Tuesday, January 15, 2008

diary of a dog portrait

In spite of the publication of yesterday's article, I haven't actually done a process post in awhile, and since I knew before I started that this painting was going to be well outside my comfort zone, I thought it might be an interesting one to document, warts and all. If you'd like to see the painting morph like magic before your very eyes check out this slide show.

After sketching out the basic outline on my newly-stretched 16" x 20" canvas I loosely blocked in the main shapes with bright colours. I never start with a blank canvas as the underpainting is an important part of the final image in my work. This painting was no exception, even though I knew that I was painting an uncharacteristically traditional painting in both composition and execution and that, in the end, the effect of the underpainting would be minimal.

I began with the darker colours of Zappa's coat, then added a bit of the grass to 'ground' the painting, so to speak. Also, I knew that the grass, the one tedious part of the painting to execute, would come last, and I wanted to feel as if I'd made a bit of headway with it.
I continued painting the dog with the midtones and finished with the white areas. But I ran into serious trouble with his face. Even though it started out correctly proportioned, I forgot to step away from the painting and every 'adjustment' I made took it farther away from my beloved pooch. I was extremely frustrated, especially as painting his face was quite an emotional experience. Then Dinahmow, who never pulls punches and was keeping up with my progress, said just the right thing: "I didn't know he was crossed with a Bull Terrier".
I'd love to say that that was that and I corrected it immediately but no, I had to spend a long time on his face to finally satisfy myself that this was Zappa, if only a pale imitation. And I was relieved that I'd gotten the most difficult part of the painting out of the way relatively early in the process. Hard experience and many wasted tubes of paint and canvas later, I have learned to anticipate problem areas and tackle them first.
As for the background, I started to work the horizon in then realized that I'd misplaced the planter box from the original photo and it was now growing out of his head. See, there's no such thing as a straight line from point A to point B!

It's my painting and I'll cheat if I want to, cheat if I want to, cheat if I want to; You would cheat, too, if it happened to you.

And so I did. While removing the offending element I also lowered the horizon line so it fit the perspective better and wasn't floating above his head. And then came the endless grass. I have no idea where Seurat and his partners-in-pointillism got all their patience.

And there you have it. I thought briefly about attempting to incorporate my more distinctive stylistic elements into this painting, then realized that a straight-ahead portrait, done with as much faithfulness as possible, was really the only choice for such personal subject matter. For me anyway. Besides, animal portraits are way outside my experience and I knew I'd screw it up royally if I tried anything too ambitious. I had to get this right. And you know, I really did find the whole process therapeutic, in spite of the fact that I worked like a woman possessed for more than three days (or maybe because of). Now I think I'll sleep for a week.


Blogger Janvangogh said...


15/1/08 4:42 p.m.  
Blogger nadine said...

It's just lovely!
And is absolutely an "Andrea Pratt"... The little peeks of underpainting blues and reds in Zappas coat, and the grass. The grass!
I see now why you wanted to stretch the canvas yourself for this one. True art therapy.

15/1/08 5:17 p.m.  
Blogger AK said...

I was chosen as a random panelist for the bloggies awards, and I just wanted to let you know that I chose you as one in 5 out of 20-30 entries for the best Canadian blog.
I really love the site you have here, the posts and pictures were nice.

Good luck!

15/1/08 5:50 p.m.  
Blogger WithinWithout said...

It's incredible, Andrea, exceptionally beautiful, captures Zappa perfectly...

And the obviously emotional process you went through during it, highs and lows and all, made this a very special post.

Sweet dreams.

15/1/08 6:06 p.m.  
Blogger Unknown said...

Andrea he is beautiful! and I can see now it was healing for you.


15/1/08 7:50 p.m.  
Blogger Heather Plett said...

It's really lovely. Thanks for another "process post". :-)

15/1/08 8:02 p.m.  
Blogger mmichele said...

i loved every stage...thanks for sharing that.

15/1/08 9:04 p.m.  
Blogger Angela Wales Rockett said...

This painting is just wonderful, Andrea. I've always wanted to do a painting of my Gracie kitty (she passed away in 2002), but I never felt I could do her justice. I love how Zappa just glows! Such a handsome dog.

And I love your process posts. I'm also envious. My process is usually so non-linear that documenting it is nearly impossible.

15/1/08 9:07 p.m.  
Blogger dinahmow said...

Well, he was not, after, a Bull Terrier hybrid!
It's your Zappa.
Thanks for the sharing.

15/1/08 9:18 p.m.  
Blogger mimi said...

I really love the final creation, Andrea. You have so given spirit to that empty canvas, and captured a likeness that does justice to Zappa in a way that only you could. And it's not cheating, it's correcting and perfecting! And congrats to you for all the good energy that comes your way--the magazine, the blog vote! Life goes on without us, and in this case it's about you! Enjoy the accolades, celebrate your accomplishment of laboring over and finishing the painting. Tomorrow will come whether you are sleeping or not.

15/1/08 10:01 p.m.  
Blogger Caroline said...

Wow! Tackling the hard parts first seems like the best advice and therapy.

And all that grass... like a zen something or other... before enlightenment, grass to paint, after enlightenment, grass to paint!

16/1/08 2:00 a.m.  
Blogger Melody said...

It is just beautiful

16/1/08 4:47 a.m.  
Blogger jafabrit said...

I love your whole post and the warts and all. The end result is really just fabulous, and what a way to honor such a special dog. It is a wonderful painting (love how you did the fur and the grass).

16/1/08 5:12 a.m.  
Blogger Heather said...

Thank you for sharing this post! It's of course, wonderful and full of life. The fur, the grass...OH MY! :)

16/1/08 7:11 a.m.  
Blogger belindadelpesco.com said...

Excellent painting, wonderful process, and so much love & poignancy in all those beautiful peaks of fur and blades of grass. Really nice.
And congrats on the magazine spread.

16/1/08 7:20 a.m.  
Blogger Paula Manning-Lewis said...

This is beautiful, Andrea! The love shines through, it is absolutely gorgeous!

16/1/08 8:49 a.m.  
Blogger Ian Lidster said...

Thank you for sharing 'Zappa in Process'. I admire your courage for tackling this and offering us the beautiful end result. Truly a labor of love.
Oh, and by the way, the Esquimalt and Nanaimo Railway has been running from Courtenay to Victoria since 1914. May it last forever. Take the trip sometime. You won't regret it.

16/1/08 9:22 a.m.  
Blogger Catalina said...

So interesting Andrea! "to paint with you" Thank you again!

Love it! What is amazing to me is that I love the steps as they were already finished...several paintings in one, all of them lovely!

16/1/08 12:05 p.m.  
Blogger Unknown said...

I don't think I could do the disassembling of colour at tthe start with respect to the underpainting. This is really brilliant and a beautiful memmory of/tribute to Zappa.

16/1/08 12:13 p.m.  
Blogger kimber said...

I found my way here from Ian's blog, and am I ever glad I did! Wonderful painting, engaging writing! I'll be back!

16/1/08 3:03 p.m.  
Blogger Ellen said...

It's beautiful! Your underpainting technique with acrylics is really wonderful, send it off to 'Artists' magazine. It begs to be published. Alan Wylie, another Federation artist had a cover spread a while back, I can see you there too. (sorry,I do have art marketing on the brain these days). It's a beautiful tribute Andrea.

16/1/08 5:39 p.m.  
Blogger tlchang said...

It looks like it was beautifully therapeutic. I was just reading a blog that was discussing 'reading auras' from photographs, and how there is no aura to read on cloned animals (and indeed, there is something odd and somewhat 'lifeless' looking when you view one ), but I'd venture to say that *real* creatures, lovingly rendered in paint seem to have one. Your painting of Zappa certainly does....

16/1/08 10:10 p.m.  
Blogger Peter said...

This is BRILLIANT! Love to see how you process something like this.

17/1/08 11:20 a.m.  
Blogger andrea said...

These comments are brilliant. Some really great feedback and insights. And now I'm so behind schedule that I'm not going to respond to each individually, though I really want to. So thanks. I once again have purpose! :)

17/1/08 11:33 a.m.  
Blogger Unknown said...

These are amazing. Drop dead amazing. So full of love. So full of dedication. So full of years of stories.

17/1/08 1:05 p.m.  
Blogger Alda said...

Absolutely fascinating. And I totally get how emotional this was for you. The end result is just gorgeous. I also loved your musings on the process. Excellent post and painting. Bravo!

17/1/08 3:58 p.m.  
Blogger carla said...

Andrea - of course the process always amazes me... it's your special brand of artistic alchemy. But right now, I have tears in my eyes... what a truly beautiful portrait of Zappa. The love shows is every stroke.

17/1/08 5:18 p.m.  
Blogger Ann Christine Dennison said...

There is such light in this portrait of Zappa ... amazing work!
Thanks for sharing the process.

18/1/08 11:09 a.m.  
Blogger Shadow said...

what a process and an amazing end result!

19/1/08 9:12 a.m.  
Blogger andrea said...

More great comments. Stop! My head won't fit out the door any more...

19/1/08 3:53 p.m.  

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