Thursday, June 23, 2016

A Portrait and a Tattoo (maybe)

Champ-acrylic-8 x 10

Not very long ago I learned that my niece had lost her first dog, Champ, to cancer. Her heart was broken as was mine for her knowing the pain that losing a pet can bring. She asked me if I could do a portrait of him, but with a special request. Could I design something that might also be used as a tattoo? 
I have had a few different requests for portraits over the years, but I've never designed a tattoo. Oh well, there's a first time for everything, I guess! So as with many of my paintings I did a little research on tattoo art and was amazed at what can be done. Many of the pet tattoos included flowers and she requested this as well. Since she is a woman after my own heart and enjoys hiking through nature with her dogs I decided to do the flowers as a crescent of wildflowers that she would most likely find on her walks. This creates something that is a special memory for her and if she does decide to have a tattoo made from the design it will also be unique to her. 

Whether it be a man in heaven surrounded by his cats or a pet portrait tattoo, I never know what this art path I have chosen will lead me to, but one thing is for certain. It's never boring!

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Sunlight and Shadows - American Kestrel

Sunlight and Shadows - American Kestrel - 8" x 12" acrylic

In the early light of day the little falcon sits motionless atop a mullein stalk. It's sharp eyes scan the tall grass below for a sign of movement that may indicate breakfast is about to be served. Will it be vole, mouse or grasshopper today? 

A few days ago I posted this piece as a work in progress, a study of lights and darks. When I started the piece I had an idea of what I wanted the finished piece to look like which was to be emphasis on the bird and mullein stalk in a wide value range and a very soft, indistinct background. I had envisioned it almost as an exclamation point.
Enter my husband.
" I love the bird and stalk. What are you doing with the background?" he asks.
"Nothing", I reply, "It's finished."
"You need to do something with the background", he says, very matter-of-factly, and walks away.
My husband......I love him.

As you may recall this was the piece before I had finished the mullein stalk. In my grumbling about his criticism of my art I forgot to photograph the "finished" piece so you'll have to use your imagination. So....
I took a piece of mylar film and placed it over my painting. Then I took my acrylic paint and played with some possibilities with the background. By doing this I wasn't going to ruin what I thought was a good painting. I showed it to my husband a time or two and each time he'd say "It's getting better" and I'd go back and keep trying.Then I had to do something I hate to do. I had to admit he was right! Again!
The finished piece is much stronger and I like it much better. The background still remains soft and diffused, but it now has value changes just like the bird. By adding the small weeds to the foreground the painting has more depth.
I'm smiling, my husband is smiling.
All is well. 

(This piece as well as many others are available through my Daily Paintworks website.)

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Lights and Darks - a work in progress

I started a new painting the other day that will feature a kestrel (one of my favorite birds!) in a more dramatic lighting situation. I have always been drawn to paintings that have some very distinct value changes from light to dark, but have never been able to capture it very well in my own work. Some of that is due in part to the reference photos I usually work from. When doing pet portraits most of my customers reference photos have had little thought given to the lighting when the photo was taken. Most have used a flash which flattens and washes out everything. While I can still make a nice portrait from those I sometimes long for something with more pop. Even my own reference photos aren't always taken with the best light. Most days when I'm out shooting photos of wildlife I'm concentrating on finding the bird or animal and the day may be cloudy or overcast, so shadows are not very distinct. I do the best I can with what I have, but it's always nice to start with a reference photo that has what you are looking for.
I came across this kestrel a few weeks back on a morning when the sun was still low and coming from behind the bird. I was really drawn to the sharp contrasts of light and dark. Thankfully, I had my camera and the little falcon was fairly cooperative so I was able to shoot several photos of it as it moved from one mullein stalk to another hunting for breakfast. 
Back home in my studio I chose a pose of the bird that I liked, but decided to change the shape of the mullein stalk and the color of the background. 
 After trying several ideas in thumbnail sketches I chose a vertical crop and a dark background hoping both would make the painting more dramatic. I am trying to keep the background fairly indistinct to keep the focus on the bird and it's mullein perch, but hoping it will suggest a grassy field in spring that the kestrel will be hunting for voles, mice or grasshoppers in. We'll see how I do. 
So far I think I'm happy with capturing the lights and darks, but I have a ways to go yet and it's taking longer than I thought to get the values right. I have reworked the red area on the birds back several times. Working in acrylic makes this much easier as it dries quickly, but it took longer to build up the light side as I had covered the whole board with green paint first, then transferred my drawing over the top of it. In hindsight, masking the bird or first painting the bird with a few coats of white may have saved me some time, but that's how you learn what works and what doesn't. 
It's a process!