Wednesday, January 30, 2008

A Stormy Day in the Studio

Today was a perfect day to stay home and get something accomplished. We've been under a winter storm warning since last night when temperatures dropped from 44 degrees to a low of 7 this morning. The wind howled all night and continues to do so today although we aren't getting much snow. I love stormy days in winter and the cozy warmth of the house, knowing that my horse is safe and also warm in the barn where I board him.

So, today after washing some really grimy saddle pads in the laundry tub, I got back to work on the portrait of Bard. I thought it was going to be an easy portrait, but it hasn't turned out that way. After tracing the line drawing onto some drawing paper, I began the shading process and immediately things went south. Bard didn't look like Bard anymore! How could that be? So today I studied and studied all the reference photos, made a change here and another there and gradually Bard reappeared in the image. 

When you're doing a portrait and trying to get an exact likeness, a very small change can make a big difference. My challenge in doing this value study is to keep the light source consistent at the same time I remain faithful to Bard's facial features. He has a typical Quarter Horse head but it's also on the lean side. Getting the shadows and highlights in exactly the right places is very important to getting a good likeness. Since I don't have a reference photo in sunlight from exactly the same angle as the pose my client wanted me to use, this has been a real mental exercise.

Above you can see how far I've gotten up to today. The photo isn't very good because I neglected to check the camera settings and shot it at a slight angle, but it will have to do until the next update. Click on the thumbnail to see the larger image on my website (if I can figure out how to do that).

Thursday, January 24, 2008

I'm a Little Rusty

Okay, I admit it; I'm not nearly as skilled when I draw freehand as I am when I have a reference to refer to. That was brought home to me last night when I did a little sketching while watching TV. The horse started out as a Friesian head and neck study which grew to the whole body except that - OOPS - I ran out of paper. It definitely didn't match the expressive flowing image I had in my head. Or, maybe the image in my head wasn't formed enough to come out well on paper. You'll notice that it strongly resembles my painting, "Forever Friesian" for which I had good photo reference. I've been thinking of redoing this image with improvements and a landscape background, and this was supposed to be an exploratory sketch for that. Clearly, it needs to go back to the drawing board.

The other sketch is supposed to be a wolf, but it looks more like a wolf dog cross or a longhaired German Shepherd. As a former German Shepherd owner, I can definitely see the Shepherd influence in this animal's "breeding". I have a few wolf books and some wolf calendars and need to spend some time sketching from those images to get a better feel for the wolf form before I try to create a real drawing or painting.

Yes, I realize that there's the whole copyright infringement issue, but if I use these materials to study and learn from ONLY and don't claim the resulting images as my own or try to sell them, it's perfectly permissible. That's how artists have learned for centuries, in fact, by copying the masters who came before them. Any art I do from these materials will remain hidden in my studio for my eyes only.

When I was a kid, I sketched from my mind and rarely directly copied. At least that's the way I remember it. Maybe I did more copying than I remember, but I drew constantly and got pretty good for my age from all the practice and exploration. I have a box full of old art to prove it, too. Clearly, I need to do more of that again; either working from memory and imagination or by working from life. That's why one of my goals for this year is to fill a sketchbook by year's end.

My training in illustration in art school taught me to work from photos, and creating pet portraits certainly demanded that level of accuracy be attained. But in recent years I came to face the fact that I'd become too dependent on photos. It's time to break free and go back to sketching and creating just for the joy that it brings without any thought to "will it sell?" or "is it good?"

So, here for the world to see are my first rusty attempts at freehand sketching in quite some time. I hope you enjoy them for what they are; nothing more than practice sketches.

Monday, January 21, 2008

A Little Bit of Good News

I took a break from physical therapy for a few weeks to catch my breath after the holidays, and when I went back today I got a pleasant surprise. They discharged me! What it means is that my days won't be interrupted two or three times a week to trek to town for PT. It also means I can concentrate on the book work and getting some art done until the next round of PT starts.

I don't have any art to show you but thought you might like to see The Great Pumpkin in winter. That's what we call my horse, Scottie, because his burnt orange coat color is so much like a pumpkin. The first photo I took a week or so ago on a really gloomy day. I call it "Dinner Interrupted" because he looks unhappy to see me knowing I'm going to take him away from his hay. That's his good buddy, Mikey next to him. They're quite a pair.

I asked my riding buddy and fellow boarder, Ann, to take some photos of Scott and I in the indoor arena that same day, but the camera battery was getting very low, and they didn't turn out well. This shot is blurry but it will prove that I do ride my horse occasionally. Scottie hasn't been ridden much in the past year and is very out of shape, but I plan to change that this winter with more regular riding. He's not exactly as round and pumpkin-like as some Quarter Horses, but this shows his orange coat color better than the other photo.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Good Intentions

Well, so much for good intentions.

Somehow, 2007 slipped by without my achieving what I had hoped, especially spending time in the studio. There were many reasons: the yard and garden took over much of my time over the summer, I had to return to physical therapy with a shoulder and neck problem in the Fall, and I finally HAD to spend time doing the income taxes for 2006.

The most aggravating delay, however, was caused by signing with a new licensing agent in September. She made big promises of success for my art in licensing but then failed to provide me with the information I needed to provide her with images. After three months of trying to pin her down, she cancelled the contract declaring that I'd failed to provide her with enough suitable images! So, there went three months of effort on my part and another lesson learned. Next time I'll ask more questions and make sure that the person actually knows something about the equine art market before I sign on the dotted line.

And now, here it is January again; the beginning of a new year, and I have made new resolutions to do much better this year. We'll see how it goes.

I did manage to get started on one of the two portraits I had on deck last Spring. This is only the preliminary drawing, but it took a lot to get to this point. The photo that the client sent me to work from was taken in shade so was very flat. It was also very small, but the pose was good. Over the summer I managed a photo shoot of Bard in sunlight, but the photos contained a lot of distortion. So, it turned out, did the photo from the client. After many revisions, I managed to get an accurate version that the client is happy with. So, here is Conclusive Bard, a very sweet Quarter Horse who loves to go for trail rides.

The next step is to do a value study before beginning the painting, which is very important since the reference photo is totally flat in values. I promise to have it for you to view by next weekend.