Wickers The Warmblood Finished & Framed

Framed, varnished and ready to deliver.light washes and color

Finally finished up the portrait of the lovely Wickers the Warmblood. Wicker's owner is very pleased with how the portrait turned out, which makes it all worthwhile. I've included the very early wash-in phase of the painting on the right. The basic elements of light and dark followed through to the finish.

It would have been very easy to take the detail too far. I primarily wanted to capture her beautiful, soft eye in the sun.

A Horse of a Difference Color

Wickers the Warmblood getting towards the final painting.Labels showing what's going to be done next.

The portrait of Wickers is coming along. I'm starting to be satisfied with the masses that have been built up. On the right the labels show where I have concerns and more work to do.

I've grayed some of the areas away from Wicker's face, such as the mane area and lower shoulders and leg. I'm going to add more color into the face to draw more attention.
It's fun to look at the progress:

Notice also that I've taken the liberty to reduce the size of Wicker's eyelashes. They really are long and beautiful, but cast in the sunlight they made her look like she was sleeping. Artistic license.

Learning By Comparing

Two images, one of the oil painting and the other of the skull, comparing bony landmarks.

Ok, don't jump to conclusions, I am NOT finished with the Wickers portrait on the left! It is, however, slowly getting there, so I thought I'd take a break and show some anatomical landmarks from an actual equine skull, and where they are showing up on the oil painting.

The skull on the right is not Wicker's skull!! She is still alive and happily sleeping since at this moment, here in Virginia it's pretty warm & humid, so the horses are outside grazing overnight and sleeping in their stalls during the day. 

You can see that the skull (right) does not line up perfectly with Wicker's head. For example, Wicker's eye is lower down on her face, whereas her infraorbital foramen is higher. Of course, different ages, sizes and breeds of horses can all influence where features turn up. In addition, there can be anatomic anomalies (see "biology") that get thrown into the mix. 

When you're aiming for accuracy and believability, it helps to identify major bony landmarks to make sure you've included them and to also judge whether or not you are seeing and placing them correctly.

Wicker's Portrait: Building Volume

Another stage in the portrait process. This one has more hard edges.Oversmoothing on the Wicker's portrait. Color changed background.

Here's a link to the previous stages of the oil painting. The next steps are above.

These are still relatively thin oil layers. I'm trying to work all over the canvas so I don't get too bogged down in one place. The image on the left is made up of mixed flat colors, whereas on the right they've been blended together. Too much.

Painting is a very strange process, especially if you're in The Zone. Right now I'm in The Zone, but I'm not at all happy with the portrait (right). I do, however, have enough experience to know that if I just keep going and don't panic, there will suddenly be a lightbulb moment and I'll know I'm on to something good.

So as I keep working away, often I step BACK away from the painting or leave the room for a break. The new perspective really helps to see what areas need more work. For example, I wasn't happy with how warm the lower background was (left), and how it was competing with the portrait. On the right you can see it's been cooled down with blues, whites, greens, etc. However, doing that has also made the face appear too cool and too flat. That too will be adjusted.

Every painter has their own approach and habits. One of mine that I constantly fight against is over-smoothing edges. I'm pretty sure that habit comes from years of using an airbrush!

I'm over smoothing/blending now in the right image. I'm about to start getting pretty thick with the consistency of the paint, so I know I can go back and adjust. Since the sunlight on Wicker's face is bright, I can leave some of the edges hard, keep the strong color and still keep the volume.

One final thing: I'm going to have to play around more with color and depth to get the right side of Wicker's face to really stand out from the background. Oh, and I hate the hard edges in the trees at the top. They're next on the agenda!

Wickers Gets Oiled: The Final Thinner Layers

Image of Wickers at the last thin layer of oil paint.Close of wickers  

These are the final thin layers of oil before I get into the serious thicker paint. I've added more colors and deepened some areas of contrast. I'm not happy with the colors; they're not exactly what I wanted yet and they're too separate from each other. That, however, can be fixed in subsequent layers.

I'm going to need to go in and concentrate more on the area of focus - Wicker's eyes and face. Now, however, I have a decent foundation upon which to build. Note: there is some glare from the flash especially in the neck area, but that will be eliminated as more layers go on.

Using a Value Comp to Mass Values

Image of how to use the value comp to plan value massing.
That is NOT an alien in the upper left. Just my thumb. It's hard to hold all this stuff and shoot the camera too!

This is a tool called a Value Comp (found at art stores online) that can be used to find the "lightest lights" and the "darkest darks" plus all the grays in between in order to plan the painting. If you follow the green lines from the left squares to the arrowheads, you'll see the grayscale values for various parts of the reference image. This is one method that helps you understand what value belongs where in order to give a subject volume and mass. It also helps to think in terms of areas of blacks, whites and grays, without getting distracted by the all the color and details.

Rarely is there a pure pure white in a subject, for example. The blaze on Miss Wickers is very close to white, but I would paint it using Titanium White and probably a touch of Payne's Gray or Burnt Umber/Burnt Sienna. If anything, I'm going to want to "push back" (decrease the value of and attention to) the white blaze and bring the viewer's focus to a highly contrasting area around her eye. Doing this makes me in charge of how the painting is viewed.

Value Massing: Unfocus Wickers the Warmblood

A softened reference photo of Wickers to help the painter see the massed values of light and dark.

Up early today, it's going to be 90+ and we're not anywhere near summer yet! Have to get some outdoor things done before it's too darn hot.

What's that fuzzy thing to the left? Your eyesight is failing and you just can't focus? Well, it's just another method you can try to break a painting into large masses of values. 

This age-old technique is to squint your eyes at a subject and paint the simplified results. This doesn't work well for me; it's hard to hold my eyes squinty for any length of time and it starts to hurt! And we won't even mention what kinds of squinty wrinkles it causes....

I you happen to be nearsighted/myopic, try taking your glasses off and start painting those simplified masses. If this option is open to you (i.e. you're blinded without your glasses!) it's really nerve racking at first! I had to calm down and accept the shapes and colors as just that - not as an actual something. I use this method often when painting outside/plein air (for once, I'm happy to be nearsighted!) and it's helped my paintings a great deal.

Compare this massing method to the more formal color-coded post.