Monday, 20 September 2010

The Eyes on My Dog Portrait Look like Marbles

The key focal point to a dog portrait will rest on the eyes, which could ruin the artwork if they stare lifelessly from the oil painting as though made of glass. In some cases, they appear stuck on the dog’s head like pieces of paper, in others, they lack expression or character. What tips for the pet artist will create realistic and expressive dog’s eyes in portraits?

Common Problems when Painting Dog’s Eyes

Technique for Dog Painting
Rachel Shirley
In order to diagnose problems with painting eyes in dog portraits, the artist must first identify culprit practices that spoil dog portraiture. This may be:
Subconsciously allowing human characteristics to leak into the eyes of the dog portrait, such as illustrating idealised almond shaped eyes, painting pupils and irises too small on the eyeball and painting eyelashes as curving from the edges of the eyes.
  • Using merely white to illustrate the eyeballs and reflections on the eyes.
  • Rendering dog’s eyes in a “painting by numbers” way, such as: representing a round black dot for pupils; filling in the irises with any brown, blue or green at the artist’s disposal, and finishing off with a dark outline around the eyes.
  • Leaving areas around the eyes blank, such as the dog’s brow, temples and bridge of the nose.
How to Paint Dog Eyes with Realism

The following advice for pet artists on painting dog’s eyes will help capture the true essence of a dog’s character.

Close observation is the key to painting realistic dog’s eyes in a portrait. Turning the photo upside down will help the artist override the dictatorial part of the brain that favours painting by numbers and making generalisations about how a dog’s eyes “should” look. Doing so will break down the area into abstract tonal shapes and colours. The following tips will also help.
  • The eyeballs of dog’s eyes are rarely just white, but contain a multitude of other colours, including blues, violets, earth colours and crimsons. Dog’s brows will cast shadows over the eyeball, and may darken it to almost black at the point where the eyeball disappears into the eye socket.
  • Highlights and reflections within the eyes are not merely white or round in shape, but often contain gradations of other colours, often blues and crimsons. Look out for objects reflected on the eyeball, creating odd shapes.
  • Similarly, the colour of the dog’s irises will vary according the shadows and reflections falling over them.
  • The degree to which the eye is open or the shape of the upper eyelid will have a fundamental effect upon the expression of the dog and therefore its character. Revealing too much upper pupil will make the dog look surprised; revealing too little will make the dog look sleepy. Pay special attention to the contours around the dog’s eyelids to capture the dog’s expression and character.
Pay attention to veins, tear ducts, upper eyelids and lower rims of the eye, which often appear droopy, as in bloodhounds. Not all such tissues are red, but can apparently appear crimson, blue, brown or even black.
Treating the skin around the eyes as an extension of the eyes themselves will help capture dog’s character and make the eyes look more convincing. This entails breaking down the area of the temple, brows and bridge of the nose into abstract shapes and lines and rendering them truthfully.

How to Capture a Dog’s Character in a Dog Portrait

Painting a dog’s eyes accurately is the key to capturing a dog’s character. This entails dispelling any preconceptions about how dog’s eyes should look and using close observation. Turning the photo upside down will help curtail assumptions. The oil pigments I most often use for painting dog’s eyes are as follows:

Burnt umber, burnt sienna, ultramarine, pthalo blue, permanent rose, cadmium yellow and white. For highlights I will use white, ultramarine, permanent rose and burnt sienna. I reserve black only for the darkest area of the pupils.

At Techniques for Painting Eyes on Dogs

Kolinsky Red Sable Oil Round 1
click to buy from Amazon
Soft fine round sables are essential for detail around the eye area. Sizes 3 and 6 would be ideal. Begin with the larger areas and work down to the small. Avoid applying paint too thick, or it may smudge or contaminate the neighbouring area. Thin the paint with a little linseed to make it more manageable and wipe off excess paint with a cloth. I often work from dark to light in a series of glazes, allowing the previous paint layer to dry. Highlights are applied last, via little strokes of neat paint. It is vital to keep looking at the photo when painting a dog.

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