Thursday, 30 April 2015

Ratting in the barn

Ratting in the barn, oil painting of a JRT, a pet portrait, dog painting, animal artist, Karen Robinson
This is Rosie in the barn on a local farm. She is a good ratter. Jack Russells are supposed to be among the best - my neighbour's JRT catches rats in her barn from between bales of sileage. She lines them up neatly on the lawn underneath the washing line. Yikes. 
I painted Rosie fairly quickly with a bristle brush; she has quite a wire-y coat and I used the impasto marks to try and capture that.
This is my last blog post for this week. Have a great weekend and thank you for looking at my paintings.

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Blue Boy

oil painting, retired greyhound, Blue Boy, oils on linen, how to paint a greyhound, pet portrait by karen
From a photograph by Katherine Rodgers. This was one of those dogs that pretty much painted himself. He is worked in oils on linen mounted to board - a really lovely support. I got a big heap for my birthday last week and I just love them. Such a luxury to work my daily paintings on linen (I normally use mdf boards, cut by the nice blokes at Jewsons and gessoed by me). 

Obviously the main challenge with this chap was how close the colours and tonal values are, so I needed to ensure we could separate the various bits of the dog and the dog from the blue blanket. I mixed the darker greys of his fur from burnt umber and ultramarine. For the lighter greys, I added a touch of red to warm it up a bit. For the lightest grey of all, I just kept adding white until it was one or two shades lighter than the white palette I was working on and then I added a "bit" of cad lemon - by bit, I mean a drop such as you could pick up on the end of a toothpick. We do not want a yellow dog. Or a green one.

It is a fact that to achieve the effect of light lights, pure white is not usually the answer. Imagine a red vase. If you mix white into your red for the places where the vase is not in shadow, your vase will no longer be red. It will be pink. So an alternative method for shading from dark to light has to be found. The answer is to reserve your highest, purest, chroma red - straight from the tube red - for the lightest angles on the vase and progressively darken the red for the shadows. Viridian (red's complement) is good for this.

So, for greys, which are a little bit trickier, I reserved my warmest greys (the ones with a touch of red or yellow) for the lights and my darkest greys for the darks. As I had used ultramarine to mix these greys, when I came to doing the blanket I switched to Prussian Blue. Just to ensure it looked different.  Hope you like my Blue Boy.

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

A small cat

a small, black cat; seated on a wheel back chair, oil painting of a room interior, a pet portrait by karen
When I first saw this pretty scene I knew I wanted to paint it, but was unsure how to tackle the complexity of the room interior. 
In the end, I used the same method I almost always do: started with the cat's eyes, using a size 0 sable blend brush, working outwards until the cat was complete, suspended eerily on nothing to the left of centre of a blank canvas. 
From there I worked top left, down and to the right, painting in everything around the cat. 
I had puzzled for a while how to paint the windows with the net curtaining in front of them.
 In the end, I made a big effort to stop thinking of them in layers: night sky, windows, curtains but instead to just see shapes: a small dark shape, a larger lighter shape etc. Working in this way from left to right, when I finally looked up -  the shapes had resolved themselves into sky, windows and curtains without me having given it much thought. Magic.
The vase of flowers were last after the paint had an hour or two to tack up. I did these with a small palette knife and no fiddling (despite the temptation).

Thursday, 23 April 2015


oil painting of a golden retriever, a pet portrait by karen
This is one of those where photographing it seemed impossible. The doggy looks much like the painting, the background is too dark. In real life, it is more violet. To contrast with her golden coat.

I started as usual with her eyes
This is a Rosemary & Co Series 402 size 0 sable blend. Very useful brush. Good for whiskers, too.
The main features in, now. At this point, I feel I can see the dog there, trying to get out of the canvas.
oil painting of a golden retriever, a pet portrait by karen
Still using the same brush as before, a Rosemary & Co Eclipse angular 1/4", I started working left to right then ended up working down the right. I think because her face is in shadow on that side and I had mixed up some nice dark golds and did not want to lighten them. The light you can see on the right is in fact the gessoed board.
oil painting of a golden retriever, a pet portrait by karen
My ambition for this painting was to paint a Goldie who was actually gold - as opposed to cream or beige or pale yellow.
I had two colour strings on the palette at this stage, on the rights the darks: Rembrandt Transparent Oxide Red, Cad Yellow Deep and Dioxazine Purple. On the left, the TOR and Cad Yellow + Naples Yellow Light and white.

The lightest fur on her ears, throat and her whiskers I added next day when the painting was nearly dry using a rigger.

Wednesday, 22 April 2015


oil painting of dachshund puppies, how to paint puppies, a pet portrait by Karen, animal artist in Devon
Inspired by my neighbour, whose dog has recently had 12 puppies, I thought I would have a go. The trouble with pups is making a painting which isn't too cutsie, whilst still capturing that puppy-thing which attracted you in the first place. A dark background helps. The other challenge was mixing a black for their coat which wasn't too grim and cold. I mixed a warm violet black, as you can see.

Step one was the same as it always is for me: a few lines on board to give me a sense of direction and I started with the eyes:
oil painting of dachshund puppies, how to paint puppies, a pet portrait by Karen, animal artist in Devon
and then I worked from left to right completing as I went. 
oil painting of dachshund puppies, how to paint puppies, a pet portrait by Karen, animal artist in Devon
Unfortunately, I was concentrating hard and forgot to take more photos after this one. It was a hot, sunny day and my paint was tacking up much more quickly than usual. Since softening the edges was going to be important I just cracked on with it and when I next looked up it was finished.

Having repeatedly tried to paint my pictures in a more conventional manner, working across the whole surface, massing in, moving forward from large masses to detail, it is this method that works best for me. 

My subjects seem to come to life, to animate under the brush. Sometimes, when I have completed the face, the dog's expression seems reproachful, as if he is worried by the absence of his ears. So I put the ears on and his expression cheers up.

I always liked Geppetto when I was a child. Think I must have watched that film too many times:

Friday, 17 April 2015

Watching you, watching me

oil painting of frog in a pond, animal painting, pet portraits by karen
Another one on the Spring theme. Our pond is heaving with tadpoles. Once they become frogs it will be several days before we can safely walk in that part of the garden: the grass becomes alive with thousands of tiny, hopping frogs. This one is an old timer. Note the reflection of the photographer in his eye.
Last post for this week. Have a great weekend and thank you for looking at my paintings.

Thursday, 16 April 2015

Singing the blues

oil painting of blue tits, bird painting, pet portrait by karen
To celebrate the fact that Spring is well and truly here, the garden is full of birds (and growing weeds..) and this morning, walking my dog in the village, I saw that the house martins and swallows had returned.

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Lady on Red

Jack Russell Terrier, an oil painting with a red background, a pet portrait by karen, a dog portrait, animal artist
I had fun with this sweet little lady. The background colour is a glorious mix of Rembrandt paint: Cad Red, Transparent Oxide Red and Cad Yellow Deep, mainly.

I managed to take some photos of the painting in progress for you. Here are the first two stages:
demonstration of a jack russell painting, stage 1, a pet portrait by karen, animal artist
I started, as I almost always do, with the main features. I have included the brush I use for her eyes and nose: a Rosemary & Co Series 402 sable blend, size 0.
work in progress, jack russell oil painting, a pet portrait by karen, animal artist
On the left, above, her face, using a 1/4" Eclipse Angular. This Rosemary & Co brush is the one I use the most for my daily paintings. I also have a 1/2" and 3/4" version for large paintings. On the right, the background going in. I felt I should do this before her face dried, to try and avoid any too hard edges. The brush is a No 3 Ivory Filbert (also Rosemary & Co).
work in progress photos, jack russell oil painting, a pet portrait by karen, animal artist
Basically, working down the body here. Her paws and nails I mostly worked with the original sable blend brush. I modelled the form of her white chest and forelegs using a mixture of greys and trying to vary the colour temperature, using cooler whites (i.e. adding ultramarine) for the forward facing planes.

I know cooler colours are supposed to recede but I observed that in this scorching hot painting, the opposite seemed to be the case. I am experimenting at the moment with warm and cool greys, blacks and whites in particular as a way of modelling form rather than - or in addition to - adjusting tonal values.

Friday, 10 April 2015

Tartan Blanket

Oil painting, weimaraner, dog on a tartan blanket, pet portrait by karen
This sweetie is dozing on a tartan blanket. I thought hard about how to give the blanket a soft, cozy and woolly appearance. In the end, I dragged a dry brush across the surface of the partially tacked up paint. I got the idea from Sir Edwin Landseer.
In the Art Gallery/Museum in Exeter (RAMM) there has been an exhibition these last 6 months or so about the Victorians and the gothic. One of the exhibits - the centrepiece in my opinion - is a large Edwin Landseer painting of Victoria and Albert at a costume ball. Here it is:
Only temporarily in Exeter, this large painting normally lives in Buckingham Palace. The Royal Collection used to have an excellent search facility but someone obviously 'upgraded' it with the result that it is now very unwieldy, but the zoomable version of this painting was here.
The reason I am showing you this is the myriad fabric textures Landseer has managed to depict: silks, satins, velvets, furs, wools, gold threads.
I have visited this painting 6 times since it came to Exeter, thrilled that I am allowed to get up really close and peer at it with my nose about one inch off the canvas (makes security nervous...) and I have really tried hard to work out how Landseer achieved these marvellous effects. 
One way, I think, was that he put down the base colour, including the shaping and form, then just as the paint was tacking up but not yet dry he carefully dragged a dry brush across the surface and lightly roughened it. 
I have realised that I do not make enough brave decisions about the way I use oil paint. It can have such a delicious 3D quality and the interplay of light on the surface can capture any number of effects that smoothing down with a brush simply cannot.

Thank you for looking at my paintings: have a great weekend.

Thursday, 9 April 2015

Big as a Bear

oil painting of a yorkshire terrier, yorkie, oils on board, a pet portrait by karen
The only one of these little dogs I have become friends with has completely changed my opinion of the breed. 
Barely weighing 6 lbs, she is not much bigger than a fat guinea pig. 
But in her own estimation she is as Big as a Bear and as Fierce as a Lion. At the first sign of any trouble whatever - badger, herd of deer, large and ferocious dog - she is up there in the front row, a fearless doggie commando, a leading example of canine shock troops. 
Painted in two sittings, at the end of stage one she looked quite awful, all red and black like an over-ripe pointed pepper. The longer, lighter fur got added next day when the paint had tacked up. 
I still have to grit my teeth when painting hairy dogs: I have not found a way of doing it in one sitting (because the paint turns to mud and mush) and doing it in two means I have to accept a most unpromising painting at the half way stage. I often put them to tack up with their faces to the wall, so I am not tempted to fiddle.

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

A moment of reflection

thoughtful dog, oil painting of a collie, pet portrait by karen
This dog looks very like my friend's collie-cross. He adopts this pose whenever he realises that the ball is not going to be thrown for the 1001st time, however eagerly he asks. He believes life has no purpose or meaning unless someone is throwing him a ball.
Painted using a range of mixed blacks, especially ultramarine and burnt sienna (makes a nice, warm black), with cad yellow deep being the primary colour note in the floor, wall and dog's eyebrows.
Original reference photo by AinslieG Artistry.

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

Hot dog

This little sweetie is a black JRT called Migs. She is mainly black but has orange eyes and orange 'flashing' on her chest and belly. I took this colour - Transparent Oxide Red and Cad Yellow Deep - and pushed it, so that it spilled into the background and embraced her. I love this colour.