Painting “James”

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IN THIS STEP-BY-STEP GUIDE, I WILL SHOW YOU HOW I CREATED “James”. I AM A SELF-TAUGHT ARTIST. MY SYSTEM FOR BUILDING A PAINTING EVOLVED THROUGH YEARS OF WORKING WITH THE MATERIALS AND DISCOVERING WHAT WORKS FOR ME. THERE MAY BE BETTER OR FASTER TECHNIQUES THAT ARE TAUGHT IN ART SCHOOLS. IF YOU ARE NEW TO PAINTING, I HOPE THAT WHAT I HAVE TO SHARE ABOUT MY OWN DISCOVERIES WILL HELP YOU IN SOME WAY.

MATERIALS:  24″ X 36″ CANVAS / ACRYLIC PAINT / ROUND AND FLAT BRUSHES IN SIZES SMALL TO LARGE / GLAZE / WATER PITCHER TO RINSE BRUSHES BETWEEN PAINT COLORS

STEP 1:  THE ROUGH OUTLINE

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TO START, I COVERED THE CANVAS IN WHITE GESSO AND LET IT DRY. THEN I ADDED A LAYER OF BLACK PAINT FOR THE BACKGROUND. WITH WHITE PAINT, AND A MEDIUM ROUND BRUSH, I SKETCHED A ROUGH OUTLINE OF MY COMPOSITION FOR SEVERAL REASONS:

1: IF I DON’T LIKE THE POSITIONING OF THE DOG FORM OR WALKING STICK, I CAN EXPERIMENT AND CHANGE IT BEFORE GETTING TOO FAR IN.

2:  I GET THE PROPORTIONS RIGHT EARLY, SO THAT I CAN FOCUS ON BUILDING LAYERS OF COLOR. AT THIS POINT, THERE ARE SOME PROPORTION FIXES TO MAKE, SUCH AS EXTENDING THE ARMS – AND GIVING THE POOR DOG SOME ELBOWS. ANY WHITE LINES I NO LONGER NEED ARE PAINTED OVER WITH BLACK.

3: WHEN I’M SURE I LIKE THE BASIC COMPOSITION, IT PROVIDES A MEASURE OF CONFIDENCE TO MOVE FORWARD.

TIP:     WHEN I WAS A NEW ARTIST, THERE WERE TIMES I WAS TEMPTED TO QUIT IN THE MIDDLE OF A PAINTING BECAUSE IT WASN’T TURNING OUT THE WAY I INTENDED. WHAT I HAVE LEARNED IS, THERE ARE STAGES THAT JUST DON’T LOOK PRETTY. NOW, I PAINT THROUGH THOSE DOUBTS! MY RULE IS, I PAINT UNTIL I LIKE IT. THAT MAY MEAN PAINTING OVER SOME PARTS. OR, IT MAY MEAN FIXING LINES THAT LOOK OFF. OR, I ADD MORE COLOR OR CHANGE COLORS. IN THE END, I’M ALWAYS HAPPY I KEPT GOING. YOU WILL SEE WHAT I MEAN BY “STAGES THAT DON’T LOOK PRETTY” IN THE NEXT FEW STEPS.

STEP 2:  FOUNDATION LAYERS

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THIS IS THE FIRST OF 7-10 LAYERS OF COLOR THAT I WILL ADD ON. AT THIS STAGE, THE JACKET COLOR LOOKS FLAT – IT DOESN’T LOOK ALIVE WITH MOVEMENT AND THE REFLECTION OF LIGHT. IT IS A FOUNDATION COLOR – BACKGROUND. FOR THE PANTS, I USED BLUE AND BLACK PAINTS TO BEGIN DEFINING THE MOVEMENT OF THE PANTS WITH CROSSED LEGS.

I MIXED ULTRAMARINE BLUE WITH GLAZE TO GET A SMOOTH LOOK FOR THE PANTS. SOMETIMES, WITH ACRYLIC, THE PAINT CAN LEAVE INDIVIDUAL POCKS OF CANVAS SHOWNG. WHEN MIXED WITH GLAZE, IT SMOOTHLY COVERS THE POCKS. ONLY A LITTLE GLAZE IS NEEDED – ABOUT A QUARTER OF THE AMOUNT OF ACRYLIC PAINT USED. IF TOO MUCH GLAZE IS USED, THE COLOR BECOMES TRANSPARENT. THAT IS A TECHNIQUE I USE FOR FINISHING LAYERS, BUT NOT FOUNDATION LAYERS. FOR FOUNDATION LAYERS, I WANT FULL COVERAGE.

FOR THE VEST, I DID A CROSS-HATCHING OF SHORT PAINT STROKES IN BLUE, BLACK, AND GOLD. MORE LAYERS TO COME.

I’M NOT CONCERNED ABOUT THE DOG’S HEAD AND PAWS RIGHT NOW. I PAINTED THEM IN WITH A FOUNDATION COLOR TO CHECK THE PROPORTIONS AND TEST OUT THE CARAMEL COLOR. EVENTUALLY, IT WILL BE PAINTED OVER WITH MANY, MANY SHORT PAINT STROKES TO BUILD UP THE FUR.

STEP 3:  CREATING THE SUIT

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THE DOG FINALLY HAS ELBOWS AND I’VE FATTENED THE ARMS A BIT. EVEN THOUGH TERRIERS HAVE THIN LIMBS, IT LOOKED A BIT TOO THIN PREVIOUSLY. I AM TAKING SOME ARTISTIC LICENSE ON THE BEND OF THE ELBOW. I WANTED TO BLEND REALISTIC DOG FORM WITH HUMAN FORM.

WHILE LISTENING TO AN INSPIRATIONAL MOTIVATION VIDEO ON YOUTUBE, I HAD A LOT OF FUN BUILDING THE LAYERS AND SHEEN OF THE SUIT. FOR THE PANTS, I MIXED ULTRAMARINE BLUE WITH LIGHT BLUE VIOLET AND GLAZE TO GET HIGHLIGHTS AND ADDED IN BLACK FOR SHADOWS. MY GOAL WAS TO MAKE IT LOOK LIKE VELVET, HENCE THE CREASES AT THE KNEE.

FOR THE JACKET, I ADDED GOLD TRIM WITH A SMALL, ROUND BRUSH AND ADDED BUTTONS IN THE SAME COLOR. I USED A DARK RED AND BLACK TO CREATE DIPS IN THE FABRIC AND A LIGHT RED FOR HIGHLIGHTS.

IN THE MAJORITY OF MY CANVAS PAINTINGS, I LIKE POPS OF WHITE. I DON’T KNOW WHY, IT’S JUST MY STYLE. FOR THE POPS IN THIS PAINTING, I CHOSE TO ADD WHITE FOR THE COLLAR OF HIS SHIRT AND PANT CUFFS. THE COLLAR WILL BE ALTERED.

STEP 4: PAINTING LIFE INTO JAMES

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THIS IS WHERE JAMES REALLY COMES TO LIFE FOR ME. IT’S THE EYES (OR EYE IN THIS CASE). ONCE THE EYES ARE PAINTED, HE ATTAINS A PERSONALITY. I NEVER KNOW HOW THE EYES WILL TURN OUT, OR WHAT THEY’LL EXPRESS. IT SEEMS, IN EVERY PORTRAIT, THE EYES SAY SOMETHING DIFFERENT. WHILE PEOPLE MAY READ DIFFERENT THINGS ABOUT HIS PERSONALITY, HERE’S WHO JAMES IS FOR ME:  James is a respected Terrier in his community. A dog of honor and kind service to his fellow man, he stands tall for all that is good.

HIS THICK EYEBROWS MAKE HIM SEEM LIKE A WISE, OLD GRANDFATHER. BUT, THAT IS ONLY MY INTERPRETATION. I USED FIVE COLORS TO BUILD UP HIS FUR: MEDIUM BROWN, BEIGE, RAW SIENNA, BURNT SIENNA AND WHITE. WITH WAVY STROKES OF THE PAINTBRUSH, IN VARYING LENGTHS, JAMES HAS ATTAINED BUSHY BROWS, A CLEAN CUT NECK, AND REGAL BEARD. I USED WHITE MIXED WITH GLAZE AND A SUPER THIN PAINTBRUSH FOR THE WISPY BITS OF FUR AT THE BOTTOM OF HIS BEARD.

I PAINTED THE WHITE COLLAR ABOVE THE RED LINE OF HIS JACKET. THIS SHORTENS THE LONG NECK OF THE TERRIER TO A MORE PLEASING PROPORTION AND CREATES INTEREST BETWEEN THE RED AND WHITE. IT DRAWS THE EYE IN TO HIS FACE. I WONDERED IF I SHOULD CHANGE THE WHITE OF THE PANT CUFFS, THINKING IT MIGHT DRAW THE EYE AWAY FROM HIS FACE, BUT I DECIDED I LIKED THE BALANCE IT CREATED.

JAME’S NOSE IS MORE DEFINED NOW, BUT THE HIGHLIGHTS WILL CHANGE. I’M ONLY GETTING A SENSE FOR IT’S DIMENSIONS AT THIS POINT. ON TO THE PAWS!

STEP 5: DETAILS

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JAMES’S PAWS, TAIL AND WALKING STICK ARE NOW DEFINED. THIS TOOK A LOT OF TIME, AS IT IS HUNDREDS OF INDIVIDUAL PAINT STROKES. I DON’T NOTICE THE TIME GO BY THOUGH. IT IS SO MUCH FUN TO DO THE DETAILS! I RECOMMEND PUTTING ON YOUR FAVORITE MUSIC DURING STAGES THAT ARE REPETITIVE.

I GAVE HIS FUR SHADOWS WITH BLACK, RAW SIENNA, AND BURNT SIENNA. FOR THE WALKING STICK, I WANTED IT TO LOOK GNARLED, SO I USED SHORT PAINT STROKES. IF I WANTED IT TO LOOK SMOOTH, I WOULD HAVE USED LONG PAINT STROKES, AS I DID FOR THE PANTS.

STEP 6: BACKGROUND

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IN THE “ROSE MILL COTTAGE” BLOG POST, I RECOMMENDED PAINTING IN THE BACKGROUND EARLY ON. IN THIS CASE, I DID THE OPPOSITE. HERE’S WHY: I HAD ORIGINALLY INTENDED TO LEAVE THE BACKGROUND BLACK. BUT, AFTER I HAD PAINTED JAMES, I FELT THE CHARACTER CALLED FOR A MORE ELEGANT BACKDROP. SO, I PAINTED THE BACKGROUND TO LOOK LIKE HE WAS STANDING IN FRONT OF (AND ON) A STUDIO SET CLOTH. THE PARTIAL BLACK OUTLINE OF HIS LOWER BODY GIVES THE LOOK OF A SHADOW WHERE THE STUDIO LIGHTS ARE NOT ENTERING.

I HAVE DEBATED WHETHER I SHOULD CHANGE IT BACK TO BLACK OR ALTER IT COMPLETELY TO LOOK LIKE JAMES IS STANDING IN AN ELEGANT GARDEN. THE GREAT THING ABOUT ACRYLIC IS, IT CAN BE CHANGED.

I HOPE MY EXPERIMENTATIONS HAVE INSPIRED YOU! HAPPY PAINTING!

 

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