Dog Portrait

Emma. Portrait of the Artist's Dog. Oil on linen, 40 x 35 in, 2010.

For Valentines day (and our anniversary), my wife wanted a portrait of our dog, Emma. I’ve tried to paint her from life a couple of times but she tends to curl up into a little black ball and generally resists any attempt of mine to keep her looking even slightly picturesque. The other day I was photographing paintings in the studio though, and she hopped on a little stool next to me and struck different poses for about 5 minutes.

The dog was painted from the photo, and the background was painted from life. The sketches behind her are mostly from our neighborhood where she goes walking everyday.

Luckily my wife was pleased. In my experience, people are often much harsher critics of a likeness when it comes to portraits of dogs than of people.

The importance of bright colors

My ultra-portable cigar box palette.

My cigar box palette.

I just started using a good quality manganese blue again after a 4 year break. I remember finding it essential when traveling but of less use here in Italy. This summer however, there have been a couple of times when I’ve really struggled to get the exact hue I needed. Using the manganese for the last two weeks has made mixing some colors so much easier. I see more colors just by having the capability to get them. ‘Like scales falling from your eyes’ as Gammell said.

The same thing happens every year with my landscape students who bring brand-name yellow ochres outside and fight the chalky color for hours. Its impossible to key your colors correctly with tube paints which are full of extenders which dull the color.

Matching color in nature is hard enough with the right tools, with poor quality paints it becomes almost impossible.