Painting the unfamiliar – what do I mean by that? Let me give you a bit of backstory first.
I’ve been working really hard on preparing my newest online course. It was supposed to be ready for this week but tech glitches and miscommunications with my tech person meant a delay. Sooooo disappointing! I felt deflated and numbed. I started wasting time on Facebook (you know that right?) and after about 30 plus minutes realized what I was doing. And even though I caught myself, I continued to scroll. I was so frustrated with the delay that I was drowning myself in the wasteland of Facebook! But after about 15 minutes, I knew I had to get off Facebook and DO something!
I took the opportunity to slip into my studio where I hadn’t been in days. Work on the computer had taken me away from place of creation and intention. Ironic since I’m always encouraging you to get thee to thy studio! I started preparing paintings for shipping to a client. I even got my hands dirty with pastels when I realized one of the pieces hadn’t been signed! And that felt soooooo incredibly good, far out of proportion with the actual time spent with a pastel in hand.
Well that was a sign – painting time! But what to paint? My sister had recently sent me a few photos of American foxhounds. Hmmmmm…. what about painting something unfamiliar? Certainly painting hounds or any kind of dog fits this category for me. I think I’ve painted exactly one dog portrait before this and that was part of a human portrait!
So what’s so special about painting the unfamiliar? Well first off, if you’re painting a subject you aren’t familiar with, you can be relieved of any expectation of a good outcome. You don’t know the ins and outs of the subject so why should it result in a stunning end?
Second, this puts your artistic skills to good use. When you’re painting, you’re applying pigment to a ground. That’s it! It’s a 2D surface and no matter what you paint, it’s all colour, value, texture and pattern on a flat surface.
And third, painting the unfamiliar means jumping out of your comfort zone and taking some risk. This is ALWAYS good for your growth as an artist!
So how was my experience painting the unfamiliar? Let’s have a look. I can tell you, I was definitely not in a comfortable place with the subject but I was comfortable with my tools. This time I’m using Mount Vision pastels (from their workshop set of 50) on Pastel Premier paper.
I did a couple other thumbnails of other photos but I liked this one the best.
Ugh! Looks more like a Dachshund than an American Foxhound! But I’m diving in. Painting the unfamiliar means I’m not going to be concerned with the outcome. Yes, I want it to look good but this is about pastels to paper more than a perfect painting!
For the first layer, I picked a few pastels based on the colours of the hound. I really was having a hard time choosing how to start. So I just stuck with values and went from there.
Thinking it’s time to quit now as I’m awed by the ugliness of this! But wait, this is the ugly stage right? Yes! Keep going. Surrender to the process. Stop judging. Get that pastel on!
Big question at this point was: what to do about the background? If you notice, in my thumbnail I chose to keep the background pretty much a middle value. I decided to follow the map as it looks fine and shows off the dog’s head. So I chose middle value colours that I was using on the head itself – green, blue, ochre. I didn’t really have a plan. I looked at the photo and started there – yellower and slightly lighter on the left, cooler and slightly darker on the right.
I started honing in on detail. I especially focused on the eyes and getting the shape of the jaw right. I feel a possibility that this may actually come to something ….but that’s not important right? Remember, painting the unfamiliar is about painting. It’s also about getting familiar with a new subject.
I began to carefully observe the shape of the head and the ears. Also I paid a bit more attention to the background and also the fur on the dog’s back.
Looking at the black and white image, I feel I’m on the right track.
I spent the last part of the painting time, looking at the drawing and adjusting say the back contour of the head, the shape of the ear on the right, the chin.
Well that’s it for me. I could keep fiddling! Unless I see something glaringly wrong or Andrea asks me to correct something that doesn’t read right, it’s done! And I am feeling good! I surrendered to the discomfort of painting the unfamiliar for the purpose of putting pastel to paper and not being under any pressure. And even so, I’m happy with the result. And being in the studio, pastel in hand, that’s what made me happiest!
Have you painted something that isn’t your regular subject matter? How did that feel? Please share your experience in a comment. Love hearing from you I do!
All for now.
Until next time,
PS. A big thanks to my friend Julia for seeing the symbolism of my movement from wasting time on Facebook (from disappointment at not having the course ready to offer you) to working in the studio. Creative core!