Thursday, August 14, 2014

Painting in progress: commission

I'm putting these pictures under a cut, as the lovely individual who wants this painting may or may not want to see in-progress shots. Sometimes its preferable to avert ones eyes from the gawky, awkward teenage phases of a painting. I, of course, don't have the option of such luxury, so I like to take photographs that showcase my trials against rebellious and unruly paint on canvas!

In other news, I drew this in five seconds on a whiteboard and I'm weirdly fond of it, so much so that I haven't wanted to erase it even though it's taking up valuable space. Every time I look at it, I'm reminded of how much I like drawing eagles.

Anyway, onward to oil painting!

The request was: your interpretation of Madonna and child. No limits, no suggestions, no rules, do with it what you will. Anyone who's known me for more than five minutes will not be at all surprised to hear that my immediate thought was: cats, I'm going to paint cats. 

Of course I did my research, looked up many a painting of Madonna and child, just to get some inspiration and a feel for what I'd like to do. If you'd like to see my favorites and the ones I found most inspiring, you can click here (Felice Torelli), here (Marianne Stokes), and here (Gabriel Max and Murillo). This is the wibbly-wobbly first draft:

It's feeling things out, dipping toes in the water, putting some paint on the canvas and hoping some guiding light will show the way to a beautiful painting. Yeah.

Here we have the third draft:

Now it's looking much more like a real painting, but clearly, I'm still feeling a lot of things out, and there's a long way to go yet! In particular it is now impossible not to notice that the blue cat -- dear mother cat -- looks really weird. And she looks weird because I totally mismeasured and got her proportions totally wrong. Whoops! This happens sometimes when you're a careless little punk like me. I did some measuring, of course, but failed to do some essential ones in some essential places, and now I feel the need to redo blue cat's whole head. Remember to measure things properly the first time, kids, you'll save yourself some pain. Hey, I claim to be an artist; I never claimed to be a good artist!

Vague clouds were added into the second draft, and strengthened here on the third because my eye was traveling up towards the sky and then over the edge of the canvas, never to return. The clouds bounce the eyes back to the cats, where they belong. While I may mess up cats and make them look weird, I do know that when constructing a painting you want the viewer's eyes to bounce around the canvas, easily, without effort, without thinking about it, and you want to focus the eyes on your keypoints, so on and so forth. Your painting ought to be fun to look at, maximize fun. That's kind of my go-to rule. Also, remember to measure your cats properly.

By the way, here's my reference picture!
My own photograph of my own cats, Squirt and her mother Angel, lookin' real cute. This is from quite a few years ago. Squirt is still around; she's a very grown-up cat now!

You haven't seen the last of this painting, and it may very well look substantially different by the time I'm finished with it. We'll see!


  1. I really enjoyed reading this post.
    With the requested commission - your interpretation of Madonna and child – has been done millions of times. Finding a unique take on that is a challenge in and of itself. I can only imagine how many Madonna and child pictures you looked at. (Of your 3 favorites, I liked the Gabriel Max the best). But there are so many ways to go.
    Given that my mother is an artist, I had been around paintings, but usually only saw the finished painting. Through this blog, I am seeing that creating fine art from nothing is clearly a very special talent. The 2 paragraphs between the third draft and the reference picture really helped me understand how much the artist has to work to get the art up to their standards. The “Vague clouds” and how they “bounce the eyes back to the cats” was fascinating to me, as was “Your painting ought to be fun to look at, maximize fun.”. (By the way, The 5 second Eagle is amazing.)

    1. Thank you very much for this very thoughtful comment! It's always really interesting for me to hear feedback like this, and I'm really glad you were able to get so much out of this post. It's very encouraging, and you can be sure I'll be doing more posts like this in the future, and talking more about my artistic processes and points of view!

    2. Hi Emily! I've only browsed a short while and already I love your site! Authentic and real. I always have admired your art work in Mrs. Naomi's class. Now I can come here from a distance and see what interesting art you are working on or have completed. I'm pleased to see you're writing too! You are an inspiration using your passion and talents.

    3. Wow, thank you so much! That's very encouraging. I've got a bunch of new artwork from the summer that I need to put on the site -- hopefully I'll be able to get to work on that soon. Really, thank you again for sharing your thoughts, and I'm so glad you enjoy the site!