Thursday, 29 January 2015


head-to-head, two foals, oil painting of horses, a pet portrait by karen, devon UK
Following on from my previous foal painting in b& w, the idea was that I paint this in sepia tones. I chose a very limited palette of Terra Rosa, Cad Yellow Deep and burnt umber + b&w and the result was pretty much a full colour version of these horses. Amazing. I had not expected that and it was a lesson in how much can be achieved without every tube of paint in the rainbow to hand. I am not sure how to paint in sepia now. Yellow ochre and brown, perhaps, without the deep earth red that terra rosa provides. I will give it a try.
Sorry there have only been 2 posts this week instead of the usual 3; I have had a terrible cold and ear infection and not felt quite myself. Other posts have been made on my Facebook page, so you can follow me there too if you would like to. Have a great weekend and thank you for looking at my paintings.

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

You calling me?

Oil painting of a border collie, palette knife painting, a pet portrait by Karen, Devon, UK
This is the lovely Oscar, painted with a palette knife, apart from his eyes. The challenge with this one was to complete the work in a single sitting without muddying the colours at the boundaries where the colours change. In this respect, using a palette knife feels a bit like cheating, because I find it is so much easier. 
Working on board, too, means that if disaster should strike, one swipe and the knife takes the mess off and you can start again. 
I left the painting to dry overnight before adding the whiskers with a No 1 sable brush.

Thursday, 22 January 2015

Daxie in black & white

oil painting of a dachshund in black and white, after Landseer, a pet portrait by Karen, Devon
The day before yesterday, you may recall, I showed you the lovely b&w study Landseer did for Queen Victoria of her dachshund Waldman. Well, I am not going to upload it again because I don't want you making any direct comparisons... 

My attempt is a great deal smaller at 6" x 6" and it took a really long time to paint.
When you are trying to recreate form purely by distinguishing values - no colour to help you separate the leg from the chest or the back from the background or the side of the ear from the side of the face - the level of concentration required is enormous. 
I found I had to stop and think after almost every mark. I began with the eyes, as I almost always do, thus could put down the darkest dark (tube black for the pupils) and the lightest light (tube white for the highlights) and I knew everything else on this dog fell between those two. His eyes were the only place where pure black and pure white occurred. 

In reality, using colour should not make it easier: it makes it harder because you have this additional dimension, it is like the difference between playing a matching card game on a table top and playing with a Rubik's cube. There is so much more that can go awry in 3 dimensions. Yet, the allure of colour lulls us into a false sense of security. Well, it does me.

I am considering doing a few more of these studies, or maybe one every so often, to try and ensure I am learning the lessons. 

That's all for this week. Thanks for reading my blog and for looking at my paintings. Have a great weekend.

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Staying close - a value study

b & w oil painting of a foal close to its mother, a study in values, a pet portrait by Karen from Devon
The thought kept preying on my mind that I was still struggling with value, that when my painting wasn't going well, there were two top reasons for it. Either the drawing was off or the values were lost and a pool of same-ness. Sometimes both at the same time, of course.
So then I held a private pity party for a few minutes - if only I had a teacher/mentor/fellow artist instead of being all alone etc etc etc: does this happen to anyone else, or is it just me? Anyway, fortunately, I remembered my good luck in living in the internet age and set about finding myself a mentor. I chose Sir Edwin Landseer because he is so very famous as an animal artist, because he is so very, very good and because there are loads of high resolution images available on-line, not quite good enough to see every brush stroke, but nearly so.
Here is the one I selected to learn from. It belongs to the Queen. As does over 150 other Landseer items. They can all be enjoyed here
A b&w painting by Sir Edwin Landseer of Waldmann, Queen Victoria's dachshund
This is Waldmann, a short-haired dachshund, painted for Queen Victoria in 1841. I am presently bracing myself to attempt a dachshund but thought I might try a couple of others in b&w first: subjects which don't demand immediate comparison with Landseer!
Peering at his painting, I wondered which paints he had used to render Waldmann. I could find no information on-line about his preferred palette. It seemed to me he did not use straight black and white because I couldn't imagine achieving such softness and subtlety with those stark colours. After a bit of fiddling around and puzzling, I discovered a recipe to "warm" up black by adding raw umber. I don't have any of that, but used Rembrandt's Transparent Oxide Brown instead. I also used Gamblin's Warm White to mix up my grey value strings and only Titanium White for the very bright, brights (whiskers, nose and forehead highlights).
This is 6"x6", so a third the size of Landseer's dog. Biut you have to start somewhere.

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Walk tall

a palette knife, oil painting of a crow on a golden beach. A pet portrait by Karen
A palette knife painting. After many hours of working with detail and smallish brushes - I am painting two commissions concurrently of different dogs - it was fun and relaxing to switch to a simpler form and a knife. He doesn't have a curly coat, either, and for that I am grateful! 
To achieve that lush coloured sand - can't you just feel it when you wiggle your toes? - I used Gamblin Warm White and the tiniest amounts of Rembrandt Cad Yellow Deep. 
On one of his DVD courses, the Colorado-based artist Dan Edmondson recommended buying professional Cad Yellow Deep as it was a hard colour to match in the cheaper pigments, so I took a big breath and bought a tube at vast expense. It was so worth it. Love this colour.

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Cat on yellow

oil painting of a tabby cat on a yellow background. A pet portrait by Karen from Devon, UK.
Still experimenting here with how to render an animal accurately whilst also avoiding anything too cutsie.
This is a particular problem with cats, I find. 
Here I have experimented with the background, using lemon yellow, transparent oxide red and dioxazine purple. There is something about yellow which can create an edgy feel in a painting, I think. 
Superficially we think of yellow as all sunshine and sun flowers, but there are other associations too which are not so positive (associations with sickness, cowardice or betrayal) so I think it is a challenge to use this colour to just knock the edge off any potential sugariness without tipping the whole thing into nausea! 

Friday, 9 January 2015

Seated kitten

oil painting, ginger and white kitten, pet portrait by karen
A palette knife painting (excluding the facial features) in which I was trying to paint a kitten without it looking like an illustration from the top of a biscuit barrel. I decided to aim for the quiet dignity you see in even tiny cats when they are seated in this tidy pose.

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

Portrait of a dog

Portrait of a dog in oils, a collie cross, mixing chromatic blacks, a pet portrait by karen
A small painting executed rapidly with a palette knife (except for the eyes), my intention being to try and keep it as fresh and alert as the face of this lovely dog in the reference photo. The photo was taken by Christine Coffey on Paint My Photo. I mixed the 'black' using burnt umber, ultramarine, dioxazine purple, using only tube black for the pupils of the eyes and the inner nostrils. I worked the ears by turning the canvas upside down so I could get nice wispy sweeps. 

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Sun spot

Sun spot, oil painting of Maine Coon cat sitting in the sun, a pet portrait by Karen
Happy New Year, everybody and welcome to the other side of Christmas. No sooner had we eaten the sprouts and finished the washing-up than the TV was filled with adverts of merry, fit-looking people enjoying themselves in sun-kissed holiday hotspots. Well, no kissing sun here. But it was an incentive to try and paint this cat doing what cats do so well: bathing in the one accessible ray of sunshine.
The reference photo is by Ariane Kraemer from Paint My Photo. I have had 4 attempts over 6 months at painting this beautiful cat; 3 wipers and a 4th effort which was both a wiper and a re-gesso-the-board job. 
I am still unsure why I found it so hard. This is a vexing question, frankly. Advice to artists is always to "let the painting tell you what it needs" or words to that effect. Well, my experience now is that the painting rarely goes beyond saying "I need SOMETHING and I need it now. You figure out what". It can take me quite a long time. This one took 6 months to resolve. I decided the main issue was the extreme contrast - which I have exaggerated quite a bit for dramatic effect. It was causing me two problems both of which resulted in MUD. First, I got in a muddle with my warm vs cool colours and second I was not as careful as needed about separating the darks from the lights, causing muddle instead of drama. 
This cat looks so like my own cat when blissed out, though, that I am glad I persevered.