Wolfgang Portrait

Graphite on Paper | 4” x 6” 

Wolfgang Portrait

Say hello to Wolfgang (Wolfy), who was willing to take a short break from his squirrel hunting to pose for this quick portrait. This is a smaller piece that isn’t quite as refined and complete as the previous Happy Lab portrait from last month, but the intent was to practice a couple of smaller drawings before taking on a more comprehensive composition.

This is actually the second effort at this portrait, the first having gotten off track just enough to warrant starting over. Despite carefully checking and verifying the dimensions and proportions along the way, somewhere along the process I inadvertently extended his snout, which threw everything off. It took me a little while to figure out what was going on, as the error was ultimately very small, but that seems to be the challenge with portraits – the slightest proportional error is magnified, but it sneaks up on you in a very insidious way. 

I also wasn’t very happy with the focal point of his left eye in the original effort, which I had redrawn at least twice prior to discovering the proportional issue with his snout, so I decided to restart the entire composition. Rather than flipping to another page in my drawing book, I used the opposite page so I could contrast and compare along the way. The immediacy of the failed effort staring me in the face proved very helpful as a reminder of where the key problem areas were initially.

Final on Left | Initial Fail on Right

In the end Wolfy’s draft portrait came to life pretty nicely – see progression gallery below. It’s very hard for me to incorporate the variations of his brown, gold, and black coat, but focusing on the key patterns instead of every detail captured the essence of his inquisitive look and cute face. 

Happy Lab Portrait

Graphite on Paper | 6” x 8” 

Happy Lab Portrait | Graphite on Paper

This Labrador’s smile and overall happy, expressive face quickly caught my attention. I have no idea who this dog is, but I know s/he’s never met a stranger. 

I thoroughly enjoyed the slow, methodical pace of working through this drawing. One of my focal areas this year is something I call “dogs in motion”, basically dog’s doing stuff (see Frisbee Dog), which remains my primary interest when it comes to dog related art. However, the challenge of doing a realistic dog portrait has always nagged at me, in large part because I could never figure it out. This composition is either a fluke, which is entirely possible, or something clicked in my art brain – my big, smushy, oft confused art brain. 

The technical keys to this drawing, at least for me, were as follows:

  • Proportions: Free-hand drawing, no tracing is mandatory for me… otherwise I won’t learn a damn thing. There’s something elusive about getting the snout of a dog just so. Eye spacing and size of the nose, which is a lot bigger than you think, were also key.
  • Eyes: Oh those precious stares! The expressive nature of a dog oftentimes exudes from their eyes, but I realized so much of that expression is from the hair around the eyes, too. 
  • Hair Strokes: The darker areas of the coat are a combination of different types of pencil hardness, but also more variations of stroke density, i.e. darker areas have more strokes, which is obvious now that I say it aloud. 

Hopefully the progression shots above are helpful to see the compositional approach. There’s a lot of bouncing around, but ultimately it’s about getting the eyes and nose nailed and then building out from those anchors. 

Thanks for reading!

Frisbee Dog!

Frisbee Dog | Graphite on Paper

One of my dogs, Zip, is obsessed with 2 things in life: food and anything thrown. I used to think her love was exclusive to tennis balls, but over the years I’ve learned that not unlike her willingness to eat anything thrown into her food bowl, she will retrieve anything thrown across her yard. The day she trained me to sling a frisbee was a fond day indeed… for both of us. It’s her insatiable drive (dare I say “lust”?) to retrieve that inspired this drawing of Frisbee Dog

No, this is not Zip, but the reference photo captures all the key elements of a dog in motion doing her thing. The face is particularly tricky, in large part because it’s obscured and squinty, which mutes distinguishing features like eyes and ears. But you gotta love the open mouth and all those frisbee hungry teeth! 

The gallery includes a reference photo and two versions of the drawing. Granted, the drawing is a rough study and not intended to be a refined composition, I thought it was interesting to see how different photo settings can change the look and feel of a piece of art. Using the same source photo of the final drawing, one is set to sharper detail while the other uses a soft setting to remove some of the detail of the pencil strokes. Bear in mind this drawing is done in my sketch book on thin, see-through pages; there’s not a lot of teeth in the paper, thus the relatively rough nature of the drawing. Also, the entire piece was done with only 3 pencils – 2B, HB, and H. 
I think this type of subject would make for a good painting.

I’ll try a few more drawings of frisbee dogs and then make the jump to the canvass. 

Daily Sketch #11: French countryside calm


Today’s sketch inspired by my wife and our anniversary trip to the French countryside in the romantic Loire Valley region. The light was very strong from the right side of the sketch, so the shadows were very pronounced, as was the coming storm, which never materialized by the way. The rose bushes in the foreground are testers – not part of the actual reference photo, but rather a suggestion from my wife in hopes of adding some bright color to the soon-to-be painted version. Never sketched a rose bush before, but I think it’s a great addition to the sketch.