I enjoy painting portraits of pets, and my latest commission was especially fun: pet chickens! I had a good baseline about how chickens look and act from having an occasional pet chicken (or chickens) while growing up.
Even though I may only end up working with one reference image, it helps to see a few different ones to get a sense of their personalities. That also give me more options to find which ones will look best as portraits. Additional references always help too. I ended up shifted them around a little bit – adjusting their heads and necks – to get a consistent size and approach for all three. I mocked up a few different approaches for colors and name labels, and what you see here is the winner.
I use my traditional color layering technique here: starting with the warms tones and then layering in the real colors. Since each chicken had distinctly different colors, I put each on a vignette-style background tinted with a color similar to them. The highlights are often the most satisfying parts to paint, and I enjoyed the eyes and combs especially.
Side note: working with oval canvases is surprisingly tricky for alignment. Canvas has its own tooth and angles, and I got led astray by it a few times while sketching these out. It’s oddly challenging to set an oval upright, especially when there’s a pattern pulling in another direction. They look lovely, though – worth it!
Vinyl records are a surprisingly good base for a painting! I recently came across a call for entries for a show titled “Extended Play: A New Spin on Vinyl Classics” that invited artists to use albums as the basis for new paintings. This is a collaboration between Art Attack SF, a neat gallery in the Castro, and a little bar called Church Key in North Beach.
Music lyrics seemed like a good inspiration, and I went with the first thing that came to mind since it had a few distinct images in it: Cat’s In the Cradle by Harry Chapin (or Ugly Kid Joe, depending on your era). The first part of the refrain combines lines from nursery rhymes: “The cat’s in the cradle and the silver spoon, little boy blue and the man in the moon” I had three albums to work with so I decided that little boy blue was the least interesting of the three and focused on the others.
“Cat’s in the Cradle” was pretty straightforward; a cat, holding a cat’s cradle string game. I opted for human-style hands to make it easier to show the gesture for holding the cat’s cradle.
“The Silver Spoon” was less clear. I thought about combining it with Little Boy Blue but I decided I’d paint these out of my imagination (i.e. no reference materials) and wasn’t confident about how a boy would turn out. I already had the cat and the moon, so the next thing that came to mind was an owl because of the Edward Lear poem “The Owl and the Pussycat”. The owl could hold the spoon.
“The Man in the Moon” I felt needed a cravat. He seemed like he’d be out having a cocktail.
I wasn’t sure that the acrylic paint would hold onto the vinyl. I’d just had a painting fail where I’d painted a few layers on a found canvas that ended up not sticking on it. To my annoyance I’d discovered that the gloss seal and the paint were just barely holding on, and they peeled off in one plasticky piece. I did a small test paint patch that I attempted to peel/scrape off the album and it held quite well, so I was relieved I didn’t have the mess around with sanding and sealant experimentation to get it to hold. The one tricky thing about working on the album was that it was difficult to make the underlying sketch. I used a white pencil to sketch the basic forms, and it really only showed when the lines were nearly perpendicular to the album track. When they started to align the pencil would slip into the groove and fail to leave a mark.
I tried something different on the colors for these: instead of starting with warm tones as the base, I built it out of cool tones. It has a different look to it, so now I have a better sense of how I might use that approach in the future.
I decided relatively late what to do with the labels. I had started painting the cat before I had a clear idea of what to do with them, and partway through decided to make the label a collar-style necklace since it had a nice rainbow gradient. On the owl, the label had some playful hand-drawn lettering for the band name so I decided to leave just that showing, and the curve made it look a little like a worm that could be in the owl’s beak. On the moon, I decided the man in the moon would have a round head but be occluded by the label. The label also had Columbia’s logo of the dog and phonograph so that made for an interesting thing for the moon to look at. As I was filling these in I also realized the center holes weren’t filled in, so on the cat and owl I styled these to look like pendants.
They were looking a little incomplete floating on the albums, but I didn’t want to eliminate the album background completely because it shines in a neat way. Since these all had a nighttime feel I added fields of stars to the backgrounds of all three.
This is the last of 6 calendars I’ve re-painted with Chinese folktales in time for the Lunar New Year 2017. While it’s the Year of the Rooster, I’ve heard that the Chinese calendar alternates masculine and feminine years so it is more accurately the Year of the Hen. A fire hen, at that!
This calendar’s story is about how the rooster got his crown. In the early days of the earth, there were nine suns which scorched the plants and cause people to live in caves. A famous archer, Yi, shoots down eight of the suns using a pond’s reflection. The ninth sun goes into hiding, casting the land into darkness. The rooster is the only one who can coax it to come back out, and for that, he is granted his crown (comb).
Like the sheep calendar, this one has oversize flowers too. There’s also a little lazy duplication in the green plants by the chicks where the same art is copied and resized slightly. I also ended up painting out extraneous plants along the top and side edges to balance out the composition better.
This calendar re-paint is about a story of a farmer who loses a sheep because a wolf snuck through a broken part of a fence. His neighbors tell him he should fix the fence, but he is too focused on the loss of the sheep. The next night, the wolf returns and he loses more sheep. It is a cautionary tale about not dwelling on the past.
This calendar features an odd visual quirk I noticed on some of them – the sense of proportion gets really odd with the foliage. The flowers in the midground are massive. I imagine the calendar designs are just combining pieces of illustrations. On the Rooster calendar, it’s pretty clear these are different illustrations combined together.
I opted to paint similar flowers at a more accurate scale by the resting sheep. That area originally had italicized text in a similar color scheme that read “Good Luck!”
In each of the calendars I’ve chosen one element to outline, and here I opted to keep the fence relatively flat and cartoon-like. I added more subtle detail in the grass by using brown to indicate the (now treadworn) path through the broken fence.
For the new year I’ve finished a small set of art I started originally back in 2009. Each of these started off as a giveaway calendar from a Chinese restaurant. I’ve been collecting these and “repainting” them by painting over everything except the main image. I attempted to match both the colors and the painting style of the printed art as best I could to preserve the original look as much as possible.
Based on the animal (or fish) on each one, I chose a related Chinese folktale or mythology to illustrate. I also chose one element to outline to make it stand out. I watched a lot of cartoons growing up and always found the juxtaposition of a painted background with a flat, outlined animation cel set a particular tone about what merited attention.
Here they are in the window display at Kaleid Gallery, from left to right:
The Dragon God
Dragons are symbols of power, strength, and good luck, and have particular control over water.
The Monkey’s Loss
The monkeys abandoned peaches for corn, and then watermelons, and then lost it all in pursuit of a rabbit.
The Farmer’s Fence
The farmer, mourning the loss of a sheep after the fence broke, fails to mend it and later loses more.
The Rabbit In the Moon
The rabbit is a companion of the moon goddess Chang’e, and uses a mortar and pestle to pound the elixir of life.
Ye Xian (the “Chinese Cinderella”)
Ye Xian, a peasant girl, befriends a magical carp who helps her win the hand of the prince.
The Rooster’s Crown
After a skilled archer shot the eight suns, the ninth hid away until the rooster could coax it out.
These frames reminded me of the soot around a fireplace so I created these three illustrations of shadow puppets. I mostly picked these animals because I thought the hand shapes were interesting. Now that I see them together, I realized they’re all animals in the American wilderness. I imagine them as part of a tale told at a remote cabin in the woods.
I created a few new illustrations for the upcoming Psycho Donuts Evol | Love show & sale. It’s a love (or not) theme, and since I felt like drawing animals, I thought I’d focus on animals that can be a bit misunderstood but are lovely pets.
I’ve had a few rats as pets and they can be quite sweet. When I was drawing this I also thought of the Church Mice series from Graham Oakley, a children’s book series I always loved for its detailed crowd scenes of dozens of happy, confused, curious, afraid, and feuding mice in the middle of some conundrum (together with the sole cat willing to be around them).
I’ve never had a chameleon as a pet, but if I were to get a reptile again that would be my next choice. The color-changing is interesting, but the independently-moving eyes and the five-toes-fused-into-two are endlessly fascinating. They also don’t move very fast and seem to have a gentle disposition – something I can’t say for other attempts at reptile pets. Since they’re cold-blooded I gave this guy a little blue heart.