My dear sis in-law owns a beautiful beast who I thought would make a nice painting. She is a Bernese Mountain Dog and with patient coaxing I was able to get a decent shot of her. I wanted something that captured some aspect of her playfulness and also get a pose that would carry over to a piece of art. I had my trusty assistant, the ever capable Mrs. Slemons, grab the dog’s attention in various ways enabling me to get the shot I was hoping for. This is the pic one that won out. She looks spunky and she’s seems to be engaged with whatever it is outside of the framework of the photo that has roused her from napping. Yeah, WE know who did that, but once this scene is transfered over to being represented in a painting, I would like the viewer to fill in that part of the story themselves. Maybe it’s a bird at the window, some sudden noise in the house, or the funky scent of a nearby mailman has been picked up. A playful spirit is indicated here, to me anyway, and it is my job to carry that over to the canvas.

A note or two on what motivates me as an artist to paint this or any other type of subject matter. For me, there has to be some sort of emotional charge that gets the creative juices percolating. It can be anything. The play of light on a subject, the colors at hand, a sense of solitude or loneliness perhaps with a snow covered tractor in a cornfield. Something has to click and it stays with me. Something wants to be said and I just know I gotta get it down. In this case, as a dog lover, a big beautiful hound lazing around the house grabbed me. There were a lot of blues in her coat and around the room in general due to the north light coming in from the window. Conversely, if I try to paint something and I’m a little flat about it or not really certain about what aspect it is I’m trying to capture, it comes out looking labored, or uninspired or it just gets wiped out. Looking labored can result from other issues, like trying to put down everything in a photo, but I’m just generalizing here.

So, let us move on and see how this experiment turned out.


I wanted to just concentrate mainly on Kuma with hint of her surroundings. Most of what is in the photo is not at all important. I have cropped in and eliminated the cabinet and table legs. They are not important in any way. This is a 8×10 size canvas and I want to paint an image that is not bogged down with the incidentals. I also approach this with the intention that there is certain amount of time to use so I won’t allow myself to get caught up trying to put down everything the photo capture. Again, the photo is a liar in virtually every aspect. Color, temperature, and etc. etc. I have to remind myself of that all the time. To have a sense of spontaneity I won’t allow the photo to dictate to me anything really beyond the general layout of the model and the basic play of color.

I want the general focal point to be her head and that white patch below it. There is a lot of fun stuff going on in her muzzle and eyes. There is quite a bit of temperature change going on in the white patch and sheet she is laying on. You have to be consious of this. In consideration to the patch, a white in one area is NOT the same type of white in another section of the same shape. It will vary in temperature and perhaps even a bit in value. That is the case here anyway. I want to carve that patch out as accurately as I can to stay consistent with the atmospheric conditions that I interpret to exist here. There is a lot of interesting shifts in color and temperature going on around the head. The nose and mouth in particular offer fun challenges. As do the areas of fur with the light on it vs. the shadow sides of her coat.

Once her head is established as the focal point, it’s pretty much downhill from here. The thinking behind a focal point is, that the viewer needs to know what it is they’re supposed to be concentrating on in the picture. In life, whenever you are looking at an object, everything around it is subordinate. You can only look at ONE thing at a time. If you are starting at someone’s nose, for exampe, you can not also see the person’s eyes or mouth with the same clarity. I want Kuma’s head to be what you as the viewer hone in on. Therefore, I will render those shapes around her head as secondary considerations. How far I want to exaggerate and push these areas is up to me. That’s another fun part. I get to chose how to manipulate these areas in order to enhance the overall piece and direct you through it. The eye should be able to move around the composition with as little confusion as possible. If I cut out the whole dog and her surroundings all equally, it would be confusing to look at. What is it exactly, you would ask, am I talking about.

I wanted to put in just enough information into the background wall and blankets so that they would read at a glance. For the carpet and sheet in the foreground it was pretty much the same approach. The bed sheet is a white, but not the same kind like in the white patch of fur. It is distinctly different and should be done in a way not to detract from the dog. The value is lighter the closer it is to the light source. It gets cooler and a bit darker as it recedes to the right. I try to make the edges softer out here too. No doubt as this thing tacks up I’m see somethings that need to be tweaked or handled differently. That’s the way it goes for me. For now though, it’s pretty much done and I’ve captured some of what I had hoped to when I started. Perhaps I’ll take another stab at with a different take on the color schematic. There’s more than one way to skin a cat. Or paint a dog.