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!
I don’t usually paint on 3D objects…but when I do it’s usually for a gift. This is a Zelda-themed repaint for my friend Jeremy who has a whole black/white/red setup for his motorcycle & gear. The helmet was pure white with black accents, so I took a few photos and went through a couple of rounds of mockups to figure out the look.
Visualizing on a curved surface is tricky! I considered taking some reference photos and mapping them onto a 3D object so I could spin it around, but (as I often do) opted for the quicker visualization figuring that I’d work out the fine details as I went. These Photoshop mockups just overlay vector masks onto the photo, and I eyeballed the curvature to fit the viewing angle.
Photoshop Test #1 was about establishing the overall placement for the classic Hyrulian crest with a little decoration on the sides. Jeremy wanted to incorporate “It’s dangerous to go alone” on it so he found the phrase in a glyph system designed for the latest game, Breath of the Wild. He also wanted more black along the sides and front, so for Photoshop Test #2 I figured out how to extend it without interfering with the letters (or vents).
Once I was ready to start painting, I knew I wouldn’t be able to mask the fine detail for the glyphs. Instead, I measured the front and printed them out to fit that length. Since it’s a curved surface, I also needed to work out how they would wrap evenly. To get this look, I cut vertical lines between each glyph so I could carefully bend the paper. I taped it over the area to paint them to use as a visual guide, and that worked out pretty well.
The rest I’d masked carefully though I ended up doing a lot of cleanup on the edges. Since I painted it (rather than spraying it) the paint didn’t leave a clean edge on the first pass. I wasn’t ready to invest in the kind of system (and masking, and ventilation) I’d need to do a proper spray, so it’s a good thing this worked! I used Testor’s Paint which seemed to grip pretty well. A final gloss coat by a professional painter helped seal it in. Ready to go!
This one’s another commission from my friend Kevin. Merry Christmas Allie!
I worked from an Instagram photo of her two cats before a windowsill. The layout was the first challenge. Since the original photo was square, I mocked up a few options in landscapes and portrait orientations. This landscape option gave it a little more room to breathe, and is closer to what an observer would see. I made some small adjustments to the composition to remove a few ambiguous objects (between the cats, and on the far right), add a little more separation between the cats for a better silhouette, and scooted the vase over a bit.
The second challenge was getting an accurate sketch of the perspective. Between the windowsills and the blinds, I spent a little extra time on the sketch to be sure I got it right. This painting is a bit larger than I usually work so I used my massive T-square (3 feet long) to make the sketch. It’s so big I often only use it for mat cutting…or retrieving things that have rolled away under furniture. Nice to use it for its intended purpose!
Since the lighting is so bright, I used a few additional reference photos of the cats to get the colors right. They have a light tan undercoat with grayish stripes. The stippling texture I’ll often use in details worked out well here for their coloration. One of the most interesting parts to paint was the tabletop due to the window and vase reflections. I also enjoyed painting the cats, and in particular getting the ear positions right. They’re definitely listening here.
I got a commission recently from an unexpected source. A few months ago I started posting close-up details of my paintings & drawings on Instagram and Tumblr. I figured it would be an interesting opportunity to show off the details you’d see if you could see it in person. One such post was a detail of Statement VII (the doctor): specifically, a close-up view of his hands jotting down notes. This caught the eye of our friends Kevin and Allison as they both work in writing/journalism and they inquired about a commission. I offered to change up details if they liked (different colors? new photo shoot in the same pose with one of them?) but they opted for a painting from the original photo.
The detail I posted on Instagram is about 3″x3″, and the new painting I created is 12″x12″. When I checked the original photo, I realized I’d skewed it a bit more warm/orange on the original painting. I liked some of the purple tones so I shifted a little bit back towards that for this version of it. I also pulled the crop back slightly to show cuff details for both hands.
While I was working on it, my friend Jeremy saw it and pointed out that it had a distinctly different feel to it when viewed from different angles. I often adjust the angle on reference photos for new paintings, but it never occurred to me to try that for this one. I rotated it a bunch of ways and decided that there were two that I felt looked best, so when I completed it I added hardware to allow it to hang two different ways: the original orientation, or turned 45 degrees for a diamond shape. I’m not sure which I prefer: I figure that can be a choice made based on where it’s going and what they’re in the mood to see.
Enjoy your painting, Kevin & Allie!
Just finished this commission for a painting of Tobey, the furry friend of Alan’s co-worker Melinda. Last month, Alan was transporting an earlier painting, The Big Yawn, to its new owner at his work. Melinda spotted it and asked about a commission for her nursery.
We started by reviewing a few dozen photos, and she narrowed it down to six for me to look through in more detail. I picked three and did quick Photoshop mockups on different canvas shapes. One in particular had great lighting and detail, so I adjusted the angle and gave it a close crop to better match the intense staring-at-something-behind-you look cats often have.
The color layering (including the awful blue stage every painting goes through) worked to particularly good effect in the eyes. The fuzzy blurring of the white areas also helped soften the rest to make the details stand out more. Usually on these, especially on the paintings of people, I’ll just paint the edges black if I’m planning on adding a frame. I opted to paint around the edges on this one – so every layer I painted that you see here I also painted on each of the four edges (where applicable). It’s good practice in working out what looks right from different sides to ensure that changes in viewing angles won’t make the perspective look odd.
Enjoy your painting, Melinda!