like I spend more time on the layout and sketching than the final painting. By the time I pick up the brush, I have worked out a lot of problems. I do have to stop and set it across the room occasionally to be sure I haven't added a tree growing out of the subject's head or other dumb mistake! And when it's all done, I put it away for day or two and I then take a fresh look. If I see something I want to change, I will sometimes photograph the painting and mess with it in Photoshop to see if the change will make it better. Then I go over and fix the original. It's nice to try something without risking ruining the painting!