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I was approached by a close colleague of mine who had moved on to another hospital. They had a small dog, Duchess, who recently passed. Her husband was traumatized by the loss of his friend. She commissioned me to paint her.

Source - Duchess - photo cropped and zoomed in
Sketching it told me that this photo would work. Just enough light to see the variations of value.

Early on I was intimidated by how to paint black. How was I to convey the values and stay true to how I was seeing it in the photo provided? In my past readings, it was suggested to always start a difficult painting as a sketch. This way you can plan and figure out in advance the problem areas. For a value sketch, you have to keep it down to 3 - 5 values max. So as with anything new, you try it. In about 30 to 40 minutes I had completed a 6 x 6-inch sketch of Duchess. Really focusing on where my darkest dark and lightest light are located.

Second Photo - no choosen

The sketch told me that this painting wouldn't work. Hard to see Value.

Having had chosen the photo to work from I continued to think of ways to proceed in painting black. I do not paint with black. Of the colors on my pallet, I mix equal parts of Ultramarine Blue and Alizarin Crimson together to get a very dark hue. To the brain it is black but it isn't. I finally decided to try something I had been putting off. I had learned from another artist, John MacDonald, that if I start out with a valued underpainting it makes all the color decisions easier.

Working exclusively from my sketch only (vs my photo) it may increase the painterly feel I was going for. I started with only 3 colors - Burnt Umber + White to vary the values of the darkest dark, and Burnt Sienna + White to vary the values of the lighter hair. Being sure to mix OMS into each mixture it would allow me to paint on it directly the next day. This would keep my top color layers from mixing with the bottom layers. Going right in with paint, I started with the darkest dark and moved around where I saw them. Slow did I progress to the next value by mixing more white into my burnt umber. Being sure to squint all the time. Finally, I stepped back and took out my photo. Comparing and squinting. Bam! It worked.

Varying Values of Burnt Umber and Sienna + White. Keeping it very loose. Dry to the touch in 24 hours.

The next day I was able to start adding color. Making sure to squint with each stroke. By squinting I am to assess if the color I am adding matches the value I have on the underpainting. Mixed Ultramarine blue + Alizarin crimson for the darkest dark, and a touch of red. Slowing adding more and more color, I moved around the painting. Stepping back multiple times between every 3 to 4 strokes.

Overall, the painting turned out awesome!

Duchess; 6 x 8 in., Oil on Panel - 3.5 hours total

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