I was so excited to be asked to paint this little cutie, a puppy Cavoodle named Rosie, by a friend of mine in New Zealand. She wanted a painting of the first picture she had received from the breeder of Rosie just a few weeks old, before she actually got her home. (See second image)
When I receive a commission, I always check if there is a deadline, what size they want A3 or A4, framed or unframed and will agree a price. If they have not been specific with the composition, I will also send them my initial sketch to check they are happy with it. For commissions, I have started to paint on mountboard rather than media paper or canvas because it is smooth and rigid and once it is primed with acrylic medium, can withstand many layers of paint.
My friend asked for the painting to be on mountboard at A4 size.
I began by sketching the composition and then blocking in the shape of the puppy, using black gesso, which has a matt finish and a comb brush painting strokes in the direction of the fur. I call this the "ugly" stage, but it gives me an idea as to where I am going with it, and somewhere to start.
I was sent a photo of the puppy being weighed in scales, which is an amazing composition, and it made it easier for me, as I only had to decide on the colour background.
Obviously my friend would not have wanted the kitchen furniture in the background! So I decided to keep it plain and simple and chose burnt sienna and white, so that the black fur would stand out against the light colour, and it also would contrast with the wooden table. However, there were some challenges to be overcome, in that you will notice the right side of the photo is not that clear. I wanted to show that Rosie did in fact have two eyes! I also wanted to personalise the painting, and do the shine on the scales justice. Something I had not attempted before.
I not only print out a copy of the puppy to use as a reference, I also use my Ipad so I can enlarge areas where I need to see the detail more easily. When painting black fur, I start with black gesso which is a matt finish and then build with Mars black which is shiny, so in combining the two it dulls it down. If it is too shiny, it makes it difficult to see the subject from all angles. I used a mix of Phthalo and Cerulean blue for highlights to the left side of the puppy and white on the other side. If I were to use only white highlights, the painting would look like it was monochrome. Even though blue is a cool colour, I used it to highlight the "warm side" (where the main light is coming from), and the white for the more shaded side.
I continued to layer the paint with the comb brush using the reference photo as a guide.
To create the texture of the table, I used a glue spreader which has a flat edge and being plastic, is quite bendy. A tool I learnt to use in Jessica Shaw's art group. By applying all the colours, burnt sienna, raw umber and white onto the spreader, I scratch it in the direction I want the grain to form. I originally used a darker brown tone for the shadow but it looked like the scales were sitting on a damp area! So I felt that the grey was a more suitable colour for a shadow. In putting the name "Rosie" and displaying her weight clearly on the scales, it helped to personalise it.
I thought I had finished the painting above, and signed it. However, I always feel it is important to ask for feedback from those you can trust with a good critical eye. As a result, I decided to improve the shine on the scales even more and touch up a few shadow areas on the puppy too. I think you will agree, the end result has come out as good as I could wish for.
I paid special attention to the reflection in the scales and used a fine liner brush to each area until I was happy with it. I also added Rosie's birth date to personalise it even further. To harmonise the table top with the background, I used the glue spreader to scrape a thin coating of white with a little acrylic medium to ensure it was translucent enough to allow the browns to still show through. Before I ask for any payment, I send a copy of the painting to my customers to ensure they are happy with the end product. I am glad to say I have had 100% satisfaction so far,
This is the feedback I received for this one: "This is our puppy Rosie and I can't recommend Sue highly enough ... some of our friends could hardly tell this apart from a photograph ... we were overjoyed when we received it and would definitely commission Sue again". Facebook October 2021.