Well, at first glance there’s not much difference between the second post on this portrait and this final version until you look a little closer at the details. At this final stage I add textures where necessary, even out the highlights and shadows, make sure the color palette hasn’t shifted and make sure all subjects are the right shape and proportion.
It’s surprising how easily these details can throw things off if I’m not careful. Up to the final passes for details, I was working over the entire portrait each time, mostly to work out the palette and settle the details of shape and proportion and keeping an overall vision for the portrait. Getting down to details focuses on one are or another and that’s when things move and change.
Here Peaches not only has patches of color, but she also has fur, divining her texture from the blanket. However, in working the highlight from her chin down her chest and adding the nice soft haze of white fur I managed to work the leading edge of her fur out too far and in the process added a few pounds of weight! Poor Peaches, she doesn’t need that sort of thing, but when I removed it I had also drawn over the hazy trees outside the window and had to redraw them.
I clarified the flowers to see each of the petals, and went back and forth with the shade of pink. I had originally used a brighter pink which was not accurate and was too bright for the painting, so I toned that down with a slightly browner pink. I also shifted the blanket from the original bright blue to more of a teal shade to coordinate with elements in the curtains, which would also be in the person’s room, and the blanket’s highlights are blended so it looks fuzzy and soft. The highlights on the vase had made it look very shiny though it wasn’t, and those extreme reflections were also a little harsh for the soft tone of this portrait, so they got toned down.
The most important detail, the sweetest part of the whole image, was Peaches’ face where she has it happily pressed into the flower, her eyes closed, the sunlight shining through the flower petals coloring her fur. That had to be perfect, not photographically so, but in spirit. I enjoyed working many other areas of this portrait, but capturing the gentle shadings and gentle details of her face, her chin and neck and her ear were my favorite part of this portrait.
It will be given as a gift a little before Christmas, and I’ve shipped the framed piece to my customer. I can’t wait to hear what she thinks, and then how her friend reacts. I’m always honored to be trusted with another’s gift, and so happy to be a part of its giving.
Read all the articles about this portrait:
Among other things I’ve been working on the new portrait, and here is the latest update. Today I had the opportunity to work on it during the afternoon (with much feline assistance and supervision) and still had daylight to photograph when I’d finished my session.
I’ve been working more on color issues than finish work, determining the final set of tones for a unified overall composition. Some color combinations you can get away with in a photo but they don’t work well in a painting because the painting image is enlarged and I think our eyes are willing to overlook certain things in photographs understanding that we don’t always have as much control as we’d like. I also don’t mind changing the colors in a portrait from the actual to ones that suit the subject better.
The blue blanket is nearly one-third the height of the portrait and carries a good bit of the color in the painting. It’s a lovely rich shade of blue but looked jarring with the more pastel shades of teal and peach in the rest of the painting as I had continued to work. I put it up on the easel and looked at it for a few days and didn’t get accustomed to the combination and still felt it looked out of place, and so decided to change the blue to a muted teal. It’s partway through that transformation in this version.
Once I’d decided on that, I’ve done more toward completing the background than the subject, and this is typical at this point. Technically, pastel is just plain dusty and the areas that are completed first tend to get dusted over with later colors. I do brush this off, but Peaches the kitty and her flower will decidedly have more detail than the rest of the painting and as much as I want to get to her fur and the flower petals I’d rather dust errant peach and pink and gray pastel off the background than dust teal and green from her.
There is a pile of books on the table, another flower in a vase and some other things behind the curtain in the left corner, but aside from pulling out some interesting details like the corners of the books I’d rather leave these with less detail. There needs to be some restful areas in a portrait like this, even if they have shape like the blanket, so that your eye comes first to the subject. I may add a little more to this corner, and I’ll probably bring the green more toward the teal but not match it exactly to give the portrait some depth.
Outside the window was another area I worked out today. I’d been debating about the deck railing and the trees. I had already decided I’d keep the deck railing because it also added depth to the scene; when I sketched up a version without it the scene looked more flat. I also wasn’t sure I wanted the pattern of the trees right behind Peaches and her flower and originally sketched it in as shades of blue and white as sky and clouds. But I loved the way the tracery of the branches and trunks appeared and it reinforces that this is indeed a window not just a light-colored area so I kept them muted so not to interfere with the main subject.
I don’t make changes lightly, though, since the scene is often one so familiar to the people who commission me. Something that may seem trifling or indistinct to me may be part of a treasured memory. I’ll meet in the middle.
Next time I’ll probably get that blanket under control and finish off the background, and finally I’ll be able to work on Peaches!
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I’ve been commissioned to paint a portrait of a kitty from a lovely photo. And what a coincidence, the kitty is another dilute calico kitty named Peaches! Above is my initial sketch of the portrait, what is actually the most difficult leap for me as an artist: to take what I visualize in my creative imagination and start to put it on paper, and “start” is the operative word—it’s a big leap of faith every time that I can do this! That’s not humility or self-doubt, it’s just the reality of understanding that there is never a guarantee that my intangible link with my creative self can be taken for granted.
The sketch is rough in some areas, more finished in others, but when this initial session feels good and I can see the final portrait in it, I know I’m on the right path and only need to get my pastels in order and trust my intuition.
This is a “long-distance” portrait, so I don’t have a chance to meet the subject, and it’s a gift from the commissioner to a good friend, so I don’t have the chance to talk to Peaches’ person. On top of that, my customer only had one photo of Peaches—but what a beauty! And she was able to provide me with details of Peaches and her person, which is just what I need when creating a portrait that truly reflects both the animal and its person.
I always keep the names of my customers and others involved in confidence, and because this is a gift I wouldn’t even post a thing until after the gift was given, but my customer assures me this person rarely uses the internet and is unlikely to find this—but if you know her, please keep it a secret until after the holidays!
About the subject and her person
My customer tells me: “She’s the cat of … my closest friend, and she just turned 18. … is going through a lot of stuff right now, her mother is very ill and even though we’ve been saying this for the last few years, it feels as though the end is probably not that far away. Peaches has some mild kidney issues, but is otherwise doing well for her age. When … father died, her then soul mate cat Prince died within days of her father, so even though she’s trying to not give this any energy, she sometimes has a sense that her mother’s death and Peaches’ may be happening in a similar fashion.
“And not that this has anything to do with Peaches, but it gives you an idea of what … is about: Prince was diagnosed with FIP, but lived for fifteen more years post diagnosis. … made a promise to the universe when he was diagnosed that if he beat it, she would start a pet loss support group. She’s been running three pet loss support groups for the county at no charge for the last fifteen years.
“Anyway, it’s why I thought a painting would be a wonderful Christmas gift either way – of course I’m hoping that Peaches will still be with us at Christmas, but even if, God forbid, she’s not, it will still be a perfect present for … .
“Peaches is … only cat, and they’re very connected. … comes home for lunch each day, and she sits with Peaches in her lap for half an hour or so. It’s her form of meditation. The story behind the photo is pretty amazing. For a period of several months last year, Peaches became very withdrawn, she stopped sleeping with …, and spent most of her time in a guest bedroom. At the time, we thought this was it. Then a friend of … gave her this flower (I think it’s an Amaryllis?), and Peaches became fascinated with it, and would check progress every day. As the flower started to bloom, Peaches ended her phase of withdrawing. I thought it would be a nice starting point for a painting because it will always remind … of the happy time when Peaches became herself again.”
Could there be a more touching story, or a better gift for a friend?
I told my customer, yes, that is an amaryllis, and like all plants that grow from bulbs they symbolize renewal and rebirth. We associate this with spring in flowers such as daffodils, crocuses and lilies. Amaryllises are associated with Christmas in the way poinsettias are, because they are most commonly red and can be forced to bloom at that time of year, but they are spring bloomers in their native habitat. (Just a note, as with all plants that grow from bulbs, be careful of a certain level of toxicity for cats and dogs.)
I also told her that, in all the years of creating portraits including several that were commissioned while the subject was still clinging to life, I’ve never lost a subject while working on their portrait.
And because this Peaches is a senior kitty too, how fitting to celebrate her portrait during Adopt an Older Cat Month!
I will be posting update images of this portrait over the next few days to week so you can all watch it develop. As always, I will also be discussing my technique and pointing out areas of interest in the portrait.
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My Peaches, and my mother
And on my side of things, everyone who reads this page knows about my Peaches’ struggle with chronic renal failure and her recent passing, and I might also add that I recently moved my mother from personal care to a nursing home. Sometimes there is too much synchronicity. I got all the materials ready for this portrait just before Peaches went into her final few weeks, but put it aside to care for Peaches.