Whereas an exhibition is my “best guess” at what I think someone, somewhere might like and might want to buy, I much prefer commissions where someone TELLS me what they want and how they want it, the medium, the size, the subject matter, the composition, the colours, the style, and I ask enough questions that I know exactly what the person is looking for and how they think it will look, and what price they’re thinking of paying for it, as well as me working out how much work, time, and ability goes into it so I’m happy with the price too. Then I go away and interpret their words, and when I’m happy that I’ve got the essence of what it is they’re after, I’ll show it to them. And such is the case with the last two dog portraits that I’ve just completed. I knew they were going to be a “bit tricky” as the buyer who wanted them was particular that she wanted just the dogs heads as a study, on a pure white unpainted background. So the viewers eye would be focused only on the dogs head as there was nothing else at all to compare it with. She could for instance have chosen the dogs to be sitting in a field but she didn’t want that, just a plain white background of pure white paper. And that sounds so easy. But it’s not. Because, as you paint, some paint quite naturally might just splatter a bit, or I might drop the brush whilst it was loaded with paint, or I might just catch the side of the paper as I drag the brush across the surface. And none of that would matter because any tiny mistakes like that would easily be covered by the background colour. If there is any. If there isn’t, then it puts more pressure on the artist to make sure that NOTHING touches the paper but the paint, in ONLY the place it should be and NO-WHERE else!!! Not even a hairs breath outside the outline I was working to. So, I daren’t even sneeze over this painting (and I actually had a cold soon after I’d started it, so I put the whole thing to one side whilst I sneezed elsewhere!!!).
And just to add to the “difficult” aspect, the dogs are black labradors on a white background. Ok, so now I have to consider “colour” where there may not be any. So I looked closely at the delightfully clear photos I’d been given to work with, and there was colour. Yes, lots of it. It wasn’t just a BLACK dog, there were myriads of colours, pale blues darkening to navy blues, lemon yellow, hints of iridescent greens, a touch of burnt sienna, and even magenta as well as white, greys and the deepest of deep dark black. There was loads of colour.
Then, on to the form, the shapes, the moulding of the dogs head. I had to capture the form, so that it looked like a dog, with bony protrusions but covered in muscle and skin. And on top of all of that, was the fur, a million tiny hairs, each a slightly different colour, light on dark, dark on light. And all of that had to be pulled together to make the character of the dog. So that the owner “knew” the dog and recognised it as their faithful friend.
And, most important of all, was getting the eyes “right”. Because if an animals eyes aren’t right, the whole thing looks wrong. So very very wrong. The eyes have to look like they are an eyeball sitting IN the eye socket. They have to look round since they are a ball. They have to look like the light is catching them in exactly the right place. They have defined edges but the middles are hazy colours, melting into each other, softly but with rounded shape. But most of all the eyes need to make the animal look intelligent. And look like that they can see out of them. And they pull the whole painting together, when they’re done properly.
All of that had to be captured on paper. And I’d also been given the proviso that I would ONLY be given the second commission IF the buyer liked the first. Which is fair enough…….. She didn’t want to waste her money on something if she didn’t like it.
So, on to the first painting. Two heads of the same dog. And it struck me that I had to paint them at the same time, because although they were separate on the paper, they were going to be viewed together, and had to be recognisable as the same dog, painted in the same style, with the same colours used, and the same paint effects utilised. I finished it, and contacted the buyer so she could ok it before I took it to be framed, because there was no point me framing it and her saying afterwards that I hadn’t captured the dog somehow and hating it. But she loved it as it was, and gave me the go ahead for the second commission. And loved that as much as the first. Phew, so she’s happy, and I’m delighted.
So, here they both are, the dogs I’ve just told you about. Painted in a “tight” style dry on dry (dry paint on dry paper). They are painted to be viewed as a set, so you can see the similarities in the styles, colours and compositions. But you can also see that even though they are both “Black labradors“, that one is female, one is male, one has a smoother coat, one has a rougher coat, one has a slight sadness about them, and a quizzical look. One dog is a larger breed than the other. They have personalities.