In cityscapes, beaches and interiors we can bring a painting to life when we include simple figures that are painted with quick brush strokes, as long as they are in scale with their surroundings. When we paint a person as the subject, a portrait, this can include more than just head and shoulders. Including a full figure offers more of a story with subtle expressions of movement, gesture and placement. The “props” tell a story as well, such as this endearing moment of petting the favorite family cat. Solid, well proportioned figures are far more important than a rigid “likeness” which is often what we can get locked into, thinking we haven’t “done our best”. We need to remember the essence of the subject, and whether the narrative is being described rather than copying.
The pet cat is part of the story and completes the total picture. If we can capture a perfect restful moment when the subject isn’t refusing to cooperate, it makes the job a lot easier. More often than not, the “perfect moment” is hard to find, and it’s easier to refer to photos. That said, animals have common poses and it’s useful to do quick sketches in charcoal or soft dark value graphite pencils. These quick little sketches build confidence and I find that it’s easier to do gestures and confident brush work. If I have to slow down and labor at “following” the outline of something unfamiliar, it shows! Lost and found edges are brilliant when rendering an animal, since the fur or feathers have soft textures.
Life in a Painting
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