Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Some of the Nicest People I Know Are Dogs

I love dogs. I love dogs and I have three of them. And while they sometimes drive me crazy, usually I find them charming and entertaining. Happy, optimistic, and easy going almost to a fault, they truly make the best companions.

Cocker Head Study- 8x10 charcoal/white chalk on gray paper ©2009 Alyson Champ

Pretty much anything you would like to do is ok with a dog: You're going to the store? Hey, can I ride in the car? You want to get the mail? No problem, I'd love to go for a walk. Roast chicken for supper? Great! I'll just sit here beside you, you know, in case something falls on the floor and that way you won't have to clean it up!

Just as my love of horses and my need to create often converge, so too does my artwork with my fondness for dogs. From time to time I get asked to paint a portrait of a family pet, usually a dog. Painting an animal portrait, just like painting a human portrait, is a tricky business. The most obvious problem is the question of getting a "likeness" - making the animal look the way it actually does. Photos supply most of the information required, but it is nice to actually be able to meet the animal, to see it move and to touch it. Dogs, like people, have character, and catching that individuality, that spark of life, or soul, is the hardest thing in painting any portrait. A painting can be accurate in representation and still fail to capture the "essence" of the subject. The result is a dead looking painting. Unfortunately, I've painted my fair share of those.

Once in a while though, I do get it right. I remember one particular case where I was commissioned to paint the portrait of a dog. The dog had recently died and I was given a stack of family photos to use as reference material. The owners told me a bit about the dog's personality, the things he would do, how he behaved, and even how he had died. They then left me with my task.
I wasn't sure how much success I was going to have: I hadn't even met the dog! Nevertheless, the portrait was painted and when I had finished it, I invited the dog's owners back to studio to see and assess the results- I was expecting to do a lot of touch ups. I had set the painting up so that it was the first thing they would see when the walked in. They were surprised to the point of silence, and then openly wept. Somehow, and I'm not sure how, I had painted their dog.

What's on the easel

One of the projects I'm working on in the studio right now is a commissioned portrait of a cocker spaniel. This dog, thankfully, is very much alive and I was able to take the photos myself, so I had the pleasure of meeting him. He's quite a guy: funny and goofy and full of mischief. The owner came here this morning to decide on the final pose for the painting from the three preparatory drawings which I have just finished.

She has opted for the pose directly below, as she wanted a full body pose, but she loved the head study above so much that, as a kindness, I offered it to her as a gift. Happy owner, happy artist. Now I just have to do the painting!
Cocker portrait study-8x10, charcoal on paper ©2009 Alyson Champ

Cocker portrait study 2- 8x10, pencil on paper ©2009 Alyson Champ

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