View Full Version : Small Horse Portrait WIP & Demo - FINISHED

07-24-2006, 10:18 AM
Hi, folks! I've been talking about all the commissions I've gotten from my last show but I haven't shown any to you yet. Well, here's one that I've actually taken photos of along the way. I hope to finish it today. Depending on my level of distraction, level of toddlerness my children achieve, and whether or not I run out of pumpkin orange. I'm going to be very detailed in my description of my process, so if you're easily bored like I am, you can just skip through and look at the pictures. :D

This guy is named "Custom" and is a Quarter Horse I met at the last show I went to. I was taking all my own photos at that show, which I prefer oh so much to using a client's photos, because not only does it mean you saw the subject in person, but I can get them to position the horse in a good lighting situation. In this case, I wanted to have him with one side of his face well lit and the other in shadow (a la Rembrandt) because a dynamic lighting situation almost always looks better.

Anyway, so this guy was one of those big lumbering horses that's very calm but not very . . . flashy. I mean, he obviously has a very nice looking head, but unlike the horse I photographed right before him, he was not at all willing to give me a good money shot. I always take a bunch of photos, so this was the best of about five. It's a good basic shot, but it needs to have some alterations. For instance, I wanted to be sure to prick his ears towards the viewer. Not a whole lot, because it would've been out of his character to have them very attentive, but enough that he looks pretty. Second of all, my camera has distorted things a bit -- given everything a sort of fish-eye look, which all cameras tend to do unless you stand back a good ways and zoom in. Anyway, I'm going to correct that by reducing the muzzle size in my drawing and not showing that much of the body in my version. In real life, there's no way his head would look that big and his body that small. Be mindful of camera distorion. It's evil! Evil! :evil:

Okay, with that in mind, I'm ready to get started. This is just a little one -- 5 x 7" -- that I like to call my "teaser" size. No one is really happy with just a little portrait like that, but a lot of people are afraid to pay big bucks for a larger one without seeing if you can hack it. If I do it well, I can usually count on a bigger commission down the road.

This photo has it's

07-24-2006, 10:24 AM
Okay. I start with the hardest part first, the eye and the general shape of the head. I want to get that over with while I'm still enthused and eager with the portrait. So in this extraordinarily awful photo, you can see I've begun. This is a 5 x 7" piece of Bristol smooth, and I'm using Prismacolors. So far, I've used:

1. Black, to outline the eye and for the pupil
2. French Gray 70% for the grey parts below the eye
3. Sienna Brown for some brown mid tones
4. Orange, for the brightest highlights
5. Marine Green, to underpaint the orange
6. Chocolate, for dark tones
7. Dark Umber, for dark tones
8. Periwinkle, for above the eye and a bit below
9. Apple Green, for anyplace I want to tone down the orange a bit.

It sounds like a lot of colors, but this where I'll use the greatest range. The eye is my focal point -- I want the viewer to be drawn there first.

07-24-2006, 10:28 AM
Okay, this is a slightly better photo. You'll notice that I work out from the eye. I tend to get a truer likeness that way. I used to outline the entire head and then fill in, but for some reason, it seemed harder. Now I just modify the light outline as I work outwards.

The only additional colors I've added into this mix are peach, for the lighter hair towards the horse's left, and Crimson Red, for the midtonish shadows. The darkest parts are all black and chocolate. I'm already thinking at this stage that I need to add some blue to the darkest shadows. And I'm wondering where I've put my violet blue, my favorite blue for shadows.

07-24-2006, 10:32 AM
Big leap forward! Mostly because I got engrossed and forgot to photograph it in between. This photo is kinda cruddy -- too contrasty -- but oh well. This looks like a lot of work, but it's not really. Mostly what I've done is work out where I want the neck to go and establish darks behind it. I've removed all of the distractions from inside the stall and just gone with black and peacock blue.

The neck adds a few more colors to the mix -- Black Cherry and Beige Sienna. Beige Sienna is the color you see on the mane, and Black Cherry underpaints everything on the neck itself. Otherwise it's mostly a light layer of black, chocolate, and Sienna Brown or Chocolate with some Marine Green on top. I play around a lot at this stage. I want it to be visually interesting. So I add Peacock Blue into the deepest shadow on the neck (I never did find my violet blue) and a bit more Apple Green around the eye.

07-24-2006, 10:36 AM
And this is the final progress shot for the first day; all of them together probably represent two hours of work. Hard to estimate properly, because I had to get up to make cookie dough and play with small children and other distracting things. Like scratching my head or staring at the wall.

You can see he's starting to look like a real horse now. No new colors were added, but I've added peacock blue around his eye and done more with the peach and beige sienna on the light side of his face. This photo is a bit washed out, but I promise to get a better one for the next progress shot!

I've taken care to make his neck recess into the background. How? Remember everything cool colored has a tendency to get pushed back and warm colors come forward. So I blue everything in the back with peacock blue or black cherry. Sometimes I use purple for this stuff too, but I don't want to add more colors into the mix. I'm already using rather a lot for me.

Okay, I'm hoping to finish this up today. I'll post more later. C & C welcome -- and questions too.

07-24-2006, 10:44 AM
"The eye is my focal point -- I want the viewer to be drawn there first."

Great start for a WIP, hope ya scan a larger pict. of yer start. I work just the opposite. Doing background first so i can see what values, and colors will be reflected on subject. I do the first thing I want ya to see last. Doing background first is kinda like foreplay to the exciting part..:wink2:

Looking fer yer progress.


07-24-2006, 10:59 AM
Wow Maggie - that's what I call an elaborate WIP! :thumbsup:

I don't think I'm likely to paint a horse in the near future (or the not-so-near future for that) but watching your progress is so much fun I might even be tempted!
But then I just like your colorful approach for any subject.
Oh, and thanks for listing the colors!

Waiting for the update,

07-24-2006, 10:59 AM
Maggie, it's looking wonderful!:) Thank you sooo much for showing your progression and the colors that you are using it helps alot.:clap: I'll be watching for an update.

07-24-2006, 12:04 PM
Thanks so much for this WIP, I for one, love to read along and make notes as to colors, etc.


07-24-2006, 02:40 PM
Your horses are truly "horses of a different color" with all the great colors you put in there!!

You already know how much I enjoy your pieces and the way you work with color!

07-24-2006, 02:56 PM
WOW! This is looking great! thanks for putting in so much detail! I can't wait to see more! :clap::clap:

07-24-2006, 03:22 PM
Looking good!

I just got a new 120 color tin of Primsa's and I'm itching to crack them open and try them out.

Love your use of color....

07-24-2006, 05:38 PM
Wow! Thanks, guys. I hope this is useful. I'm not the best horse artist out there but I know it's always useful to read other people's WIPs to see what makes them tick.

Here's a very, very little update, only about 15 minutes. I got distracted with a painting and forgot I had real work to do! Only two new colors here: Spanish Orange to warm things up a bit, and Cool Grey 70% for the muzzle. This photo's a bit distored -- his cheeks are actually a lil' bit wider. But it's pretty close, and the colors are closer than the other ones have been so far.

07-24-2006, 06:52 PM
Just wanted to mention those eye-lashes.... WOW!

It's already coming together beautifully - nice warm colors!

07-24-2006, 07:14 PM
Just wanted to mention those eye-lashes.... WOW!

It's already coming together beautifully - nice warm colors!

I labor endlessly over various nostrils and facial bones and boards and she says wow eyelashes!!!!!???? :eek:

Okay, I'm sort of pleased with them as well. They're mostly orange and a little bit of Spanish Orange (which is really more of a yellow) if anybody's wondering.

07-24-2006, 07:50 PM
AND they are long! Read somewhere something about babies' eyelashes and what a pitty to have them wasted on babies.... hmmm..... do horses really NEED such long eyelashed ??? :angel:

07-24-2006, 07:54 PM
I don't know, my horses were all pretty dumb; running into things was common. If not for eyelashes, maybe they wouldn't have any eyeballs. Perhaps the same theory goes for babies?

I do know that my 1 year old (don't MAKE me pull out baby photos!) is the clumsiest little guy in the world, and he has eyelashes that would put any girl to shame.

07-24-2006, 07:56 PM
q.e.d. :thumbsup:

07-24-2006, 11:00 PM
Rofl, my son has the longest most gorgeous eyelashes and thick curly hair, my daughter has straight as plank hair and not the most noticable eyelashes in the world at all. I guess you can't control where your genes go!

This is awesome Mags :D I love your horses, love the way you've got his neck receding and the modifications you made on the photo :D Shows you why working from photo's requires a bit of extra skill to get the effect you're after. Clever clogs :D

07-25-2006, 01:06 AM
Simply beautiful! :clap:

07-26-2006, 10:50 AM
Last night, I started blocking in the color on the shoulder. Horse shoulders in portraits are funny things and they can easily trip you up. Why? Well, two main reasons.

1) Too much detail -- takes attention from the face and puts an unrealistically high amount of detail over the entire portrait. Remember that in real life, your eyes focus on a small area and everything around that gets less and less in focus. If you try it now, looking at something on your desk, or even at the computer screen, you can see just how little of that is in focus. That's why we like photographs with a sharp subject and blurry background -- they're very lifelike.
2) Too little detail -- I tend to err on this side. I'm getting seriously bored by this point, and also, it's a bit block of flesh to deal with. I tend to over-simplify. I have to consciously remind myself to hint at the muscles beneath the skin.

So at this point I'm putting down a base coat of Light Umber (a great color, by the way -- very useful!). You'll notice that my layer is not at all perfect. I have a fairly sharp point but not nearly as pointy-hurt-yourself-sharp as when I was working on the face. Also, I'm probably going to burnish this part of the neck, and that means I can be a bit looser and faster with my base layers.

07-26-2006, 10:53 AM
Through the miracle of modern science, I am able to instantly post my next step, though this is actually about 10 minutes later. The lightest parts on the neck (that were previously layered with Light Umber) now get a light layer of Marine Green, and I put a layer of Black Cherry -- or maybe it was Black Grape -- all around them for the darker areas. The whole while I am thinking about values and making sure that I go dark enough. I definitely don't want this part of the neck to be too light -- it would pull attention away from the face in a heartbeat. I'd rather it went dramatically dark to recede back into the stall.

07-26-2006, 11:05 AM
And the final. Finally! By this point I'm pretty sick of color correcting bad photos in Photoshop! But I've finished the shoulder by adding quite a bit of Marine Green and Chocolate and burnishing Orange on the light parts, and Dark Umber, Marine Green, and Sienna Brown on the dark parts.

I also darkened up the left side (his right) of his face quite a bit and reduced the contrast on the light parts there. It was looking kind of unrealistically shiny.

Other random points:

I choose my colors loosely based on the principles of the color wheel and complementary colors. I.e. the complement of red is green, blue is orange, yellow is purple, etc. Anyway, I'm not too up on my color theory, but I do know that if I underpaint my orange with green, it will dull it down and add complexity. I also know that if I let some of this underpainting peek through in places or add it again on top, it will add visual interest and the viewer will accept a green horse quite willingly.

Also, I always keep in mind that warm colors (yellow, orange) come forward and look closer to the viewer and cooler colors (blue, purple) recede. Mostly. There are exceptions, but mostly. So for the farthest away shadows I always add blue. For the closest parts, I add pure bits of orange or yellow to draw the eye.

More on focal point - - the eye is drawn to the area of highest contrast. I pay really close attention to my highlights and shadows and try and make sure that my focal point looks really in focus and really has some good contrasts. This guy was perfect because of his blaze, but I would've had to work harder if he hadn't had it.

More on color selection -- I try and stick a handful of colors, tops 20 or so, and I try and use them all over the drawing. For instance, there's orange in the background of this one, and blue in the foreground. I spread them around to make the piece have unity.

And lastly, keep those pencils very sharp on Bristol Smooth or Stonehenge.

Hope this has been helpful!

07-26-2006, 11:13 AM
Oh, and because that's a terrible photo zoomed in, here it is in context. Not at all that sort of grainy.

07-27-2006, 01:41 AM
Great demonstration Maggie, you already know how much I admire your use of colours I would not even think about.


07-27-2006, 08:34 AM
Haha! Thanks, Gayle.

07-28-2006, 01:52 AM
Thank you for the demonstration Maggie!:) I'm saving it to my favorites.

frieda L
07-28-2006, 10:22 AM
:clap: :clap: :clap: You will certainly have to do that one over in a larger size, it looks better than the picture.
thank you so much for sharing and for letting us watch over your shoulder,
I thoroughly enjoyed it.

07-28-2006, 11:36 AM
Outstanding Maggie! I'm going to put your notes to the test on larger piece this weekend because OMG it has a horse!!!

Hapless (hopeless?) when it comes to Horses,:o


07-28-2006, 12:28 PM
Thanks, guys! I'm itching to do a larger one now -- why does everyone want these little commissions? Doesn't anyone have lots of wall space any more?

07-28-2006, 02:20 PM
wow maggi this is a wonderful demo!!!:clap: Love all the warm tones , and all these details in such a small space.... beautiful!

And I dunno why anyone's hasn't rated this thread so far!!!:eek: This has to get in the HOF guys comn!!! rating it right away:D

07-28-2006, 03:26 PM
Thanks Paapu! Is there a blushing smiley?

07-29-2006, 02:58 PM
Enjoyed your demo very much. :thumbsup:

Kind regards,

07-29-2006, 03:51 PM
You've done an excellent job with the vascularity of his facial area!! Outstanding!

07-29-2006, 04:11 PM
Looks great Maggie.:wave: Wanda

07-29-2006, 09:31 PM
You've done an excellent job with the vascularity of his facial area!! Outstanding!

I had to stare at vascularity for a long time before I realized that you were praising me on the fiddly bits. Well, gee, thanks. It took me a long time to realize that horses had veins too. Funny!

07-30-2006, 01:57 PM
Rephrase: You've done an excellent job on the fiddly bits!!

07-30-2006, 01:59 PM
Now we're talking . . .

07-31-2006, 08:43 AM
Just a reminder folks, if you find this thread really helpful (know I will if I ever attempt a horse) to rate it!

Excellent demo, Maggie! Thanks for doing it!


07-31-2006, 08:57 AM
Thanks, Tess, on both counts. ;)

07-31-2006, 10:16 AM
Facial vascularity? When did this forum go uptown English???? Too funny. Neat job Maggie. Great comment, Chisaii.

Rosa Weitzel
07-31-2006, 10:47 AM
I've never been around horse's, but with your WIP I think I would be willing to try one. Great as ever, all of it fiddley bits and all.


07-31-2006, 11:05 AM
Very informative demo...a lot of talent here :clap: