Meteors and Squirrels

It’s been a couple months since I worked multiple pieces simultaneously. I like having the ability to bounce between works in progress for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the fact that alternating allows me to shift gears and keep my focus fresh on the piece in front of me, rather than getting burnt out banging away on the same composition for multiple days. Thus far in 2020 I’ve been working on small pieces that don’t take a long time to finish, so I’ve not had the opportunity to work in parallel. Well, that changes this week​, means blog updates will have more progress updates along the way and not necessarily include the finished product in a singular post.  
Last week I started 2 new pieces. I’m still waiting for inspirational names, but for now we’ll call them Meteor Spray and Squirrel Dancing Meteor Spray is an actual Mars meteor impact crater, which will be a mix of realism and abstraction. Compositionally I’m already excited, in large part because the splatter inspired block-in stage turned out to be damn near good enough to stand on it’s own as a monochromatic painting. The colors in the reference photo are wild, but might be tricky to replicate. The plan will also incorporate knife work and impasto to build up the texture of the Mars surface. This is a larger piece, oil on canvass board, 24″x30″. 
Back on planet Earth, Squirrel Dancing is a study more than a formal composition, at least for now. I want to improve my skills in painting dogs in motion, so the study will focus heavily on the body language of the dog in an effort to capture an element of motion that gives the piece intrigue. In the case of Squirrel Dancing, the focus is the dog ready to spring into action when the squirrel makes a move. I’ve included a couple of sketches that helped me get a handle on the composition structure. Based on these sketches, I opted for the zoomed out approach that captures the height and separation between the taunter and the taunted. The painting study is 6″x8″ oil on paper. Before painting Wolfy into the study I did a small practice version before committing it to the composition – see the picture with these side by side. 
I’ll keep working on these 2 pieces over the coming week. Stay tuned! 

“Rescued” – molds and molds and molds


As mentioned in the previous post, the process for creating the dog paw prints wasn’t straightforward. The challenge was finding a way to get the real prints of all 3 dogs on the canvass without having it look like a distorted mess. Sure, there are plenty of reasons to do a piece with the messy prints splayed across the canvass, and I’ll readily admit that is a good idea, too. However, that was not the direction for this project.

The other challenge was ensuring the actual prints of Crash, Boom, and Zip were used. I didn’t want to do a photo-based, realism approach, i.e. take a picture of the paws and free paint the shapes. I really wanted to have the touch and active presence of CBZ on the canvass. This became very important to me as the work progressed because it would be a forever connection to our beloved pups; a way to always reach out and touch their “real” paws.

So if you haven’t barfed from the sentimentality, you appreciate the concept… hopefully. The original thought was to slather some non-toxic kid paint on the dog’s paws and let them run on the canvass. That’s such a bad idea for so many reasons. Just think about it for a minute if you don’t know what I mean. The next idea was to paint the dog’s paws and then press their paws on the canvass myself, in a more or less controlled fashion. Aside from the obvious battle of wills that would ensue, of which I would surely be on the losing side, this doesn’t work well because the prints are muddled with hair marks, making the prints largely indiscernible. I know this because I did a trial with Boom, the mellow dog, by shaving his paws and following the technique noted above on a practice canvass. It looked like poo.

The final answer was molds in molds. The photo included has the molds I used plus one set I didn’t. The 3 molds on the top left and the set of 3 on the bottom left. Process went like this:

  • Pressed the dog’s paw into a round of molding clay.
  • Baked the molds for 30 minutes. These are the top 3 molds in the photo.
  • Using non-drying clay, pressed into the dried molds and pulled them out. These are the bottom 3 colored ones.
  • These non-drying clay molds held their shape, but could be manipulated, so I pressed each one gently down onto a flat surface to flatted out the paw prints so it would transfer the shape better.
  • Applied thin layer of paint to the clay molds and pressed carefully onto the canvass. This provided the general shape and worked surprisingly well.
  • Applied free-hand touch ups and additional layers of paint on paw prints on canvass.

The other 3 molds (on right side of photo) are a failed attempt to create oven dried impression molds as described with the non-drying clay above. They are great 3D molds of the dog’s prints, but turns out the paint doesn’t transfer well to the canvass because the paw pads are too well done, i.e. they are rounded and can’t be pressed flat to make a good stamp. One of those things you try and then feel like a moron for having overlooked such a simple mistake.

All the molds are reusable, so I can recreate this project again if I wanted to. The best part is that my wife gets the painting she asked for, plus a mold of each dog’s front left paw.

“Play with Me?” – done… really

A few posts ago I had declared a drawing of one of my dogs completed, but was drawn back in. I didn’t like the floating head look and wanted to fix that problem. With some guidance from my drawing teacher (thanks again Laurie!), I got to the finish line with a drawing that I’m proud to hang on the wall.

Some significant enhancements: 1) added the wood floor, 2) a plain rug, 3) darkened some of the darkest areas of her face with an ebony pencil, and lastly 4) added a light cast shadow.