“Bodie and Bear Bear” was a holiday gift to a spouse, the husband returning the favor to his wife who had commissioned me to do a portrait for him several years ago; more on that one, below. I think of this portrait in the weeks before Christmas because it became two Christmas gifts—one in 2010 and one in 2011 because I actually interpreted Bodie’s coloring incorrectly, then revised it when they sent me another photo the next year along with a clip of his fur, so I was finishing it and packing it in the weeks before Christmas two years in a row. It’s a lesson about using a flash, but sometimes it’s hard to tell when you can’t see the subject for real, but you’ll see the flash not only distorted his color, but it also flashed out some of the details on his face.
Above is the final portrait with the correct coloring, below is the first portrait, so I’ll describe that portrait first.
I had gotten a pretty good start in the first draft, below, checked all the colors and decided to go on. I really liked not only the two dogs looking up, but also the patterned carpet, the angle of the carpet and the floor too.
This is the first draft of this portrait. I love images of our animal companions like this—isn’t this how we often see them, looking up at us expectantly? It’s a little difficult of an angle to draw because it’s often quite foreshortened, especially with taller dogs whose heads are simply closer to the lens. In this case I widened the two dogs’ lower bodies to keep them in natural proportion. I have fur to add to both of them, but that will come last.
This painting is about 14″ x 18″, plenty big enough for detail, so when I first looked at the photo and began to visualize, I knew I could work with the dogs as they were, just modifying their bodies as described above. But what about the hardwood floor, and that rug?
I actually charge extra for these background elements, and sometimes I’ll advise to omit them, both for various reasons. A smaller painting would make it difficult to work these details, more time-consuming, often more time than the subjects themselves so I make sure they are important to my customer. They can also be really distracting and take away from the subject being more of a design element, and people get tired of carpets and such. I hope this painting will hang on the wall for years and years, but what if my customer gets tired of the rug, or changes the colors all over the house? I doubt they’ll get tired of looking at the dogs, but the carpet might get a little tiresome years from now.
On the other hand, the hardwood floors and the carpet are from the era of these pets, and all together it looks like home. This painting is large enough to support the patterns, the dogs are large enough not to be overwhelmed, so I decided to include it, though simplified. Once I got my initial sketch done, I liked the composition and dove right in.
Because animal fur floats over its background, I usually finish the background of a portrait before I work on the subjects. The floor and rug are nearly done, but I need to finalize the details, especially in the floor, to give it a little bit more contrast. Both dogs have lots of loose, flowing fur which I can draw right on top of the background, filling out their figures and giving them both their familiar fuzzy shapes.
I can also finalize the details in the rest of the fur, but most importantly their faces, those eyes and noses and ears that are our most familiar features of our pets since we look at them most often.
The portrait is 18″ wide by 14″ tall, and the dogs’ faces a pleasantly big, large enough to work good detail around the eyes and on their noses. Working the fur on subjects this large is a little more time consuming, especially with long-haired animals such as these. I start with general areas of color to mark where the shadows and highlights are, but then I layer other tints and hues over that and the final top color in wisps, blended with my fingers. This is what gives the fur the depth and texture while maintaining the right coloration.
I really enjoy dog’s noses—there’s so much going on there! And in an extreme close-up you see so many different-colored hairs and whiskers of every length.
I was very pleased with it and so were they, but after looking at it for a while they decided Bear Bear was too light, and indeed I wondered as his breed is typically a darker red, though judging by the floor and carpet and Bodie in the photo it seemed the photo was correct. Sure enough, he was a darker red so they called to ask if I could correct the portrait.
Of course! I couldn’t live with myself if it was that far off. They not only sent other photos, but they also sent some of his fuzzy locks in a plastic baggie, which was very helpful!
So I began working him out into his darker colors, then realized that, where he’d contrasted nicely with his background before, now he literally “faded into the woodwork”—I had a hard time distinguishing him from the floor. I let his people know it was taking so long because I was trying to work this out; even if he did naturally fade into the floor I could adjust things slightly so that he stood out more.
His mom e-mailed back that it was funny I would say that—she often nearly stepped on him because he matched the red oak floor. Well, I must be more accurate this time!
Rocky and Bullwinkle
Happily enough about ten years ago I did this portrait of Rocky and Bullwinkle for the recipient of Bodie and Bear Bear to give to her husband. What a wonderful set of circumstances.
I put together this portrait from many images of the two individually and together. I particularly liked the one of Bullwinkle on the floor with the repeated shadows and highlights, so I made that the basis of the portrait. We wanted to work some jewel tones into the background because they were predominant in the house, but we couldn’t go too dark since Rocky was mostly black. That was how this portrait came to be. I’ll write about this one some day soon.
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