Squirrel Watch

Pivoting from painting to drawing last week and finally made the time to finish this one. Squirrel Watch is pretty self explanatory – Wolfgang, my 3 year old rescue mutt, sitting in the yard watching the tree tops for the infiltrators! 

One of my artistic goals this year is to improve my dog related art skills. I’m not a big fan of dog portraits, however, I thoroughly enjoy what I like to call “dogs doing stuff”, creating intrigue through motion and activity. Over the coming months I’ll work on various dog related pieces that capture the essence of dogs being dogs as they do their thing. 

Squirrel Watch | graphite on paper

Squirrel Watch was done over the course of a few weeks – I have no idea how long it took, but I wouldn’t be surprised if I spent 6 hours on this relatively small piece. There were a lot of mistakes along the way, but nothing an eraser and some patience couldn’t remedy. 

This isn’t a piece I would frame and hang, but I’m pleased with it from a progress perspective. It’s also riddled with lessons learned, so if you zoom in to see the details you can spot various styles and techniques.

Here’s what I learned and need to remember for future drawings:

  • It’s not necessary to draw hair detail throughout the subject. In this piece, the emphasis should have been on shading and shape foremost, whereas hair detail should be secondary. 
  • Draw hair details with a clear understanding of actual direction of the hair on the dog.
  • Work hair dark to light. 
  • Most of the hair detail can be accomplished using 2B, HB, and H pencils.
  • Show wrinkles in the coat by changing the density of hairs, i.e. closer together or further apart.
  • Dog paws are hard to draw, dammit! 
  • Blades of grass can be done by either individual strokes or by lifting out shading with a thin eraser. 

Dances With Squirrels

Dances With Squirrels (study)
6″x8″, Oil on canvass paper
This simple study piece is done, although I invested more time in the composition than originally planned. I rarely do a study as a painting (if you’re not familiar with the term “study” in this context, here’s a short summary on Wikipedia here), opting for a drawing instead (which I had already done previously, as noted in the Meteors and Squirrels post last week), but my goal was to practice the brushwork needed to capture a dog in motion from a short distance. I also wasn’t sure how well this composition would translate to the canvass. I learned a lot in this exercise. 

First, I was surprised that the dog (Wolfgang) portion of the painting wasn’t very difficult, probably due in part to the various practice sketches done previously. The trick was to apply the darker parts of his coat last, which might technically be incorrect, but it was easier to manipulate the black shapes on his coat if it was the last step.
There are a number of compositional changes that will need to be made for the “real” piece:
  • The fence was both boring, distracting, and worst of all had many of the same values and hues of the trees and the dog, which made it hard to work into the layout effectively. I think the fence will be removed going forward. 
  • The trees were tricky from a color perspective. In real life, they’re a weird gray black, basically a color graveyard, so making them interesting took time. The other problem, which I haven’t yet solved, is ensuring their coloring isn’t too similar to the Wolfgang’s black and golden brown coat. 
  • ​The coloring of the grasses are fine, but the shadows will need more attention in a formal composition. They’re a real highlight of the work because they give a more comprehensive feel of the height and breadth of the tree tops, which are out of the frame.
  • Last but not least, that pesky squirrel. I was so focused on how to paint the dog that I hadn’t given any thought to the squirrel. Have you tried to paint a squirrel? The good news is that my lack of practice painting rodents might have worked to the benefit of the composition because the squirrel is very hard to see against the light blue sky background, so the viewer has to follow the gaze of the dog to find the squirrel. And there’s our compositional intrigue!
I’m going to wait a few weeks before firing up an actual painting based on this study, but I think it’ll be an eye catching, tall, narrow canvass layout that should be fun to create.
Thanks for visiting! ​