Playful Marley Rolling (My Process)

Acrylic on wood panel, 8"x8" (20cm x 20cm)

Hey hey! Let's finally get around to talking about that painting I did last month, the one I included in my February goodies download! I've written a bit of backstory about Marley over on my website blog, so here let's just jump straight into how I made it.

The Process

1. Reference Image

So as mentioned over on my blog, here's the photo I snapped of Marley rolling about on the new vinyl floor. I dunno why he was so excited, but it was pretty funny to watch. Hope seems less impressed... Anyway, so you'll notice this is shot at a different angle to how I presented the final painting, and he's definitely not on grass. It's also not cropped, sooo that's what I did next:

But wait, we're not done! You see, I started sketching him onto my support medium, much the same way that I did with Hope's portrait at the end of last year. But I really, really sucked at it! Hope's painting was fairly easy to sketch, coz he was basically just an oval with ears. Marley on the other hand... well look at him! The odd shape, made even stranger by the angle; the rolls of his neck; the odd tufts of fur; all the different areas of light and shadow and varying shades of orange-brown! I'm not practised enough in drawing to even know where to begin with something like this, my brain was overwhelmed by the optical illusions that enable us to perceive depth and all that, and I just couldn't get anything right.

Solution? The good old grid method!

Hey, it's a serious old school art tool, even the Ancient Egyptians used it. I've just adapted it to work in my digital life, using Photoshop guides to divide it into 1 inch squares. These smaller sections are so much easier to work with, so finally I was able to get started for real.

2. Sketching Onto The Support Medium

So here's my initial sketch onto the wood panel - the same kind of panel I used for Hope's painting. I really love this support medium, so easy to draw on, and to erase where needed. And as you can see, the sketch is pretty convincing! But in my constant struggle with perfectionism, I couldn't help but check my work... so I took this scan and then overlaid it onto my reference image, tweaked the opacity, deleted colours to try to emphasise the lines, and was able to get a pretty good picture of which bits still needed some work:

How good is the grid method! So much of it actually did line up! But there were plenty of things that weren't quite there yet, so while looking at this overlay, I made a few changes, added bits I'd missed, and came up with a more refined sketch.

It may be a little tricky to spot the difference, but if you save the scans and then flick between them, they'll become much more obvious. And yes, I did do another Photoshop overlay to check my work:

Much better! I think I still made some minor adjustments at this point, but so small it wasn't worth another scan. Time to get to painting instead!

3. Background

Here's me doing things the "right" way again, by starting with the background. As with Hope's painting, I decided to deviate from the reference image and create a background more suited to the subject matter. Yes, Marley enjoyed rolling on that new floor, but he also really loves running out on the grass and rolling on that, especially if you take him to the off leash park! That's why I went for this sort of grassy green (and let's be honest, the grey vinyl would have been a bit boring). Of course, I could have made the grass more realistic by having tufts of it come up over his fur, but I was happy just giving the impression of it. It does mean that in the final painting, it looks flat as if he's on green carpet or something, but eh, artistic license, right? Or if we wanna come up with a symbolic excuse, let's say something like "yeah, I wanted to evoke the feelings of grass outdoors, but simultaneously wished to keep the effect of the indoors environment in order to reflect the original circumstances in which Marley's pose was captured..." Ahaha, artspeak justification is fun... XD

4. Painting Marley

Oh god noooo, it's so bad!! This is the point where I became concerned that I'd never be able to pull it off. Yes I know, the eye is pretty spot on, which gives the first glance illusion that this is going well. But I was actually really, REALLY struggling with the colours of his fur! It just wasn't working for me at all and I wasn't sure how I was gonna fix it. He's a yellow Lab, but NOT THAT YELLOW!! and yeah there are light patches, but NOT LIKE THAT!! Argh, and the browns were so damn hard to mix! I just couldn't get things right, and I don't think I could blame the cheap student acrylics this time, I wasn't even sure what shades I should even be trying to mix. I was so damn frustrated by it that I had to leave it for a few days.

But I did eventually come back to it. I chucked on some music, and just sat there for a few hours, painting layer after layer, going over my poorer choices, glazing here and there, and... whaddayano! Not that bad after all. In fact, the obsessive, mistake-fixing layers probably helped me out - not only did I put down enough layers to finally hide those pencil marks that I really should have erased, but it helped me get an effect that looked a lot more like fur than in my initial attempt. I mean, Marley's fur in particular is made up of layers, so why not the painting too!

5. Done!

It's not perfect. There are still things that bother me, and that deviate from the reference image. But it's good enough. In fact, it's pretty awesome considering I've never painted anything quite like this before, didn't think I could do it, and was even thinking I might have to give up! So this is actually one hell of an achievement for me. And as I said with my Hope painting, it's okay for things to be different from the photo. It's art, after all!

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