The majority of my work is from customers who want a favourite photograph turning into a painting. It helps a great deal if it’s a good photo that I can use directly, without having to guess at any other details. For example I once had to turn down a commission from a photo from a couple from Hartington, that showed a tiny speck of something brown and furry, in a field. I was reliably informed it was a brown and white border collie with 3 legs but I couldn’t quite see the resemblance somehow??
I’m cheating a little using this photo to demonstrate to you because it’s one of Villager Jim’s (so it’s a wildlife artist’s dream photo to paint from in other words). I can usually work from good close ups that anyone can take though– even me. I’m no photographer believe me.
I could go though each picture and say things like: “I always start with the irises, using burnt sienna and a little raw umber. I favour a no 2 sable brush etc” or something as boring as you see in some art instructional DVD’s, but I think it’s obvious from the photos what happens first, then what I do next etc. I’ll not bore you to tears, and myself, in the process. The photos speak for themselves I hope.
I usually need as many photographs as can possibly be got hold of- sometimes it's not a situation where I can actually meet the subject I'm painting. Photographs depicting all the moods and mannerisms are vital to get the best out of the portrait and help me connect with your little character. I also appreciate its difficult getting hold of good photos pre the digital era. If a pet died a while ago, and all that a customer has is a tatty polaroid, this is also usually no problem. I'm soon able to tell if it's going to be possible to paint anything from. I never attempt to paint anything if it's not going to capture a customer’s pet. (I can’t just paint any old 3 legged, brown and white, Border collie. It has to be Mrs Areyouhavingalaugh’s, 3 legged, brown and white, Border collie) Those days are over now thank goodness. No more accepting any photo and then trying to slave over a likeness for weeks that was never going to happen in the first place ( IT’S JUST A SPECK IN A FIELD - HOW AM I SUPPOSED TO PAINT THAT?!) I’m lucky that I’m in the position to turn down work now, if I think I can’t get the best out of it- but I’ve have had my fair share of sleepless nights over specks in a field, believe me.
Ideally, a customer will be able to bring me the perfect photograph but this a very rare occurrence (they do tend to move about don't they??) I usually have to pick a head off one photo, a background off another, a leg off another, a tail off another, a body off another .....and then put them all together. This is all done in the correct order of course - none of these weird Dali-esque creatures with noses where there their bottoms should be, never fear.
Sometimes 2 or more animals may need to be put on the same painting. I had a lady from Ashford in the Water a few years ago who wanted a painting in an emergency for her mum in law’s birthday the following week. She was looking after her 2 pampered, and very vain female Siamese cats. She promised the next day she would come back with the photos but when she rang, in tears, 3 days later, she was saying she’d have to cancel. She’d been trying for days to get the 2 cats to sit in the same chair at the same time. “They absolutely love each other to bits,” she said “I can’t understand it? I get the camera out and they just stalk off in different directions- they’re like the cats off Lady and the Tramp. They HATE me” she wailed.
I can totally sympathise – girl cats are teenage humans in fur- didn’t you know? I’m talking about girl cats being the hardest to photograph, from my experience – please don’t bombard Peak District Online with your complaints- I’ve had 4 girl cats and they’ve all been absolute Diva’s. They are the hardest to photograph unless it’s on their terms, the slyist, most intelligent pets I have ever encountered and they run rings round their owners. If you have a girl cat that’s the purr fect pet that loves you and acts more like a dog (all my boy cats have been like this – couldn’t love you more and beg for your affection) I humbly apologise and hope I haven’t offended. It’s just my own experience......and stories I’ve heard from the 57 female cat owners whose portrait I’ve had the pleasure to paint over the years.
I’ve painted rabbit’s, guinea pigs, cats (boys and diva’s), dogs, horses, donkeys, goldfish (really), a tortoise and a pet iguana. I did have to turn down painting a pet tarantula spider from Matlock though....I didn’t want my sleepless nights returning any time soon.
My girl cat would no doubt, eat it for breakfast, spit out the fur and polish her nails whilst doing so.......
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