A Portrait in the Making

When Mike and Mary first contacted me, they were interested in a portrait of Emery, their champion German Shorthair stud dog.  But as we talked, it evolved into a painting of Mike and Emery in the autumn fields of South Dakota during pheasant season.

While we waited for fall when Mike’s daughter would take the reference photos, I did some small pencil sketches, about 4 x 6 inches, as inspiration for our project.

When fall came I received high-resolution, large-sized images from the photo shoot.  The large size would be very valuable later because I could zoom in on details as I painted. Here are some of them as thumbnails.

Using the photos, I did another set of small pencil sketches that combined elements from the different poses.  I asked Mike and Mary to suggest any changes or new combinations to try in color.  They chose Study A with more trees and Emery holding a pheasant, Study B with Emery’s body turned like C & D and Study C as is.  Eliminate Study D.

I took those three ideas and painted small oil studies, no larger than about 6 x 9 inches, so we could see them in real paint.  I find this stage invaluable because we are now evaluating the ideas as miniature oil paintings.  If color had been critical, I would have mailed these to Mike and Mary so they could see them in person and give me feedback.

They liked the new B best.  But Mike wondered if he’d like it even better if we took the pheasant out of Emery’s mouth and put three in the grass so they had their limit. Easy to do.  I simply painted right on the study to make the revisions and emailed the revised image.  Yes.  We had the future painting.

Up to this point the focus was on composition, pose, background and color.  Only now is it about doing portraits.  I drew a large charcoal on heavy paper, this time working to get a good likeness of my subjects.  When it was ready to be critiqued, I made five copies of it at various sizes with the price for each and rolled them all into a tube to send to South Dakota.  Now Mike and Mary could study the portraits to give me their comments and choose the final size and price.

Once the size was selected, I stretched the canvas and painted, sending regular email updates.  All that preliminary work makes the actual painting really flow because the big choices have already been made. The completed painting now hangs in Mike’s office. The unofficial title is “Two Studs”.