I am often asked how I paint in pastel because my style is seen to be quite different from the traditional approach. I guess because I haven't been to art school I have had no one tell me that there is a right way or a that my way is wrong so I have just followed my heart. Let me talk you through my process in painting this pet portrait.
1) Decide on a reference image. When I do a pet commission I always ask for a number of photos. What I am really looking for is a clear, close up picture with no shadows, that has a good light source and is not through glass - ie doors- and shows a good expression and clear eyes. In the end it is all about the eyes. Ultimately I will choose the image that speaks to me - the one where I feel engaged with the animal's personality.
2) Next I choose the colour of the paper that I will do the painting on. This needs thought as the colour of the paper will greatly effect the mood of the painting. Sometimes I'll choose a colour that is a match to the animal's colouring and use that as a tonal value in the painting. Other times I might choose a colour that is in contrast to the animal's fur so that the image pops out of the page, as I did here with Keeva. Choosing a warm colour creates a warm, cosy feeling whereas a cool colour, such as grey or light purple creates a more intense mood.
3) Now it is time to draw the image onto the paper using a conte stick or pastel pencil. Sometimes I'll use a grid to get the placement of the key features accurately but I prefer to draw freehand as I find the end result is less stilted. This is the longest part of my painting process as it must be absolutely right.
4) Time to select the colours that I will use.I often paint black dogs with lots of blues, black blues, purples and browns and white dogs with a pink undertone and greys and blues in the shadows
5) Now the fun part - let's get started. I always check the choice of colour on the side of the paper first. It is astounding how different a colour will look on different backgrounds. As you can see from the image below I only lightly paint to start with. This is called 'mapping out ' the painting or ' blocking in'. It is really important not to apply the pastel too heavily at this early stage as there will be many changes and corrections to be made as the painting develops and you don't want to fill the tooth of the paper too quickly.
6) Once I have quite quickly and loosely blocked in most of the painting I need to stand back, have a cup of tea and take some time to really look at and analyse what I have done. This is when I can see the corrections to the drawing that need to be maybe or where my tonal values are incorrect. Sometimes I need to reconsider my colour choices and because my application has been light I can easily do that. I find it also helps to look at the painting in a mirror or to photograph it. Looking through these different mechanisms often picks up problems that I couldn't initially see with my eye.
7) Now I need to progress slowly and really focus because I will be layering more colour and applying it much more thickly and any corrections from now on will be harder. I am constantly walking away from the easel to see the progress, squinting and very critically assessing. No point in being too precious- if it doesn't look right chances are that it isn't and will need to be changed.
8) No, not finished yet. Lastly I need to choose a background colour. I rarely leave the animal plonked on the paper - it just looks unfinished. Often I'll use a sky colour to sit behind the image, suggest a bed or flooring or if it's a working dog suggest a background of dirt or bush. It doesn't have to have much detail just enough to 'anchor' it and provide some context. None of these seemed appropriate for young Keeva here so I scumbled a cool white around her so that her gorgeous dark coat would really stand out.
9) Yes, now the painting is finished but before I frame it I will spend another week constantly looking at it to check that there really are no more changes that could be made. There is nothing worse than framing a painting in a hurry and then just before delivering it think "OMG that bit there is definitely NOT right 😱 )