Mika, Formosan Mountain Dog Portrait

Mika, a Formosan Mountain Dog portrait in oil paint on linen panel,, 10x8 in

Mika, a Formosan Mountain Dog portrait in oil paint on linen panel,, 10×8 in

This little cutie was a fun challenge to paint. Below are some steps along the way, including the reference photos that I joined and edited in Photoshop to simplify the background and combine the tops and bottoms of her ears. Her ears were too tall in my first sketch (done in gouache in my journal). I must have added extra length when I assembled the two photos in Photoshop so edited them down to life-size in the painting.

Mika’s owner was happy with the painting and noted that Mika, who is a playful goofball in real life, seems so dignified in the painting. That gave me the idea to ask owners to also provide videos of dogs I’m to paint in the future so I can get a better sense of their personalities. I tried to include some of the family’s garden in Mika’s portrait but I struggled with getting the spring flowers to behave in the background. I painted over them with sky, planning to try them again, but when I sent Mika’s owner a photo of the painting with the sky background, she liked it better that way and so did I.

Leo Take Two: Same Dog, Revised Painting

Leo, Dog Portrait, Take Two, oil on panel, 8x10

Leo, Dog Portrait, Take Two, oil on panel, 8×10

After I varnished Leo’s painting and was going to deliver it to the family that commissioned it, I realized I wasn’t satisfied with the background. I asked for and was granted permission to adjust it. It’s a good thing Leo’s people are very patient: I asked for an extra two weeks but then my dog Millie started having epileptic grand mal seizures and my cat Busby got sick and I was spending more of my time nursing animals than painting them.

Finally, after many visits to the emergency vet hospital, my family vet, and a veterinary neurologist (thank goodness for pet insurance) Millie has stabilized on her meds (no seizures in over a week), and Busby has sadly has passed on to Kitty Heaven. He was a beautiful cat and my remaining kitty Fiona misses him, even though he was a bit of a bully, like big brothers can sometimes be.

Back in the studio I explored how to rework the background. What bothered me was the way the it divided the painting in half vertically and how vague it was. With my realistic approach to the dog, it felt like the background needed more detail so I tried to suggest some of the actual greenery in Leo’s Northern California backyard (see photo below) and added some sky to add depth.

Below, copied from the previous post, are the reference photo and the work in progress before I got to the finished painting above.

Whiskey: A Mini-Aussie Dog Portrait

Whiskey, Portrait of Mini Aussie, oil on Gessobord panel, 8x10 inches

Whiskey, Portrait of Mini Aussie, oil on Gessobord panel, 8×10 inches

I had so much fun painting Whiskey, a Miniature Australian Shepherd, for her owner Diane. I started with a rough sketch (below) on vellum tracing paper (erases easily and is strong) and that’s when I discovered the heart-shaped spot above her nose. I’m not sure if it’s just a reflection or an actual marking in her fur but it was one of those joyful discoveries that happen when you look closely at things.

Preliminary sketch of Whiskey, graphite on vellum tracing paper, 8x10 inches

Preliminary sketch of Whiskey, graphite on vellum tracing paper, 8×10 inches

After sketching her, I printed out an 8×10″ copy of the photo and traced it onto the Gessobord using a sheet of graphite Saral Transfer Paper between the photo and the panel. Ideally I would work on a drawing until it perfectly matched the photo and then transfer the drawing to the panel, but on commissions I need to work a little more quickly than my imperfect drawing skills allow.

Below are 1) my painting and my reference photos, 2) cropped and 3) original. Isn’t she incredibly adorable!

Millie, A Dog Portrait Oil Painting

Portrait of Millie, oil on Gessobord panel, 10x8 inches

Portrait of Millie, oil on Gessobord panel, 10×8 inches

This painting was a labor of love: love for my sweet Formosan Mountain dog Millie who has come a long way (literally and figuratively) and love of painting. Millie was rescued from the streets of Taiwan as a 4 month old feral pup and flown to SF with some other rescued pups. She was very fearful and independent (e.g. standoffish and stubborn) at first, but after one year together she is now a very happy pooch who makes me laugh every day with her quirky ways.

I love painting dogs, and gladly accept commissions to paint animals of any kind (including humans). You can see photos of the work in progress as I painted Millie below.

I started with some sketches (posted here previously) and then took photos of her in the studio to paint from. (The little bow on her collar was from Mud Puppies Tub and Scrub at Pt. Isabel after they washed off the sticky brown mud from her dive into the bay at low tide). I did a drawing on tracing paper from my favorite of the photos, corrected the drawing by taping it to the iMac monitor to compare to the reference photo and then transferred the drawing to a Gessobord using Saral Transfer Paper. I used Panpastels for the first block in and then began painting with oils, starting with her face.

2014: The Year of the Dog (and other delightful detours)

Millie: 2014 The Year of the Dog Detour, graphite in jumbo Moleskine WC Notebook, 8x11.5 inches

Studies for Oil Painting: “Millie: 2014 The Year of the Dog,” graphite in jumbo Moleskine WC Notebook, 8×11.5 inches

This has been an amazing year in my corner of the world for many reasons, and only some of them are related to art-making. There have been numerous (happy) detours away from the studio, including my son’s wedding and the birth of my first grand-baby, Sadie. And then there’s Millie, my Formosa Mountain Dog who was rescued from life on the streets of Taiwan when she was four months old, flown here and fostered by a local rescue group until I adopted her a few weeks later.

Over the past year with me she’s overcome some fear and health issues to become a wonderful, funny companion. Most mornings we’re out hiking 3-4 miles on forested trails in the beautiful hills or along the SF bay where she can run off leash and play with other dogs. Afternoons she hangs out on the studio deck, keeps an eye on the neighborhood, dismantles things in the garden, chews sticks and sleeps in the studio while I draw or paint. Now that she’s almost a year and a half she requires less work on my part so I’m expecting 2015 to be a lot more productive!

I spend New Years eve and day reflecting on my art/life during the passing year, and considering/setting my goals/intentions for the year to come. I will share a summary of that here soon. My first painting of the year will be a portrait of Millie that the above sketches were a study for. I’m loving my new jumbo Moleskine Watercolor Journal and happy with this first page in it!

Random Little Moleskine Sketches

Here are some random sketches from hikes and walks with my dog, sitting in meetings, a movie shown in a library and at the dog park. These are all in my pocket Moleskine that I carry with me all the time. Hover over images to read captions or click on them to see them larger.


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