The Stages of the Process
Read Part One - Considering Quiet Communion
Photo of Chief
Chief's portrait began with the composition, working with the elements I had chosen to incorporate, which started with choosing the perfect photo of a younger Chief from several photos his owner Cathie sent to me. The decisions, sketches, and photo montages I composed are too numerous to show here, and were accomplised over several weeks.
One of the challenges was that the photo I wanted to use was cropped at the neck. The composition I wanted required some creative photo editing to blend it with another photo I had taken from a similar angle.
Two photos of Chief combined
Once I drew the composition on the pastel paper, I began the pastel. Working from back to front, I started by applying pastel to the sky in just the right warm tones of yellow gold with a suggestion of brilliant sun using the brightest, lightest yellow in my box of pastels. Then I drew the distant hills by blending two colors together to create a mix of mauve and pale lavender. There is a glow of deep fuscia pink and orange where the hills meet the sky.
The colors of Quiet Communion
The timing of creating the portrait was in alignment with our fall season so I received many inspirations from nature.
Our front garden in Fall
In the maple tree reference photo there were some beautiful blurred branches which added a subtle depth and the suggestion of wind. As I was drawing this abstract area, a shape appeared that looked like a horse and rider. I decided to allow this effect to remain as I felt perhaps there was a reason the image was appearing for Cathie.
I started drawing the foreground branches and leaves with the darkest colors of my palette. The tiny branches were difficult to draw. I strove to get each branch right with the first stroke. There could be no mistakes, because it would be difficult erase and cover those dark lines again with the light-yellow sky.
Many vivid colors made up the leaves to create three-dimensional light and beauty. Each leaf was only a couple inches high, but my artistic eye noticed and recreated the tiny veins and shapes. As I created the leaves I recalled their dry texture and tried to instill that in the art. The red leaf in front of the sun was created with the brightest reds and orange in my pastel box, colors which I only rarely use.
The owl was to be depicted as a spiritual being, not corporeal, so my intuition was to add lines of wing motions, to indicate his flight creating a wake of energy in the air. I had chosen to draw this owl because its wings were stretched forward in a unique way which mimicked and enhanced the look and feel of Chief’s head pose. Interestingly the type of owl I chose was a Tawny Owl which comes from Scotland, so it tied in with Cathie’s Scottish heritage as well as her spiritual connections.
Birds of prey, with their banded feathers, can be difficult to paint, especially at this small size using my blunt pastels. Each feather has a curve and shape, alternating with several light and dark colors. I wanted to make this owl a spirit being so I blended each stroke into the next in a careful and precise balance of softness and detail.
The Triqueta and the Earth
In the reference photo there was a distant light that looked like a reflection on water. At first, I drew it under Chief’s neck, but I soon realized it was the triqueta that needed to be light gold, thus bringing the light of the sun into balance lower in the composition.
The triqueta is three-dimensional, so I create the shadows with slightly darker warmer orange and pink tones, and two different yellows to highlight the curves.
Questions and Impressions
When I am away from a painting I receive as much information as when I am working on it. I kept wondering what to do with the colors of the lower landscape. I realized rather than my first impression of water, it should be more like a grassy field. I recalled photos of Cathie enjoying an adventure with Chief riding and walking him on coastal sand dunes with tall, windblown grasses. That day, a card arrived in the mail from Cathie. The card featured a simple drawing of windblown grasses. This synchronicity told me I was on the right track.
I drew the soft texture of grasses in the distance and then in the foreground. This alleviated the too strong horizontal lines I had started with, and softened the look and feel and depth of the painting. This change also solved another issue, which was the feeling that the painting needed a bottom, an anchor, to allow the eye to travel back up to stay within the peaceful reverie of the portrait.
Time for Chief
Now it was time to begin painting Chief. It took me some time to select the proper colors that made up his chestnut coat. Layers of short directional lines drawn in several colors from dark to light created the appearance of hair. Highlights were drawn in strokes of mauve and lavender like the hillside.
I spent hours upon hours creating these small strokes which built up the form and feel of Chief’s body and coat. I would draw, then blend, then redraw detail again and again in the same areas, shadow and light, layer upon layer, until it felt right.
His ears were fuzzy, and required just the right shape to express Chief’s sweet attitude and attentive posture. Each hair and its precise direction is important.
His face presented its own unique challenges. Now the anatomy needed to be even more precise. The colors changed and became lighter as the hair texture was shorter and finer. Soft beige and pale grey at the nose. Softening and smoothing each stroke, almost like petting the horse.
The mane was a similar process, only more random. Now I attended to the direction of the mane hairs, similar to the celtic knot, lower strands in shadow, other strands overlaid in mediums tones and highlights. I softly blended one area careful to not smudge others. It was a process of creating dimensions without allowing the patterns to become repetitive. Then finishing off with the wayward hairs that created life and the presence of wind.
The Final Touch
The eyes are always the last mystery I create. I drew each little wrinkle of the brow, bringing the edges closer until the dark eye was what I could focus on. Now I wasn’t painting opaque forms of hair or body, but transparent, liquid, dark depths, refracted light, and reflections. Chief’s sweet personality conveyed by the shape of his eye and how the light was reflected.
When I met Chief and Cathie that day, I took a photo that was such a sweet picture of them together. When I reviewed the photo on my computer, I noticed a glimmer of light appearing in Chief’s eye, and I realized it was a reflection of Cathie’s blue shirt. So, in his portrait, I added that tiny speck of blue, so Cathie would be with Chief in his portrait, too.
When I put a finished portrait on my upstairs easel I am seeing from a distance for the first time. It never ceases to astonish me that all those tiny strokes and layers of pastel have somehow blended together to form the essence of a being.
Cathie's tears and smiles of recognition were the perfect finalé. Then a trip to the frame shop to complete the final touches.
Thank you Cathie and Chief in spirit for an amazing journey that is now just beginning for the two of you. The painting has a life of its own, not only representing your beloved past, but the perpetual now.