Tuesday, 2 August 2016

White Hart

 Pastel on PasteCard 23 x 19 inches

This one is a commissioned painting for the owner of a local pub - no prizes for guessing the name of the establishment!

I used a combination of photos of a normally-coloured stag for the pose and a white one for the colouring, with some artistic licence for the lighting. I also made his neck and chest 'feathers' a little broader to give him more presence and majesty. Although the stag is white, and you immediately know he's white, I used no white on the fur at all, and in fact the only tiny spot of white used was for the highlight on his right eye.

Backgrounds for animal head and shoulder studies are always tricky - you don't want the background to fight with the animal itself, and the one absolute no-no for me is to depict the animal with a straight-line cut-off at the neck, so that the portrait looks more like that of a severed head, rather than of the living, breathing animal, yet so many artists do just that, spoiling what is otherwise a very good painting. Fading out the bottom section of the stag avoids too many focal points and makes the eye concentrate on the head.

I like to use plenty of 'counterchange' on my portraits, using the highlights on the fur and antlers in this case, so that light passages are set against a darker background, and darker passages set against lighter background. This helps 'lift' the subject from the background, giving it a three-dimensional quality. You can see that I've done this all over the painting.
Below is a photo taken half-way through the painting, where I was plotting the rough colours and tones of the background. You can see that I changed the tone of the background just behind the stag's left cheek (our right), initially making it darker than the cheek, then changing it to a lighter tone and an almost lost edge.
For an animal portrait, I would normally place the head high up in the picture plane, so that the eyes are well above centre - this gives the animal more importance, and prevents wasted space above the head. But here, with those great antlers, there was no choice but to place the head much lower, with the eyes only just above centre. This presented a problem of a lot of vacuous space to fill around the antlers. I could have made his antlers much smaller, but that would be like cutting off the horn of a Rhino, so I eventually opted for making the top of the background quite dark in order to push the eye of the viewer down to the main focal point, and I also put a flourish of a little grass on one of the tips for added interest in that section.

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