View Full Version : Study: Dog & Handler -- Feedback, Please

09-20-2013, 10:01 PM
Hi all. This painting is 17 x 11, watercolor (with some gouache to regain a few highlights on the dog), on 300 lb Fabriano Artistico Soft Press.

It is a study that I did to work out questions I had about how to paint such starkly lit denim, value relationships, and whether the composition "works". The composition is a composite of two photos I took at a sheep herding class. I learned a LOT from doing the study but I would like more feedback from you guys. My main questions are:

-- Does the dog's face read as the focal point?
-- Should I tone down the blues of the jeans a little and warm up the dog in the final painting? I fear that -- as luscious as they are -- the blues in the jeans as painted in the study are overwhelmingly bright. It is possible that when I do a better job next time of preserving the highlights on the dog, the jeans may also read as "too busy".
-- Does the composition work for you? If not, what bugs you about it?
-- What story do you see in the painting?

Thanks so much in advance for you most valued feedback, comments and constructive critiques! Keep in mind this is a study and as such it was painted rather quickly (four hours or so) and is not as fully developed as one might expect a finished painting to be.


09-20-2013, 11:45 PM
Hi -- I so much admire your work and always look forward to your posts. Regarding the feedback you asked for,

I think the composition is fine and interesting.
Re: the jeans- I agree with your thinking of toning them down in the final painting, especially near the cuffs where the brighter parts come off more like a turquois than denim, at least on my monitor.

The only thing that's a bit confusing is it looks like a knee above the dog's head on the left of the painting, but on the left side (above dog's left (painting's right) ear, I can also see what might be an arm with hand in a pocket.

Two scenarios came to mind for story in the painting. (1) They're at the county fair and the person is just nonchalantly looking around while the dog isn't sure what to make of all the other animals in the vicinity. (2) They're at home, walking down a hill around their property and a stranger has driven up to the house OR a deer or feral hog has his attention. He definitely has that look my dog gets when he's in the process of determining if what he sees, hears, and/or smells is friend or foe--something to go after or bark at or something to not be concerned about.

You get the best expressions on your dog paintings.


M.L. Schaefer
09-21-2013, 02:39 AM
First, the dog's face is beautiful (as they always are when painted by you) and that is the first thing one sees!

You do have some compositional issues. First, who does the dog belong to?...I kept trying to relate the person to the dog with no avail.

Now, the biggies: The dog looks like it is turning its head, which works well with the inquisitive/alert look, but it's body, the shoulder and leg do not relate well with that....just some kind of anatomy problem.

Now the person...most important, the body has lost its center of gravity, so to speak, where the shoes are does not relate to where the rest of the body is (nit picking, one shoe looks gigantic). But mostly, if one were to walk like that, one would be picking gravel out of one's teeth.

I read the bulge over the dog as the belly of a large man, which, of course could not be. I also read what could have been a hand in the pocket, but that is not defined. So, much figure work needs to be done...mostly develop the stance, the anatomy of the man, and the anatomy of the dog.

These studies (I call mine practice) are invaluable...and it is no wonder that the work you do is always so beautiful. It does take work and thought.

I don't remember what size the painting is, but the dog's face (to me) should be cropped and saved...it is so absolutely lovely.

I didn't look at shadow placement, how the light hits, etc., even though they are two photographs that are melded....the most thought needs to be placed in the figure work.

:heart: Margarete

09-21-2013, 05:18 AM
I love your painting. The composition is wonderful. Beautifully painted.
My eye wants to go to the dog's face, the focal point, but has trouble. The pant leg that is paper center is way too light and draws attention away from the dog's face. I would tone the pant leg down a little even though the shadows are wonderfully painted. I don't think you will loose ithe shadow if the entire pant leg has a wash over it.
I'm looking at the light. Judging by the man's pants, it's obviously coming from the right. I think parts of the dog's face should also be bathed in "light" also.
I would remove the salmon color at the pant's knee.

So much easier to make suggestions on someone painting than your own.

09-21-2013, 05:41 AM
beautiful!... the intense, sad look on the dog as he notices something his handler doesn't...the hint of cage in the background adds to the disturbing sense of drama

09-21-2013, 06:24 AM
I love your painting. The composition is wonderful. Beautifully painted.
My eye wants to go to the dog's face, the focal point, but has trouble. The pant leg that is paper center is way too light and draws attention away from the dog's face. I would tone the pant leg down a little even though the shadows are wonderfully painted. I don't think you will lose the shadow if the entire pant leg has a wash over it.
I'm looking at the light. Judging by the man's pants, it's obviously coming from the right. I think parts of the dog's face should also be bathed in "light" also.
I would remove the salmon color at the pant's knee.

So much easier to make suggestions on someone painting than your own.

Jan has said exactly what I was thinking so I'll quote her suggestions rather than type them all again.

Not sure what blue you used for the jeans, have you tried Indanthrone/Indanthrene Blue? It is the closest blue to denim I have on my palette.


09-21-2013, 08:59 AM
Thank you all SO much for all the great feedback! Much to digest and think about before I respond. But I did want to share the two reference photos now that you've responded to the painting. I took them both at a herding dog class. The man in the jeans is an instructor and his dog is a phenomenal working dog and athlete.

As you can see in my photo ref of the man, he is opening a gate and about to walk through, hence the pause in his stride (without falling down! *teases Margarete*). I think I did a poor job of painting the jeans so they "read right" at the top, above the dog's head. And in trying to make them look dirty with the Virginia clay (from dogs' paws and getting strafed by sheep), I went to far. I also note that the photo looks more toned down than my printout for some reason. I did the usual bad thing by painting too closely to the photo instead of thinking about what I as the artist wanted to accomplish and painting THAT. Yet another reason that studies like these are so useful!

The ref photo of the dog is from the wrong angle compared to the man, so the comments about the anatomy being wrong are spot on...I didn't correct enough so that man and dog are viewed from same angle. That is easily enough done ... I have some other photos of that dog I can consult to help me with that.



Your ongoing comments are much appreciated...the feedback will help me do a better job when I paint this "for real". I should also note that I got some super photos of sheep at this outing which will soon find their way into paintings. I'm going to add a couple of them to the WC Ref Library.

09-21-2013, 09:57 AM
No idea where my 1am post went.

Anyway, well done on the dog!

I want him to be my coi, but kept being overly distracted by the jeans. They are close to be shaded correctly, but still just a tad off. I do not think they are too bright, just need shaping. Then I couldn't figure out what else it was, once I forced myself to ignore the jeans. The horizon line is off. Now, the next morning, seeing your ref photo, I see your man is standing on a hill, which comes across easily on the larger frame ref photo, but is off in the photo and comes across as a crooked painting.

As for the story, as the owner of a herding beastie, I totally know that story. The owner is off one way, or stopping for a chat, and the dog is rechecking the behavior of the stock; sheep, cattle, horses, ducks, squirrels, aliens....... but hanging back awaiting command. He'll stand there humming and shaking, but not daring to act until he's given the whistle or the 'walk on'.

09-21-2013, 10:21 AM
Carole, your study is an excellent one and you've received lots of excellent advice, echoing my own thoughts.

I do want to add one final comment though. The best advice I received about my realistic style, was to provide the viewer with what he *expects* to see. This flies in the face of artistic licence, I know.

I had selected some incredibly oddly shaped pears (VERY artistic) and included one in a still life along with a banana and an apple. Everyone asked me what the odd piece of fruit was... or assumed it was a misshapen apple. If I have to explain the elements in my painting, then it's a failure.

So... the jeans... your viewers generally won't know the back story to the dirty jeans. And they won't care. And you won't always be there to explain. They'll wonder why the colour isn't what they'd *expect* to see with a pair of jeans. Since they are in the background, keep them there. Less definition... *jean* colour...

M.L. Schaefer
09-21-2013, 02:54 PM
Carole, now that I see your reference, it all it makes more sense.

Jan, I try to make gentle critiques, as does everyone that has answered this Thread. And everyone that has answered has given helpful ideas, with Carole being able to take from them or not.

I believe (and I know from my own experience) that the persons critiquing are absolutely "rougher" on their own work than anyone else could ever be. But I believe that any artist welcomes a helpful critique...can you imagine painting something that has a glaring fault in it (I'm not talking about Carole's) and that artist continuing on painting in the same way, doing the same thing, making the same mistake, and then later being made aware of it, possibly by someone unkind? It would be awful, like "spinach in the teeth" at a fancy dinner, and no one telling you! Only a thousand times worse.

There are Critique Guidelines on Wet Canvas, and this has become a topic of many Threads in the past.....

:heart: Margarete

09-21-2013, 04:13 PM
Well here's my take on it..I think the dogs head is GREAT however the pants(even though the reference photo shows them a light value. I think as has been mentioned distract from the dog. If it were my painting I would really darken and subdue the blue in the jeans with those colors toned down the focal point wont be competing for the viewers attention. I like this a lot if you do nothing to it...just my two cents.

09-21-2013, 04:13 PM
I echo what Margarete said about the true value of constructive critiques. I always welcome them and carefully consider all comments, suggestions, and observations about my work. Whether I choose to incorporate or address some or none of them is down to my prerogative as an artist, but every single comment makes me think more about my work, where I might have gone off the path, and how I can do better. Expressions of appreciation for a piece are welcomed and quite nice for the ego :) but a well-considered constructively critical comment is even nicer for an artist's development.

So, with all your comments in mind, I am going to prep the drawing this afternoon and have another go at this composition! I'll share it here when it's done so you can compare the two...might be a day or two, though.

Thanks so much again, everyone!

09-23-2013, 12:52 AM
I like the expression on the dog. , but a little more light would be good. Short hair dogs would be shiny wouldn't they?

The pants don't seem to read as denim to me. I like all of the folds and the age. Perhaps a little bit more subdued color. I also like how the light pants contrast with the dark dog.

My second thoughts may be fixed in your final drawing. The close crop of the image makes the slope of the ground a little strange. It's hard to tell what is going on. It looks like the angle is off without realizing it is a slope. It make a lot more sense in the photo. Also, having just one leg on the dog puts him a little off balance to me.

These are just my ideas. Good luck with the final painting.

09-25-2013, 02:08 PM
Wonderful study, that dog's face is amazing. I cannot wait to see the final painting. I won't give any advice because you've been given many excellent suggestions already.

09-25-2013, 03:12 PM
Thanks so much for the additional comments! Here's the second attempt in progress, next to the study. The dog's showing more legs now and hopefully his conformation looks more right than in the study. The one hind leg that is in the picture might end up being cropped out when I mat it, but at any rate it's just going to be a hint of a leg back there when I get that part glazed to the darkness I envision...it's not interesting and I want to push it back visually. I took the advice to tone down the blues and not try to make the jeans look dirty nor as dramatically lit. Once again, I'm not happy with how I handled the near upper leg; I will likely lift out a lot of the value on the backside of the pantleg.

I also might have to do a painting of just those jeans alone because I must say that I adore the bright white paper in the study where the sun is hitting the backsides of the guy's legs. However, this painting is about the dog. So, the dog's face will be the most dramatically lit, and will be the only place in the painting where there is pure white (I think; sometimes after you actually do a thing, the barest hint of a glaze is just what's needed!). I'm trying to be more careful on this one, and making myself GO SLOW! That is never easy for me.


09-26-2013, 08:02 AM
The back leg barely visible in the second piece gives it depth of field, and helps create dimension. The top of the leg may be just right, it is a supporting section and won't need to be as vibrant as bits lower down.

You have a nice touch, I'm loving your work and could learn a lot from you!

09-26-2013, 03:46 PM
I really liked the first one, but I can see how adding more of the dog in the second gives a better frame of reference. I agree about the light on the jeans - very cool!


M.L. Schaefer
09-26-2013, 04:05 PM
This looking so much better. One part that bothers me (what, again!?!)...where the knees overlap (?), there is a light line and a pale area where the first knee overlaps the other, which has a darker value. I think correcting that would give a better definition.

I agree with Jan about the dog's legs...a three-legged dog.....some indication of the other leg would help.

P.S. My story of the three-legged neighbor's dog: I went for a ride with my brother, and began to tell him about my neighbor's dog. How he played with the other dogs, ran with them, that it was so amazing what this dog with only one leg could do. I went on and on about this marvelous one-legged dog! Finally, my brother, having heard enough, trying not to break up:

Marg, a one-legged dog????!!! And, whoops, there went my prowess as a story teller!

:heart: M.

09-26-2013, 08:08 PM
This is looking really good this time around. Able to read the folds more easily(not easy to do I find) The dog is great! and I love the composition.

10-02-2013, 08:49 AM
Time has been short, so I've not been able to work on this as much as I wished but did make some progress yesterday. I'll post another update soon as I have time to work on this some more. My next focus will be to finish the dog, then the ground, then final value adjustments to call it done. Then the big decision about how much to crop when I frame it :)