Join me while I paint “The Little Prince”. There’s a neat surprise at the end!
Shortly before the holidays, I was commissioned to paint a portrait of “Bo”, a Labrador retriever known to those who love him as, “The Little Prince”. The painting was to be a Christmas present for my friend’s parents who own the young dog.
I prefer to visit with the dogs that I’m asked to paint, as this gives me insight into their personality and allows me to better capture their spirit. In this case, given the time constraints, it was impossible to do so, but my friend did the next best thing; he sent me a lot of photographs. Some of the shots were candid, and others posed. It was enough, and I began the process.
I admire the portraits of John Singer Sargent for their composition (his division and use of space), as well as his brushwork and execution. I borrowed from both Whistler and Sargent when I made decisions about how to layout the composition for this painting.
The canvas is ready to paint, and I’m looking forward to roughing in the background to establish the range of values in the painting.
The first task, as I saw it, was to trowel in the background and get a feel for the balance for values and color. My sense at the time is that I was on the right track, but that the color was a bit too cool… I plan to warm it up with some brownish madder later in the night.
Well… I was going to warm up the background, but then realized that it was a better idea to paint Bo first, and let him tell me where the painting needed to go. It’s the “back and forth” that matters and determines how decisions are made in a painting. Look at it this way, if there are no leaves in a tree, what sound can the wind have? Besides, I can’t wait to jump into painting The Little Prince.
How do you paint a black dog? With some black of course, but also with a lot of blue, rose madder, and miniscule amounts of white. I save the darkest blacks for the deepest shadows, but there is no use of pure black. It is always cut with some other color… in this case, red.
It’s difficult to leave a painting and come back to it without reintroducing yourself. It’s like being away from home for an extended period of time… you have to ease back into your relationships. I usually do this by adding layers to what was painted the night before. This enriches the passages, and allows me time to re-familiarize myself with the work before introducing new elements.
I’ve wrapped up my day in the studio with the realization that the hardest part of the painting lays ahead of me. As the work nears completion, it’s difficult for me to stay loose and fluid. I’m tempted to use a smaller brush to paint greater detail, but by doing so, I’d become too literal.
My goal is to create the illusion of detail rendered with loose, fluid brush strokes… maybe I need a glass of whiskey to keep me from getting too serious!
I always save the most expressive passages of the dog for the last, in this case the eyes, mouth, and nose. Once they’re done, I leave the painting for a day or two, so that when I return to it, I have a fresh look at what I’ve done.
A few minor changes and the painting is finished! The painting is then professionally photographed, crated and shipped. It should arrive in a few days, in plenty of time for Christmas.
I wish I could be a mouse in the cupboard when my friend’s father opens his present!
And, my Christmas wish came true! My friends captured the moment on video and sent us the link:
Thank you, John and Gabrielle, for the opportunity to do this painting for someone you love so deeply… I am truly honored.