Thursday, April 18, 2013


This good dog's portrait, one I had foresight to scan and print for my commercial portfolio, is my one painted portrait that has worn well over time. I've done several others, drawings that were successful but none had the strength of this acrylic piece. Where the drawings were done from life, this particular painting was done primarily from photographs, an obvious advantage in dealing with a frisky animal but that could be a risky deal for artistic development.

You might think it easiest to copy one good picture directly but real understanding of your subject needs more. First of all, one photo, one view just doesn't do it!  Unless you are intimately familiar with (in this case) a particular type of animal, it is best to take several photos from a variety of angles to provide understanding of general structure and particular characteristics. Even then, unless you have just the right lighting (and the right animal!), photos rarely provide all the information you'll need.  Doing a series of direct sketches as supplement will contribute to your understanding and help you produce work with convincing characteristic qualities. Without complete knowledge it's much too easy to produce dead, flat work rather than the lively portrait you want.

Naturally, whether pet or person, the same principles apply. I did a child's portrait years ago before I came to understand those ideas. While my drafting skills were good,  the poor kid looked much too much a photographer's subject, - almost a snap-shot! You see the flash in the little boy's face and even sense the position of the camera. It's a great picture of a happy little guy but regardless of paint application it still is a photo,  Even when doing realistic work, You don't want to be a slave to reference photos! The lesson?  Know your subject through reference, experience, and observational drawing!

"If one really loves nature, one can find beauty everywhere."   Vincent Van Gogh

"If skill could be gained by watching, every dog would be a butcher."   Turkish proverb

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