I was asked to paint this piece as a surprise gift.  It’s always a treat when you’re handed a beautiful photo reference to work from and this is one of those pieces that makes me happy and cringe at the thought of it as I know what lies ahead with those bluebells!  But pieces like this are always worth the extra effort required.

I hope you enjoy the progression and a little of our tours in Southern Spain at the moment. I haven’t been able to take many photos as Hairy Maclary our little rescue dog was in for an operation today so we’ve been tied up with dogs and flat out with Christmas orders!

The finished portrait 18″x14″ soft pastel

The photo I received was very tall and portrait shaped so I suggested cropping it to make the dog bigger and enclose them more in the scene of bluebells.  My next step is drawing out this tangled mess of a background as well as that adorable pooch.  In drawing this out I try to choose really recognisable leaves, flowers and stems to give me lots of anchors throughout that background.  Than I can fill in the gaps using colour as I go.

When it comes to adding colour I dive into the background first.  Here I’ve laid in some main shapes and picked out the deepest purple where some bluebells will be.  At this stage shapes are loose but I’m already trying to get some of the more prominent lighter stems in so I don’t have to cover too much dark with light.  I want them to really zing.

The more layers I add and fill in the gaps the more the effect starts to work.  I’m trying to blur the background further away and save the detail for the foreground.

This week I got a go-pro camera which I hope to make use of for my Youtube video tutorials. But it also gives me a chance to show you wide angle shots of my workspace.  It’s compact in here but you don’t need a lot of space to pastel thankfully!

This week we made it back to Tarifa on the South coast of Spain.  It’s glorious weather here and there are lots of places to park at the beach.  But we also like a couple of fields here where it’s allowed for campers to park up and quite often these cows come through grazing.  They made short work of the long grass at our door!

Once I get some way down the background I start to work on her head as I want everything to overlap nicely on the way down the painting.  It just makes sense to me to layer things up as they come forward in the composition.  With these curls I start to layer in some oranges and light beiges around the top.  I like to work the edges early to get the outline.  But mostly it’s dark to light.

I felt I needed to get the face and main features in before creating the poodle fluffy top.  It holds real weight over the face so I want the face in first.  What gorgeous little eyes though and such a perky expression!  Poodles are notoriously intelligent, and this face just looks it.

Starting to layer in more light orange brown as the base.  It’s hard to know what colour to use as it’s an apricot poodle and the colours just don’t seem to be in front of me.  But by trying to see individual colours in the coat and then using a combination of yellowy and peachy oranges on the highlights I hope I can create the illusion.

Bit by bit the upper highlights start to bring the shapes of the curls out.

Starting to work down the body now before doing any more background. Most of the rest is in front of the dog so I want the fur complete before adding more of the surroundings.

Hairy Maclary our little rescue dog making himself at home in the van.  You can’t leave the laptop open for a minute without Youtube being hijacked!

As I work on the body I block in those main bluebells covering her.  You can see I just block those in with the deep purple.  The lighter layers will be done with more detail.

This little stripy collar adds another splash of colour to the piece which I liked.  There was also a dog lead in the photo which I removed.

Finally on the home stretch now with the foreground.  The next part takes me two full 7 hour days.  I just seem to move at snails pace when it comes to leaves and flowers.  But I have patience!

You can see with these first detailed bluebells that they are still quite loose. I try to give them a nice clean crisp outline away from the colours of the poodle so that there is nice contrast and they look like they are well in front of the dog.

I always try to pick out the biggest or brightest shapes first.  Ones that stand out and I can measure everything else off. Stems are tricky to get nice and smooth. While working on this in Tarifa it was windy as it always is there, and the van was a
little rocky some days for stem painting!

Slowly making my way across the bottom.  The Unison pastels I use are the most colourful and delicious pastel.  I love their colour range and must look out for more purples.  It seems the bluebell pieces keep coming so I may need them again!

A final bit of progress although my progress shot was saturated in sunset.  I swap to a daylight lamp soon after this and continue working into the night, but I can squeeze the last bit of sunlight out of the day too!

As I finish up we arrive back around the coast a little overlooking the rock of Gibraltar.  It’s a stunning location for a few days while Hairy Maclary goes for an operation.  He has the perfect place to relax and get better.

While Hairy is at the vets I enlist Brocci to do some nice posing on the beach looking the other way from the big rock towards the lighthouse.  We are parked right on the beach looking out to sea so I thought it made the perfect location for a shot of the piece.

Hope you enjoyed the progression.  If you are interested in your own portrait have a look on my website for more info at http://www.emmacolbertart.com/art-portraits-pricing/ for more info or get in touch at info@emmacolbertart.com.