My travels take me to some lovely places, and last year when visiting Freiburg at the bottom of the Black Forest in Germany, we met some new friends.  We were invited to dinner and got the chance to explore their beautiful garden where they make provisions for the hedgehogs who visit them each Winter.
A commission soon followed to create a little scene from their garden featuring some hedgehogs.  My clients sent me through a selection of beautiful shots from the garden taken at hedgehog level.  I took many photos of hedgehogs and managed to piece together a composition.
Hope you enjoy their progress, and a little of our travels inbetween.  It’s almost a full year later and I am back in North Germany and will soon deliver the painting in person.

‘Igel Visitors’ the finished painting 19″x13″ soft pastel.
(Igel is German for hedgehog)

On the top you can see my line drawing.  I haven’t bothered much with the spines yet, just the main outline of the hedgehogs.  On the bottom is my Photoshopped composition which was approved by my clients before I started work.  I have played with different compositions over the year and wanted to find a way to make the scene look natural.  The stones in the foreground gave me an opportunity to place the hedgehogs on something solid.

As always I start at the top or the background and work my way down.

I’m blurring the background slightly more than in the photo reference.  The painting will be very busy so I don’t want to distract from the main characters.

The top half of the painting should add a slash of colour to the painting.  You can see a selection of the Unison pastels I’m using.

  This hosta plant has taken a couple of days to complete.  I’ve used a lot of greens and yellows.  I’ve also made that area at the bottom of the plant jet black as baby hog will stand out well against this.

Almost done with the background so will make a start on the hedgehogs soon.

This past few weeks have been so busy with our travels.  We were still in Denmark in the third week of July where I got to watch some Newfoundlands training for rescue.  I love this shot, it’s quite possibly a future painting!

After Denmark we make our way back to Holland and Germany where we were planning to meet some friends.  My deadline for finishing the hedgehogs is around that time so I spend a lot of my time indoors working!  We stay at a few campsites on our way down and quite often there are animals around us.

It’s always worth taking a break from painting to go out with the camera.

I decide to make a start on baby first as I can use this as an experiment for mummy.  I start on the face and that’s really not much of a problem as it’s similar to fur I’ve painted before.  I try to make the little hairs around the edges really sharp and contrasted to the black background.  This involves continuously cleaning and darkening the black areas as I work.

I continue on down the body and the legs.  I’m using the stones as stepping areas and having baby not look at us as he’s obviously very busy finding his footing and trying to keep up with mum!

I start to add in an outline for the hedgehogs with the outer spikes but I think I’ve made him too small.  Best bet is to change and work on some foreground stones for a while.  This has been my tactic all along in this painting.  Either take a break or work on another area for a while.

I come back to baby and start to define around his claws and add some detail to that rock he is on.

I’ve increased the outer spines a little and filled in some dark areas.  Here I’m using the black pastel pencil to come back inbetween those outer spikes and make them really sharp.  This task has been constant through the painting.  As I work and loose dust travels over the piece, these dark areas loose their punch.

I’ve got a couple of layers of spines down now.  I’m starting to get into the flow.  The awkward thing is their shape.  The end of each spine is perfectly conical leading to a sharp point.  That’s not an easy shape to make with fat pastels.  I’ve broken nearly every light tone I have to find tiny sharp pieces.  The darker pencils help to shape each spine individually.  It’s labourous to say the least, and this is only the baby!

I’m pretty happy with how baby has turned out though.  I think I have added enough density of spines for him to appear real.  I’ve used the photos as a guide really but am not worrying too much about it being photographically exact.

I come back over the the right side now and begin to work some of the stones around mummy hog.  I need the areas behind her to be complete before I can work her spines.

The best places to stay in Holland are definitely by the canals.  There is so much water here, it’s never hard to find one.  This place was a real treat for a few days while I worked.

Parked at an old mill we had a great view right down the canal.

Right outside our window we were treated to the spectacle of several locals coming to fish at this prime location each day.  I got some great shots here.

The evenings were made special by the sunset right outside our window.  The only drawback is the number of mosquitos being so close to the water!  But these motorhomes were built with everything in mind.  Here you can see our original fly blinds from 1988 the year our van was built.  Somehow the wee buggers still get in though and eat us alive! 🙂

I make a start on mummy hog and again I start with the face.  The following three shots show a good build up of this.

Once the darkest areas are in, I add some brown tones in the direcion of the fur.

Creams and light browns add the next layer of fur.  As the layers build up you can still see the darkness through the top marks.

This stage took me a full day.  It took me a long time to create these stones for her to walk on.  I had to imagine their angle and shape to fit how her feet were placed in the photo.  I hadn’t done this in the drawing stage but left it until now.  Thankfully it didn’t backfire!  You often see hedgehogs in grass and it’s tricky to get their feet but I really wanted them to be clearly in view on these stones.

Here is a view of my workspace at the back of the camper.  I lay all my pastels out before starting work.  Brocci often finds a spot to sit and look out the window or snooze beside me.

A before and after of my pastel box after a good clean.  As we travel, all my pastels are packed away neatly.  But the colours I’m using at the time get knocked around a little.  So a good clean and a bit of organising and they’re ready to go again.  I usually just use some toilet paper to wipe each one.  I find I can organise them as I go.

Sooo…the most dreaded area of the painting.  The complicated mummy spines!  I try to start at the outer edges and work my way in.  I need enough of the darkness down to make the end of the spines really stand out.  But it will be difficult to keep it all clean while I work.

The hardest part seems to be getting started.  Once I get a few rows in I know I’ll get in the flow.  But I start at the back and jump around a little.  It takes so long to shape each spine so I know I have a task ahead.

I feel like I’m getting somewhere now.  The outer row is complete, however I continuously go back and neaten it.   The forehead area is tricky where the spines meet the face.  I also had to work from several photos for mummy as they didn’t really match in the photos.  Baby was not really her baby.

Where the spines are close to her ear, they are coming out towards us and in many different directions.  The tops of these spines are just smaller marks and dots.  But it’s this central area that seems to confuse me!

Bit by bit I work my way in.  All the time tweaking the areas I’ve done and adding more spines in where I can see space.  It’s impossible to make it really dense without losing a lot of the definition so I’m compromising a little.

So nearly there now!  That gap is closing all day long.

Finally I made it and I’m happy with the result.  My concerns were not being able to make them realistically a part of the scene which I think I’ve managed.  And I really wanted mum and baby to look alike, which I hope they do!

After a long battle with a complicated painting I was glad to get some time to chill with these two.  Our lovely motorhome now has an onboard garden with many herbs we cook with.  Bit by bit our living space gets more organised and homely!

Hope you enjoyed the progression of the hedgehogs and a little of our travels.  If you’d like further information on commissioning a piece of art visit http://www.emmacolbertart.com/art-portraits-pricing/