Last Saturday, the Saks Galleries of Denver, invited people to attend a demonstration by Michelle Torrez, a highly acclaimed artist. Her subjects are most often dancers or people moving, and her brush strokes are very expressive. Since Denver is only an hours drive away, I decided to take advantage of this opportunity.
My preferred tool is the palette knife because I like the physicality of it, the ease of cleaning it and the textures I can achieve with it. Brushes are my secondary tool (and I hate cleaning them!). Michelle used a 3/4″ filbert brush for her demo on a small canvas – approximately 16×8. Since our approaches are quite different, why did I want to watch Torrez paint?
Viewing how another artist paints has always been fascinating to me. I believe, Differences are what makes the world goes around, and I like to experience another perspective. There is always something to gain and life long learning is one of my values.
As a result of watching Torrez hold onto her brush at the very end of the brush and essentially dance across the canvas, I thought I should give it the old college try. Just as my ease of using the palette knife is due to painting only with the knife for an entire year (no brushes allowed!), I know I cannot pick up the brush and paint as Michelle paints. She is efficient with her tool much as a concert pianist moves her fingers up and down the key board.
I decided to try painting a portrait of Patches, a dog owned by a friend of ours. I figured it was a place to start even though Patches is not ‘dancing.’ It was important that I keep my hand off of my palette knife the entire time and only use my brushes.
Below I show the painting stages of Patches:
1. This is the drawing on a 14×11 canvas – which was not textured with gesso and I do that on almost all of my canvases. I used a pastel pencil.
I decided to paint a frame around Patches to give it a more contemporary design. There is no plan at this stage as to how well this will work or not; these are the kinds of challenges I like to present to myself.
2. Here is the first layer of paint. Yellow was applied in most of the highlighted areas because it is a warm color. It is also a good base for the butterscotch hair color. Also, Patches’ dog tag is bright yellow and I knew I had to incorporate this color in the painting. Purples were used because they are the opposite of yellow on the color wheel. I wanted to get the darkest darks – purple – painted at this stage.
I have been diligent in using a brush, but I am finding it difficult to hold it at the very end.
You can see that I am experimenting with the color of the frame. As I started painting the frame, I decided that it would be fun to have some of Patches hair flow over the edge of the bottom. Who would’ve thought?
3. Because Patches is basically a light colored dog, I painted the immediate background a dark warm purple to make her pop. The entire eyeball is painted black and this is the ONLY place I use black in a painting. I much prefer to mix my blacks because those are richer colors.
Unlike Michelle, I am not able to use only one large brush on this small canvas. It will take practice and I think if I had a moving subject to paint, my strokes would be more gestural.
Patches still looks a little scary at this point! By the way, she is a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel.
4. In all of my pet portraits, I want you feel like you could go in and pet the animal, hence I want it to be as three-dimensional as possible. You can see various colors of “white” to give Patches a round head, nose, etc. I am staying away from the eyes because that is dessert for me!
The frame is a mix of many of the colors I have been using in my palette, but staying a mid-gray. I cannot seem to get an much paint on my brush as Torrez does. Hmmmm, what to do?
5. Patches’ eyes are nearly finished. Eyes to me are like marbles and that is what I think of as I paint them.
I am trying to incorporate many different colors into Patches’ hair. Note that the shadows are a pale blue-purple versus a boring gray.
The yellow tag is bugging me because it is standing out too much even though I have softened the edges. I need to integrate more yellow into the rest of the painting.
One of the key techniques I learned from Michelle, was watching her use hard and soft edges throughout her painting. I see that there are some edges I want to soften; this will also make Patches seem softer and more real because dogs are soft!
“Patches” is completed. The frame has more painterly strokes and I incorporated more colors in it as well as in her hair. Doesn’t the frame also have a ‘patchy’ look? 🙂 Yellow is integrated throughout but that is difficult to see in this digital image. I was going to paint cast shadows of Patches’ hair hanging over the frame, but decided that that was not necessary.
The finished product is not a Michelle Torrez – and I don’t want it to be – but I enjoyed the process and learned a lot.
Now I need to find out what Patches’ mom, Pat, thinks of the painting and if Patches needs any tweaks. She does not know that I am immortalizing her beloved pet.