Earlier this year, I was approached and asked to paint a dog portrait as a gift in celebrating a big birthday. His name was Dylan. Sadly no longer with us, Dylan was much loved by his Veterinary owner, and of course, missed hugely.
Posthumous paintings are always emotive to make. I paint them in celebration, from photographs which give me as much of a 360 as I can get.
I asked my commissioner questions about Dylan, what sort of dog was he when he was in his element? What did he most love doing, when was he at his happiest?
The answers given to me provide precious details to keep in mind throughout.
Hearing how special Dylan was, I wanted to capture him in a ‘movementy’ way! To try and catch his special glint in his eye, making this central to his canvas.
In the pre-painting stage, I gather the photographs I have and add them to a titled folder in my ‘Commissions on now’ folder.
Once they are in, I begin the process of cropping and making the images the best they can possibly be. I work mainly in Picmonkey, sometimes Photoshop or perhaps Canva - where I can highlight, fade out certain areas and boost up the resolution of the original images in order to see from them clearly.
Once finalised, these images are dropped into a Word Doc and printed out A4 in size for me to work from in my studio.
Drawing Out Stage
Now at my drawing board, I begin making sketches. The main aim for these drawings is to gain the best placing of the dog on the actual canvas. This is called The Composition and takes some serious thinking. Where the dog sits on the surface is central to making a good painting - where is it’s nose going to be? Are the eyes prominent enough?
I like to take my time doing this. Sometimes I’ll work more to the left of the right of the canvas, leaving enough rest-space/blank area around the dog is as important as where there is paint.
Once happy with this, I go to the canvas and begin scaling up.
Sometimes I use a pantograph (an amazing Dickensian looking instrument!) others by eye. If I have a dog that I’m really struggling with, I’ll do both of the first, them check my drawing by using my Overhead Projector, to be absolutely sure that I have the scaling completely right.
This scaling up/drawing out stage CANNOT be wrong! If I mess up at this stage, the painting simply won’t work.
Now, the Painting begins.
Onto my very favourite bit where I get my hands dirty.
My process begins with making some gorgeous, thick, painterly and playful marks on the canvas. Painting Dylan was joy for me due to his markings, all those yummy colours to mix up and play with.
Once our canvas is covered in this first layer of paint, it’s then onto my studio wall for a few days. This is an important stage, as I walk past it, I’ll catch a glimpse and think involuntarily - that doesn’t work, or yes, that’s coming on nicely. It’s a bit of a litmus test.
If I’m happy, it’s at this point that I’ll send on my ‘NOT FINISHED YET’ email onto my client. This is done to make sure they are happy with the positioning of the dog and told to ignore the actual paint on the canvas!
Open communication proceeds and shortly afterwards, I return to painting.
Following in our email conversation, something magical happens.
Lost in my own world I paint until the dog is finished.
I’d love to take you further into this process and will think about how I can do this without sounding like a wierdo! In short, I lather, wipe off, repaint, put on the wall, take off the wall, paint on the easel, paint on my desk, tweak, paint out, paint back in again. It’s a dance that can last for days, all the while having a photocopy of the dog I’m painting in my hand.
I get lost completely until it’s finished.
I hope you’ve enjoyed my breakdown of painting Dylan.
I feel very close to the dogs I’m painting and am always sad to see them go. Then the letter, testimonial or photographs come in from delighted owners and I leave my studio with a very warm glow indeed.
With love, Sam x
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Come & join me online on Saturday 3rd August at 11am where I’m going to show you how to draw your dog - yes, you can do it!
Suitable for everyone, this FREE 30min Facebook Live is going to be fun and informative.
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Let’s do it!