Play Hard, Sleep Hard

Dangling Paws 2 | 16 x 12″ | Oil on Canvas Board

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!

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