Welcome to Spring! I’m honored to be included in another group show at Art for the People Gallery in Austin. Three pieces made the cut this time, including, for the first time, a plein air composition. The show runs April 1st – June 2nd, 2023.
If you’re interested in original artwork by Austin creatives, check out AFTPG either in person in Austin or browse their online store. I’ve been involved with this gallery for a number of years and the curating by Lynnie is uniquely Austin – if she’s in the gallery during your visit, don’t be shy and make sure you chat with her. She has a world of knowledge about all the artists, their backgrounds, and what makes their art special.
If you’re interested in any of my pieces, I’m happy to answer questions or better yet go to the gallery and check them out:
DISC DOG is inspired by the life we live with our canine family members and those bonding moments that form lifetime memories, like frisbee on a beach in the waning daylight hours.
A few months ago I did a piece called BIRD DOG, which was a silhouette similar to DISC DOG, but it pushed the contrasts more intensely. DISC DOG incorporates more hues while maintaining the impact of a silhouette and the unbridled enthusiasm for life that only a dog, especially those thankful rescue dogs, can convey. The underpainting was a light cadmium red and burnt sienna, which shows through in some areas, but more importantly served as a helpful guide for laying down the clouds with a setting sun somewhere “off camera”. I painted over a previous composition for this piece, something I rarely do, so I was pleasantly surprised to essentially have a pre-treated surface on which to work. Somewhere under DISC DOG lurks a really bad painting of monochromatic wine bottles.
Oddly enough, the most challenging element of DISC DOG was the frisbee. As you can see from the sketch, I noted the idea of using a frisbee instead of a ball. While the ball would have been much easier, the body position of the dog is more akin to waiting to jump at a frisbee rather than chasing a ball in the air. The trick with the frisbee turned out to be the odd look it had as a silhouette. For the life of me I couldn’t get it to convey “FRISBEE”. I kept wiping out and repainting versions of what looked like UFOs. Ultimately I switched gears away from the dark shape and allowed the light from the setting sun to make it pop, but tried to do so without making it the focal point of the composition. The angle of the disc, the lines of the waves, the red collar, and various other elements try to move the viewer to the dog as the star of the piece.
Special thanks to Austin Pets Alive! for all the great rescue work they do for the animals of the city of Austin, the state of Texas, and various cities throughout the United States. In Austin alone, every year there are thousands of rescue dogs playing frisbee, like DISC DOG, thanks to the tireless work, innovation, love and compassion of APA! and their wonderful staff and army of volunteers.
What’s not to like about a pack of puppies frolicking down the beach following their mom while playing with a stick bigger than themselves? NOTHING, that’s what!
I’d done a previous piece similar to this one called PUPPY BUTTS, but it was half the size and half the number of puppies. It was sold at an Art for the People Gallery show last year, but I received so many positive comments about it that I decided to do another one.
The focal point was a bit of an accident, which happened after I’d blocked in all the pups. Sitting back considering how I was going to actually paint the dogs, yes with wine, the two on the right just seemed to be playing, and the idea of incorporating a stick jumped into my head. It’s hard to see from the photo, but the puppies with the stick are painted with a palette knife instead of a brush, adding contrasting texture to draw further interest. The singular, adorable black puppy is also meant to draw the viewer to that part of the pack.
It’s hard to know as an artist when a composition is done, which I tend to agree with in most cases. But when it comes to dog-related paintings, at the point that it makes you laugh, smile, or cry… it’s done.
BIRD DOG is intended to capture the pure joy of a dog playing on the beach. If I got it right, you should smile or giggle at the scene. For those of you who love birds, rest assured no birds were harmed in the making of this painting.
I was inspired by a photo of a dog playing on a beach, but the most striking thing for me was the stylistic impact of the silhouette. There’s something compelling about the lack of details in the darkened shapes of the dog and birds, perhaps giving more to the imagination of the viewer, allowing it to be personalized. Additionally, the silhouettes lend themselves well to a sense of motion. I’m not sure why it strikes me this way, but I think it has something to do with the stark value contrasts created by the silhouettes on the colored landscape.
My mom happened to mention her recent use of the broken color technique on one of her compositions, something I’d not heard of previously. As it turns out, the technique whih proved to be a very exciting way to add depth and vibrancy to the composition. In short, broken color is a technique often used by the Impressionists that leveraged optical color mixing to make things look less flat and murky. This article, Broken Color and Optical Color Mixing, does a great job describing and illustrating the technique.
I used this approach to re-do the reflective elements on the beach, which I must say was a huge improvement. I took a black and white photo of the color palette of the beach to ensure the values were the same, which makes the technique more effective because the various colors work as one and don’t compete with each other. I’m very excited to use this in my plein air landscapes in the coming months!
BIRD DOG is also a foray into waves, another subject relatively new to me at this level of detail. I enjoy seascapes and incorporating water into my landscapes, but most of that has been lakes and streams. Capturing the force and complexity of ocean waves is a whole different endeavor, but I thoroughly enjoyed the challenge and will incorporate waves in future works.
The final decision to be made was regarding the birds. My wife, a frequent source of very helpful suggestions and insights to work in progress, suggested I pare down the array of birds. At some point, she noted, the number of birds pushes the feel of the work from playful fun on the beach to terror at the seaside. And she was right! As I added the bird silhouettes in the final stage, at 14 it felt like any more would start to slide into Hitchcock territory. Compared to the study, which had 21 birds and begged the question “who’s chasing who?”, the final composition was more playful and struck the right “dog on beach having a great time running around like it was the best day of their life” tone.
Thanks for reading and don’t forget to go play with your pups!
This is a follow-up piece from SNIFFER, a very similar composition of the wonderful nose of a dog. If you’re a dog parent you’ve seen this perspective before, so I hope it makes you giggle. WET NOSE came to fruition because the original SNIFFER was accepted in a show at Art for the People Gallery in Austin earlier this year, but I had promised my wife that if it went to the show I would make her a new one that could be hung in the house.
I tend to like to move around with composition topics and challenge myself with new subjects, so I haven’t done many repeat compositions in the past. Painting SNIFFER for the second time in a few months was going to afford me a rare opportunity to learn from the first piece and see if I could make improvements on WET NOSE.
The first notable benefit of the repeat performance was speed. I didn’t have to spend much time thinking through an approach, and the setup / block-in went very fast. The other time efficiency was in mixing paint colors properly on the first effort without much, if any, experimentation. This is where having a painting journal comes in handy, as I’d made notes of color mixtures for SNIFFER and only had to make some minor tweaks for the new piece.
I would love to do more dog noses from this perspective, but switch up the mutt mixtures so there are different nose types and hair colors. It would also be interesting to really push the details further painting on a gesso board instead of canvas and see how realistic the nose could become.
Thanks for reading and please remember to foster or adopt or BOTH. It’s a rewarding experience for everyone involved, and for those who are very breed focused, remember breeders don’t make breeds, they make bread. If you want a particular breed of dog, note that there are thousands of breeds at the shelter and rescue groups (Austin Pets Alive if you live in / around Austin area). As for me, I’m a mutt kinda guy.
The unbridled zeal for life is hard to epitomize more than watching a big dog playing on a beach. While I don’t support a dog chasing wildlife, in the case of birds I don’t mind because in all my days I’ve never seen a dog come close to catching one. But the pure joy of exploring and running on a beach is something that brings a smile to every doggy parent out there.
Barks & Birds is a study to figure out the technique and subtle variations in hues and values needed for a larger composition. I’ve seen photographs of dogs on the beach in silhouette, but I think a painting lends more atmosphere to the scene than most photographs I’ve seen. I made some basic mistakes with this study, having painted the silhouettes first, but I wanted to get the darks mixed properly and take a crack at the shapes, especially the dog, who I like to call Mr Happy Pants.
The study also allowed me to mix a number of grays to capture that end-of-day post sunset atmosphere. I gambled with the underpainting, using a very saturated orange, but I love how it turned out… a happy accident indeed. I initially thought it would provide some nice highlights around the silhouettes, but as it turns out it nailed the sunset color behind the clouds.
Lastly, the waves. I didn’t really care about this detail as part of this study, but probably because I kept my technique very loose (i.e. didn’t care how it looked) and fast, they turned out really well. I concentrated on the mix of greenish-blue, which will show better in a larger, more finished composition, but I’ll be keeping it very loose when I do the waves next time. Might need a bottle of wine for that part.
Art for the People Gallery in Austin has included 3 of my compositions in their Summer group show “ABUNDANCE”, which runs July 2nd through August 26th, 2022. I’m thrilled to be a part of this talented group of artists! If you’re interested in original artwork by Austin artists, check out AFTPG either in person in Austin or browse their online store.
The following paintings are part of the show (links lead to previous blog posts about these compositions):
Painting is truly a never ending learning process, which is what makes it so intriguing and rewarding, no matter one’s skill level. However, there are times when you pivot to a new thing – subject matter, tools, medium, etc – and realize the education could be a seamless experience, while there are other times when it’s more of a slap down. This portrait of one of my beloved pups, Wolfy, was indeed of the latter variety.
I’m pretty sure I had a couple things working against me on this one, but let me know what you think in the comments. First, it’s exponentially more difficult to paint (or draw for that matter) a dog that you know really well; getting the expression just right is nearly impossible. Secondly, the reference photo I used was, well, not the best. Wolfy does not like the paparazzi and therefore a workable pose from the furry prince was hard to come by. The third and final challenge was the recognition that Wolfy’s hair and color patterns were new to me and frankly very difficult to figure out.
You’ll notice the reference photo has a grid overlay, which helped tremendously and led to a few adjustments that were very helpful in terms of portrait accuracy. However, despite the grid and many hours of work on this piece, I feel like the final result leans cartoonish and for the life of me I can’t figure out why. I think it might be the length and width of the snout is simply off, but it might also be the plane of the forehead… or it’s his eyes. I don’t know. Thoughts?
Despite the challenges, I had a lot of fun with this composition. And although it was a slap down learning experience, I did educate myself alot about what works and what doesn’t. Some of the “what works” highlights that will carry over into future pieces are the brushwork for long fur, the use of reds in brown haired dogs (it’s there, it’s just hard to see), and the realistic texture of a palette knife for the tongue and nose.
This is a friend’s dog, Vedder, who I’ve never met… the dog, not the friend. I only know about this adorable black lab (I’m guessing… looks like a black lab, hoping he’s a rescue dog, too) because I occasionally check Facebook and he manages to take a lot of really good photos of his dog. As a doggy dad myself, I know how hard it is to get a good pic of your dog, especially a black one.
I’ve been spending a lot more time this year working on dog portraits and other dog related compositions. Many of them have fallen short of anything resembling artwork, thus the lack of posts on this topic. However, some things have started to click lately and I believe it’s because I’ve returned to the core exercise of drawing instead of painting dogs. I’ll bounce back to painting them very soon, but sometimes my brain needs a reset in terms of how it translates between my eyes and the canvas.
Vedder was all about getting the face, especially those soulful eyes, just right. I’m pretty happy with the outcome, especially since the initial drawing block-in required very little adjustment. In other words, the proportions of the face and related features was accurate from the outset, something I hadn’t been getting right with the brush and canvas.
Drawing dogs is very tedious, but it’s offset by very rewarding outcomes. The process of drawing hair via thousands of “strokes” is a test of patience, which artists really need, but oftentimes it can be elusive as you’re excited to get a composition done. Vedder is an older pup, how old I’m not sure, so he has features such as white hairs and a well-used dog nose. These are very tricky to get onto the paper with graphite only. As you can tell from this composition I missed the mark on that front, but the rest of the details I hope capture the personality of Vedder. I’ll have to cross post this on Facebook to see if my friend has an opinion.
On the technical front, I used 3 pencils – HB, 2B, and 4B. The paper is very basic, no idea what it actually is because it’s a sketchbook that I usually tote around on trips when I want to get some sketching done to capture the place for posterity. Very convenient, but the paper has no teeth which makes it hard to layer hair strokes with value shading.
There are many great facets of our canine companionships, not the least of which is the bond built through play sessions, especially the kind that simply wear them out! Dangling Paws 2 conveys the perspective of the doggy parent watching their pup sleep (but not in a creepy way) after a long session of fetch, most likely with that tennis ball in the background.
The paw is the focal point of the composition, but ensuring it didn’t dominate the entire painting required a lot of finesse and patience, of which I have an abundance of neither. I liken it to going to a nice restaurant only to have the night ruined by a loud table who invariably has some douchebag who can’t handle his alcohol screaming at the top of his lungs all night to tell story after boring, nonsensical story. Yeah, that guy… I didn’t want the dog paw to turn into a painting version of that guy.
The trick for me was to make the head bereft of details, focus on basic forms and emphasize the anatomy that really matters with a dog’s head – nose, eyes and ears. It was also very important to make it slightly cooler in temperature, which would push it back and allow the paw to stand out, but not too much.
I had a number of re-do sessions before I got the blue hues just right, namely not too blue and cool, otherwise the paw became too dominant, i.e. douchebag paw! To get it to work, there were two things I had to meter properly. First, the cool blues were tempered by light orange to knock down the saturation, but also mixing in a tad of ivory black. Second, the paw fur needed to be a lot darker without much blue. I might cringe re-reading this post in the future when I learn a more “proper” way to solve this problem, but I opted to create two foundational blacks. One was a mix of Burnt Sienna, Ultramarine Blue (UB), Cadmium Yellow Medium, and Indian Red; the second mixture was primarily Ivory Black and UB with a splash of Indian Red.
Building up the texture of the hair along the leg was a lot of trial and error. I thought about switching the dog’s hair color to brown so it would be easier to adjust values, but ultimately I stumbled onto a lucky suggestion. I was re-watching a painting video by Johanne Mangi, who does great dog portraiture, and she mentioned, almost in passing, that she used Venetian Red to make the most black-of-black fur colors. She said it was counterintuitive to add red of any kind to darken blacks, but she insisted it worked. Next thing you know I’m slapping a skeptical stroke of Indian Red straight from the tube onto the paw… and I’ll be damned if it didn’t work!
I thought about using a palette knife for the paw pads, similar to what was done in Dangling Paws 1, but I liked the results from the brushwork a lot, so opted to leave well enough alone. I purposefully excluded longer hairs between the pads because I like to reserve that effect for older dogs, which in my experience all seem to get shaggy paw pads as they age. I’ll tee that up for Dangling Paws 3 or 4.
The gallery below is done in chronological order so you can see the roller coaster ride of the process. Sometimes a piece just paints itself – I know a lot of artists out there will disagree with that and say that never happens – but we can all agree sometimes they fight you on the easel, but you have to stick with it and remember it’s part of the creative process.
Thanks for reading and if you have a dog, go play!