Harvey: The Painting of a Dog

I have known the people of my new canine friend Harvey for a year or two since they bought one of my artworks at a benefit auction. I only recently met Harvey, but we got acquainted very quickly. What a fun and sweet fellow he is! His person brought him over to see me for a “sitting” (the term is used loosely) so that I could paint his portrait. I thought I would share the process of painting his portrait from start to finish.

The first step was to get to know Harvey and to take some photos. As much as I love painting, I must say, this was the most fun step in the process!

Next, I drew a line drawing on a canvas with a red oil pastel crayon, and then I painted over it and the entire background with a dark blue color (photo is enhanced a bit so that the drawing is visible). I always start my paintings with a dark background, because this gives me a unique color effect as the painting develops. I used a red crayon for the line drawing, because red contrasts with the blue, and it gives me a darker, bolder line.

Next, I started filling in shapes with a layer of color.

I tend to have several layers of color in my paintings by the time they are finished. I start with certain colors for the base layers, generally darker and highly contrasting colors, and then add colors on top of existing layers.

Essences of previous layers are evident, although in subtle ways. This adds texture, rich color effects, and character to the lines and shapes.

Many times when I am in the early stages of creating a painting, I feel somewhat fearful that I am going to fail at my lofty aspirations for making a masterpiece…Other times, I completely surprise myself with the way that a painting just sorta paints itself. The latter was the case with “Harvey”. I kept going, “Wow! I really think I’ve got him!”

Invariably, though, regardless of my early confidence, I reach a stage where I think, “Ah, Geez. something just isn’t right. That’s not what I wanted at all.”

I reached that stage here with Harvey.

Although I was liking the way the color was developing, and I liked the overall structure and design, something wasn’t right. I stepped away from it for awhile, then came back with fresh eyes. The outlines were too wavy and too strong…The rectangle shape needed some interest…The eyes were all wrong…The color needed to come more alive…

I looked around at some of my other paintings to get ideas. I added interest to the background, turning the rectangle into a window scene, and changing the color interactions. I “roughened up” the line edges by blocking in color around them and making them less uniform. And I added more layers of color to give a rich and solid color “feel” to the whole painting. Eventually it all came together.

Harvey was done!
My paintings are usually whimsical and abstracted portraits of my subjects. Although I stray from realism, I do like to “know” the animals that I paint, so that I can be true to their character, if not to the realistic details of their image. My colors tend to be derivatives of, yet not exact replicas of, the “real” color of the subject. I believe that adds a sense of fun and imagination, allowing us to see new potential in a beloved creature!

Although Harvey’s person has not seen the finished product as of this writing, she has seen a photo of the painting, and she seems very happy with the end product. I understand that this is her Christmas present, which makes the process even more special for all of us.

To Harvey, and his people, I wish you a Merry Christmas! Thank you for allowing me to be a part of this special gift!