Process: Portrait in the Making

The steps towards a finished pet portrait are rarely the same from piece to piece. Sometimes I envy those artists who have a system, a way of doing things that they rarely waver from. At times, my lack of a set process has made me doubt whether I truly was an artist. I also envy those artists who are so driven by their passion to paint that they would lose sleep or allow themselves to become malnourished all for the sake of their art. Uh, uh, not me. I am well fed at all times, and when the clock strikes the magic hour I am firmly cuddled up in warm blankets ready for a lovely night’s sleep.

So I’ve come to embrace the fact that my erratic process and sporadic fits of inspiration are the hallmarks of my creative style. I’m going to show you two pet portraits, one a commission, one a gift for my parents and the process I went through to create each of them. You can decide whether they’re similar at all.

The first is a commission I did for a friend in my book club. She has a cat named Fiona who has extremely expressive eyes, a tone of attitude and beautiful fur. Because of her personality, it was extremely difficult to get a photograph of her that was satisfactory, even though I did visit on two occasions to photograph her. We finally decided to use the body position in one image and the face in another one:

Above: the body

Below: the head

 

Because the expression had to be just right and the background had to fit very specific requests, I did a couple of quick sketches:

 

 

 

After a few practice runs, I then used pencil to sketch onto the canvas. This is a very loose process, because invariable adjustments are always made as the paint is applied. Then on goes the paint. The under painting is initially grays and blacks:

 

Slowly the details and color are added in:

Then lots of playing by adding colors, deciding against them, painting over and eventually the end product:

 

The Rovi painting was not as much pressure since it wasn’t a commission and as a result was done a little more quickly and freely.  For this one, I had a photograph already but it was extremely yellow from the tungsten lighting when the photo was taken. I had to guess at the color of her fur based on my memories of her:

 

Rather than do a series of sketches I decided to just go directly to the canvas and sketch it with paint:

 

As you can see above, proportions are wrong, but as the painting progresses, those adjustments are made. I loved the shape of Rovi’s body in this position and the negative space around her. I tend to favor a mat background because it highlights the subject and gives it a more contemporary feel. I ended up including a little bit of floor detail but changed the color entirely.  Here is the end result:

 

And that, my friends, is the process of two very different paintings.

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