When is a dog not just a dog?

I am a dog person. Many of you will not remember the song, “How Much is that Doggie in the Window?” But, let’s acknowledge the fact that most of us wouldn’t sell our dog (or dogs) for anything. Ken and I have three long haired Chihuahuas. A pack, nicknamed by my stepson as the “Terrible Trio”. Indeed, they are naughty and yappy. I will acknowledge that; but they are also loving, entertaining, and they make us happy.

Which brings me to the saga of painting Emma.

Emma the dog 1

Emma is the darling companion Mary and David Flowers, church friends. Not just any dog, she is a Boston Terrier who rules the roost with energy and antics.

My motivating question when I paint is always, “how can I portray the true personality of this person, dog, cat, whatever?” Sorry photographers; but a photo is a flat reality. 

True art intensifies the real inner persona of the subject. It makes you want to know more…he, she or it should jump off the canvas and say something that is beyond the norm of “she’s a nice looking lady”, “he’s a cute dog”, “it’s a pretty scene”, etc. It’s a forever painting that somebody will want when a loved one dies. I’m not trying to be morbid, but paintings should be evoke emotion, have meaning.

So for me, Emma was more than just a dog. Emma had to recollect mischievous love for her owners, especially Mary.

When I paint a commissioned painting, I always ask for at least one photo from which to paint. This was the photo I was asked to paint:

Emma the dog 2

On the surface, it looks nice, but it’s a nightmare for a painter.

First, it’s not just a dog in the photo. On the viewer’s right is a hand! Yikes. Emma looks brown in the photo; but she’s obviously a Boston Terrier and they are black! There is little or no contrast in the blacks, the shadows are muted and not true to color.

Am I losing you? Then of course there is that teeny tiny Harley Davidson logo on the hat–all on an 8 x 10.

What to do? Pray, face the fear and begin!

Emma the dog 3

I wanted to make her coat silky and lustrous, showing a lovely under coat of browns, blues, and blacks. I want the collectors to feel as if they can reach out and feel their dog’s coat and the blanket. So I developed four levels of pastel (you can see those swatches on the right).

Emma the dog 4

I know Emma is playful, so I wanted to develop a little action in the background to suggest her energy and character.

Emma the dog 5

No white fur can be painted in until Emma is almost finished.

Now we are close!

Emma the dog 6

Not done but closer. I’ve got to polish up the fur, nose and logo! More hours, but worth it, she’s a doll. I’ve grown to love her as I paint her and that’s important.

With a mat and frame, Emma will be a darling keepsake.

Love is a growing thing. Most people don’t realize that. We tend to think of love as an emotion, but it’s not. I can say that after 34 years of marriage. Love takes patience, kindness, attention to the little things. Just like painting Emma.

Do you have a loving friend or creature that I can give life to through a painting? Then let’s talk! You can leave a comment or send us an email. And be on the lookout for a follow up post when she’s all finished!

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