Every once in a while a commission comes my way and I’ll get really jazzed up about the subject matter.  A gal was flipping through matted prints of my acrylic animals during my last show.  After a while she showed me a photo of her pup, Viola.  I’ve always wanted to paint a French bulldog – I mean, how can you not love that face?  We exchanged information and I was crossing my fingers that she’d commission a painting.  I was excited to get a message from her later that day saying “Start!”

Getting readyI am notorious to take forever and a day to complete commissions so it was quite unusual for me to begin gathering materials as soon as I got her message.  From the photo she sent I selected my colors and prepared my canvas.  The only question I asked her was “What is Viola’s favorite color?”  Our animals have favorite  snacks, sleeping spots, tv shows, windowsills to sit on and music to sing along to.  Of course they have favorite colors!  Viola’s favorite colors were soft pink, purple and a touch of peacock blue.

Materials:  12″ x 12″ deep canvas, decorative collage paper, red colored pencil, matte medium
acrylic brushes: very small round, 1/2″ wide bright, 1″ wide bright
acrylic paint:  dioxazine purple, Pthalo blue, titanium white, yellow ochre, cadmium red light.
I always get my materials from University Art Center in San Jose – shop local homegrown businesses and keep our art supply stores around for the long haul!

STEP 1:  I covered my 12″ x 12″ deep canvas with a variety of collage paper in the pink family and glued them in place using matte medium.  Matte medium is a wonderful glue and sealant in addition to being a superb painting medium.  I then stained the collage paper with a glaze of dioxazine purple and Pthalo blue.  I also made sure to cover the sides of the canvas at this stage for continuity.  When everything was dry to the touch (which only takes a few minutes) I sketched Viola with my red colored pencil.

STEP 2:  Dioxazine purple and Pthalo blue make a lovely violet.  Using this combination I blocked in the shadows and darks in varying degrees of saturation.  Viola’s eyes being the darkest point in the painting begin to establish them as a focal point.  I use the matte medium to increase transparency where needed.

STEP 3:  Now I add the highlights by mixing yellow ochre and titanium white.  During these beginning stages I am using my 1/2″ wide brush to keep the brush strokes loose and bold.  It’s so much fun to get the paint on the canvas that sometimes I start to get lost in the details.  By using a bigger brush I can keep myself on track.  I am a sucker for complementary colors – I just love how the yellow and purple play off each other.

STEP 4:  One of the many things I preach in my classes is “Change your water!”  I use a big water bucket so I need to go to the sink less-often.  It’s funny though, changing your water is a refreshing way to clear your mind for a few moments away from your painting.  I’ll usually change my water before I begin the next phase of my project.  In this case, before I flesh out the muscles and the detailing the rest of the fur.  P.S.  STILL using the 1/2″ wide brush…

The final touches…Here is where I use a hint of cadmium red light.  This is a powerful, warm red and I use it sparingly in her ears, nose, around the eyes and in her toenails.  Now I use my smallest round brush to mix a variety of muted tones to add detail.  I am such a fan of using “limited palettes” as my color schemes.  You can’t help but have color harmony if you limit yourself to a few select colors.  I can easily jump between color combinations and tweak by increasing one color or another.  Here are some examples:
Etcetera!  Etcetera!

In my mind, the eyes are the most exciting element in any portrait, animal or human.  They are my dessert and I like to save them for last.  I’ll know the painting is complete when the eyes are perfect.  The highlight is vital – placement, intensity and color all have to be thought out.  If the highlight is in the exact center of the pupil the painting can look like a bad family photo before red-eye was autocorrected.  If there is no highlight then the subject tends to look a little zombie-ish.  I take my highlights very seriously.  With Viola’s eyes finished I add a flourish of a bow for personality and composition.


When I unwrapped her for my client I could see a wave of emotions on her face.  She held my hand and said, “It’s her!”  I’m so glad that I was able to paint this pretty little girl and capture her personality.  Thanks, Viola, for being as adorable as you are!


Artistic Process: The Wedding Present

Part 2

To re-cap from my last post “So You Think You Want to Start a Painting?” – My cousin is getting married next week and for a wedding present I decided against a gravy boat and figured I would create a painting.  I am using her and her fiancé’s favorite colors (deep fuchsia and black) as the color palette.  Today’s post is a step-by-step walkthrough of my artistic process .  Here I’ll share with you my thoughts as well as more technical information on how I created this painting.  The materials I used are highlighted in fuchsia in honor of my cousin.  Buckle your seatbelts…

I start with light collage and tone the canvas with Quinacridone Magenta & Quinacridone Burnt Orange. While the canvas is drying I prep my collage papers.

Before I lay down any paint the question I ask myself is “Where do I want to lead the eye?” I throw down some loose brush strokes with Titanium White  in an S-shape composition.  I play with the positioning of the collage papers then glue them in place with Matte Medium.  Without the following glaze the white lines and paper look garish.  With the glaze they recess into the background.

I hear suspicious noises coming from the horse’s stall. Peeking over the fence I see Rommel playing with his water bucket.  Perfect timing to allow my canvas to “rest”.  I go and change the horse’s water and apply scratches where necessary.

Elayne present - 3 detailI mix a fair amount of Quin. Burnt Orange into my favorite black (Mars black) and follow my S-shape composition. I counter with more Titanium White and begin layering in the background colors again.  This gives me the clean white pinstripes.  I start to think about the next layers and what kind of depth I want to achieve.  I know that if I jump into my gel or pouring mediums now I will need to retire this piece until another day to give it time to dry.  Nope, not ready to call it a day yet…

I know that I’m still avoiding the “blackness” so I re-assert it back into the piece and add some black & gold origami paper. Better.  I switch over the laundry, check on the animals, and have a snack.  While munching on some chips I look at my piece and think of the various directions it could go from here.  I debate leaving the background as is or lightening it.  I decide I should play with the gold leaf before going further with the background, that way the gold will peek through.  Maybe the gold leaf will tell me what to do…

Elayne present - mistake dotsHa!  So a good topic comes up during the gold leafing process: How does one “fix” a painting?  I don’t know about everybody else but once in a while I mess up.  The first step in this process is to stop looking up gravy boats.  After an initial panic I take a breath and assess the situation.  I didn’t like how my gold leaf dots turned out – I felt they were a little “static” and for some reason I was reminded of the 80’s.  This just wouldn’t do so I ripped them off, and with them, the paint and collage paper beneath.   Breathe.  I’ll need to get that background color back in so I re-mix my Quin. Magenta, Quin. Burnt Orange and just a hint of Titanium White (I need that covering power).  I re-apply the background color in full brush strokes over the dots.  To make it look seamless I know I also need to cover some of the undamaged painting.  This made the painting darker in these particular areas.  Not to worry.  Once this layer dried I went back in with some of my white to regain my pinstripes.  I threw in a little more collage paper for good measure.

Needing to clear my head after the slight argument with my painting I do some horse chores. Nothing like a little stall mucking while you’re waiting for paint to dry.  Manure dumped, horses fed, time to head back.

With the sun setting I’m about ready to call it a day. I heavily apply Extra Heavy Gloss Gel Gloss all over the piece with my palette knife.  I want there to be some fun surface texture and by tomorrow this will be ready to begin the final steps.

Elayne present - pouring mediumPouring Medium is something I don’t work with too often so I thought it would be fun to incorporate it into this piece. I have some pre-mixed pouring medium/color combo’s ready to go and drip them on the canvas.  I do this before I head off to work and by the time I get home my medium has set.

Elayne present - finishA week passes and I think about the direction of the painting. I have a pretty good idea where it needs to go but it’s a dangerous road.  Since “The Fearless Painter” is the title of my blog I decided to man-up.  No turning back now!  I layer in Titanium White with glazes of Yellow Ochre to create a visual “bang”.  Phew!  Now that THAT’S over with I can see the light at the end of the tunnel.

For the final touches I add more of the Extra Heavy Gloss Gel and the Pouring Medium. Bringing those textures back to the fore-front is the icing on the cake.

This was an exciting exercise out of my color comfort zone and I learned how to make an impact using black and red as the predominant colors. Throughout the painting process I thought fondly of my cousin and her upcoming wedding.  You know, marriage can be a challenging balance and both parties must learn how to integrate their lives together, just like 2 wild colors on a canvas.  Congratulations Elayne and Jason!