View Full Version : Aunt Wally, commission WIP

12-28-2008, 11:20 PM
Its been a while since I posted on this forum as I just finished 100 paintings in oil of horses on the Equine Challenge Jan 2009 on the Animal and Wildlife channel.

This is a commission for a very dear couple who have given me free rein to do as I like. This is the first pastel in many months so I know I can use some help and support, as the bg is far more complicated than I usually do. Aunt Wally is a dear old soul, still looking very good, personality plus. She is hanging out in the lovely peace garden by the fountain in the center. One thing I'm trying for on this is the pattern of sun and shade, it's unusual to place the cat in the shadow, and the sun behind, but I love the play of warm and cool and will try to bring that out.

I drew first in charchol and then underpainted in acrylic to give me a warm background, this is 16 x20 on grey ampersand pastelbord.
I will simplify the ref, and bring out Aunt Wally with more detail, keeping the rest looser, trying to get the light that is reflected up on her, and the bring sun behind without breaking up the comp too much, that's the plan so far:lol:


What seems reflective in the photo is a paint by Golden called Micaeous Iron Oxide, grainy and reflective glittery bits, some of it will migrate up in the layers of pastel, it is laid down in the deeper shadow areas, the body is underpainted in pinks , the rest in bt sienna and naples yellow and white., On top of the underpainting I've started to draw in the leaves in the fountain, which in summer is heavily planted. Haven't decided if I will do the water streams from above yet. I'm going to work mostly top to bottom for a while, but usually begin working all over eventually..

Thanks for looking and all comments are considered and welcomed.
ref photo

here's a little oil study I did that will show you where I'm trying to go

12-29-2008, 02:39 AM
Have blocked in the background, and some of the fountain. I'm using a mix of pastels hard and soft at random, sorry I don't know what color, except for one rembrant chrome green deep, as it still has paper on it:lol: Tomorrow will get out my Ludwigs for some deep spots. Tried to stay away from the cat but couldn't resist a few touches of caput mortum and some deep indigo nupastel, haven't done much blending yet, only a few places with a sponge tool from panpastel.
I'm self taught in pastel, so I tend to use them like my paints, and pay no attention to soft over hard or other things the trained pastelists do. I've picked up a lot of things here in this forum, bits and pieces, and invented some things to get effects, a lot of them are in wips posted in the past in this forum if you search on my name. I also use many different approaches depending on the subject. So far Aunt Wally is pretty straight forward pastel, but I may do some steaming in later, if I feel it needs it to get the light I'm going for.

12-29-2008, 02:42 AM
Colleen...you are doing marvels IMHO as the reference doesn't seem to be the best. I like the way your pastel is going, and I really like the oil sketch too. Kathy

Donna T
12-29-2008, 09:37 AM
Wow, Colleen, 100 oil paintings of horses? That is really something! This is going to be a beautiful painting of Aunt Wally - I love this composition. The fountain and that one leaf hanging over the bottom make such a nice design. I kind of like the background a little on the unfinished side. It might be a nice contrast to the tightly rendered cat. I'm really looking forward to seeing where you go with this!


12-29-2008, 01:11 PM
Thanks kadon, I often use less than perfect ref now as I find it leaves me more room to create, use my imagination to fill in and fluff up, create colors. This was not possible until I got some mastery of my subjects, to get mastery means a ton of work and observation, but then one has some experience to draw on, an some room to loosen up. A tight photo, always tells me exactly what to do. So I don't mind a so so ref if it has the elements of composition in it and something that sparks my interest, in this one it will be the unusual light and shade.

Donna, you are right where I am aiming for...the only question will be how loose, what's the least I can do and get it to read right., and what technique will give me that since I tend to over work:D the 100 horses were a challenge, I wanted to do so I could get past some of the great difficulty I had in making them look fluid and correct, and I wanted some experience painting in a lot of different approaches, from direct to highly glazed. I got both done at once, I started in Oct, doing one a day for 30 days, then finished the 100 today here is the link, it has a lot of anatomy in it for anyone who may have to do a horse someday, very useful info, there are other equine artists in the thread doing other things too, but not much in pastelhttp://www.wetcanvas.com/forums/showthread.php?t=524621

12-29-2008, 11:36 PM
Today I worked up the background with slightly more edge and detail...the colors are still in flux there. I'm having trouble with the ellispes on the fountain they are mostly above eye level so have the opposite of the usual curve, as we are looking up at them. If you can help, please feel free to show me your idea.

Also starting work on the cat, did the eyes first and then worked out, using a mix of pastel, laying down soft and working back into that with the hard and some pencil. Looking for rich but subtle color.

12-30-2008, 12:03 AM
The eyes are lovely...not sure what you mean about the elipses.

12-30-2008, 12:10 AM
if you cut the fountain column in slices as you move above or below eye level each "slice" would form an oval, they have different curves at each place, this is a beginning still life problem when doing bottles or vases, I cant seem to get just the right curve at the fancy part of the column they are all just a bit off. :(

12-30-2008, 04:36 AM
Colleen I don't know if this link is of any help, but it seems to be all about what you want to know. I must say, I am watching your work with great interest....you are so keen to get the drawing right....I would never have thought of the elipses....I do wish you well. Kathy


12-30-2008, 07:24 AM
a good tip is to find a better photograph of a similar fountain, seen from below. Doesn't have to be the same...just gives you some idea of construction and view:



What is even more important is to get the base of the fountain right; run a line down the centre, each side must mirror the other. If you cannot do it by eye, use tracing paper, trace half, turn over the paper, put it over the other half and see what you need to correct. You had it right in the early drawing but something has gone awry later on, it looks fat on the left with nothing matching on the right.

Also, guessing at what is in the shadow is a problem. Here is your pic with some of the details revealed foryou, clever Photoshop!


if you want a good sense of sunlight and shade, however, do make sure that you check your tones. The little oil study has too many tones which are too close together to get a sense of light and shade.

Have fun!

12-30-2008, 01:37 PM
Thanks kadon, I went there and have it bookmarked, I did the slinky exercise with the idea of looking up and it really helped me envision the thing.

Jackie, thank you so much I looked at the painting and tried to figure out how you did it, imagining the ellipses, it was hard! My hat's off to you for that work.
Thanks for the photoshop too, the study was mainly about composition, like a thumbnail...but I do have trouble with values, which is one reason I'm trying this sun shade thing. To help I put in the darkest darks first and then the lightest light, to help me as I go along hopefully it will keep me from getting everything too close. I also have my ref in greyscale as a guide, but I cant follow it exactly, the camera overdoes all that, so I'm trying to adjust to what I know and saw in observation....I need to do more painting from life:o

12-30-2008, 03:07 PM
Here is my next step to solve the ellipse problem, I drew and MEASURED every line for the edges, then scribbled a "slinky" ( from the drawing exercise)
and then drew in new forms....this really helped. I'm afraid my eye is not reliable as I always draw one side too thin on a symmetrical object, and always have to measure horizon lines as they are always dipping on one side.

Also on this painting I'm partially making up the support to create a composition that will work with the other forms and not detract from the cat. I'm starting to lower chroma to create the shadows there.

Donna T
12-30-2008, 03:29 PM
Nice work on the fountain. That is a difficult view isn't it? If the base is a little asymmetrical you could always add in a few leaves to cover it.


12-30-2008, 05:31 PM
This is really coming along nicely.


12-30-2008, 07:44 PM
Nice work on the fountain. That is a difficult view isn't it? If the base is a little asymmetrical you could always add in a few leaves to cover it.


Oh Donna....I really love this!:D

12-31-2008, 01:00 AM
Donna, yes it is, I've never done one before
Binky, thanks for cheering me on
kadon....if Donna was doing this she wouldn't be having so much trouble:lol:

Today's work, with the fountain corrected drawing, still have to do the light and shade on it. Beginning to work on the middle section now, the cat has not come alive yet, trying not to overwork her:p I keep adding a few touches to the greenery, it's still raw tho. I'm starting to lower some chroma, but keeping it brighter than I intend to finish.

12-31-2008, 02:41 AM
OOOOOOOOH! This is really looking great Colleen. The cat's face looks fantastic...and the background is lookin' good.

12-31-2008, 03:13 AM
thanks for the cheering comment, I feel like I'm barely hanging on to this one, and I don't have a good likeness yet either:(

12-31-2008, 04:02 AM
Dear me...don't give up:thumbsup:

Donna T
12-31-2008, 09:00 AM
You're doing a great job on this, Colleen! I think you have a good likeness going. I don't do pet portraits but I really think this looks like the cat in your ref. Is there any particular area that you're struggling with? Hopefully the portrait people will be along to help you out. I like how you did the background - it's there but you haven't over-detailed it (like I would have) so it doesn't detract from the cat.


Deborah Secor
12-31-2008, 12:35 PM
Colleen, it's a beautiful painting and you're right on track with it. Commissions mess with the head a lot. We get to questioning everything we see in the painting as if the photo is the ultimate authority--and of course it's not! You are--you're the artist.

You've set yourself a problem, one that is solvable but challenging. Putting the light behind the subject and not on it always makes it hard to focus on the subject. You have to do a little dance: the light behind must be correct but not too interesting! You have to play down the colors, edges and details there, and hype the shadowed subject, if not with detail then using contrast and COLOR of the correct values. I think in this you're on target, just be sure the light areas get played down a bit. Your habit of adding darks as you go (which is opposite to my way of working, though nothing 'wrong' with it) also increases the fight because you haven't yet developed the darks in the cat and its shadow. Don't struggle too much. Do just what you're doing: plan and move towards the result you want.

I think there's more likeness to the cat than you think. If anything, the far ear may be just a tiny, tiny bit narrow and short... but I'm not certain of that. I suspect the couple that love this cat will adore the painting!

It really is looking good. Keep going and don't let this middle stage rattle you. :wink2:


12-31-2008, 01:09 PM
Donna, and kadon Thank you so much for the comments it is so great to have other eyes see at this stage which I always seem to arrive at in every work. In this one especially where I'm stretching way beyond my reach with the lighting issues.

Deborah thank you this is very helpful. About the likeness, although it looks like the ref, I have observed this cat over several sessions, and the real likeness of her personality is not quite there, how this happens is really a mystery, I usually just keep at it and some tiny mark of 1/16th inch here or there and suddenly it's right. Conscious work gets me most of the way there, then the rest is really some grace I can't explain, so I hand the credit to something within me that just knows. It is certainly something beyond just copying a photo. It has to "feel" like her to me, a way to honor who she is, not just what she looks like.

About the color issue, I may be in real trouble here as she is very muted in color a blue cream tortie, like colored fog:lol: and now I won't have contrast either as she is in shadow..I will have a dance to do...I'm thankful for any help. I always tend to lose my lights, so that's why I put it in strong first, even underpainting those areas lighter, then I've been using darker tones carefully, lightly glazing, and then lifting off, so far I'm happy with this technique which I've just "invented" for this work.( I'm sure I'm not the first to find it)

12-31-2008, 06:16 PM
Colleen, it's a beautiful painting and you're right on track with it.......Don't struggle too much. Do just what you're doing: plan and move towards the result you want.

I think there's more likeness to the cat than you think.......I suspect the couple that love this cat will adore the painting!

It really is looking good. Keep going and don't let this middle stage rattle you. :wink2:


I've highlighted certain sections of Deborah's post to reinforce the fact that it is a lovely painting....I do not own the cat, but I would love to have this painting when it is finished....let alone the owners.

And remember that the owners are not seeing all the 'faults' that you see and which, because of your admirable artistic integrity could be in danger of depriving them (and us) of a tremendous joy.

Dear girl, somewhere along the line you are going to have to settle for SOMETHING ... you will never be satisfied and that is to your credit.

01-01-2009, 04:45 AM
I think this is looking really lovely, but I sense that there is a lack of confidence from you about how this pic is coming along, and all the dancing you have to do, so I have taken the liberty of adding a few suggestions, and I have done some adjustments in Photodraw to make the points clearer.

I think you are doing a grand job with what is, in fact, an EXCEPTIONALLY difficult reference source. You want the attention to be on the cat, yet your photo offers you little to help with this except for a big dark shape and of course the viewer's eye will always go to areas of detail and most contrast, which at the moment, are all in the foliage! The foliage is fighting for attention with the cat right now, as the darn photo imposes its will on you.

Here are some suggestions.

1. The cats face in the photo is in fact dark against the light foliage behind, but this is not helpful, if you make the cats face as dark as it is in the pic, and the foliage as bright as it is in the photo, we will just find ourselves studying the foliage behind. !!! Not what you want, I dont think! You have made light curving foliage leaves between the cat's face and the fountain; imho these are very distracting. So here is my suggestion: I have left the cat's face a tad lighter, and DARKENED THE FOLIAGE BESIDE IT. Now the foliage to the left of the fountain settles back, and the cat is more "visible". then I used a bit of artistic "counterchange", since I also made the spine of the cat dark against the light behind - the opposite of what is happening with the head. Counterchange is a useful addition to an artist's arsenal of tools; dark against light in one area contrasting with light against dark in another.

2. Deborah is right about simplifying the light-struck areas, it will help to focus attention on the cat. The fountain edge to the left of the cat must have a light top edge to make sense of the light on it - yours is a darkish orange; the curve of the wall to the right of the cat needs more shadow below the curve to describe the curve; finally I softened and lightened the dark line under the base of the fountain wall where it meets the ground, so it doesn't jump forward so much.

3. I made the fountain base a darker tone, to make it settle back subtly.

4. There is light on the ground to the left; albeit subtle cast light into the shadow, but it is there, because we can see shadows on the ground behind the cat's front paws. So I have emphasised this light, knitting it together with the light behind the cat. This light means I could bring emphasis to the legs of the cat and side of the head. You can emphasise those shadows behind the front paws better than I can with digital manipulation.

5. In general, I have tried to give a sense of light falling from the left onto the cat's face and chest. It helps to describe the form as well as the light.

I hope these small touches are helpful, you might like to incorporate them...or not...it is of course absolutely up to you!


01-01-2009, 08:29 AM
looking again an hour or so later, and I felt that the light on cat's head was still fighting with the foliage, but this time I was attracted to the foliage to the left of the head, so I have quietened that down too with darker tone and less contrast. At the same time (!!!) I also placed more lights on the "lit" facets of the cat, and inside the ear where it might pick up light on the right. You have to think in 3D to do this, working out where the light might hit the sculptural forms/planes of the cat. Imagine the cat carved out of a block of stone, then you begin to get a sense of the different planes; front planes, side planes, etc.

Obviously you could work more colour into the cat's body - my simplification is just to get the tone right, but it is arguably oversimplified into one bland colour. You can use as many colours as you want, and whatever colours you want, so long as you keep tone and temperature even.



ps the advantage of dark foliage either side of the cat's head means that you can include some light whiskers! Usually torties have both light and dark whiskers.

01-01-2009, 10:40 AM

I just love this stage. Right now, the level of detail in the cat's face really draws the eye. I like the unfinished-ness of the rest of it in contrast to the cat's face. You could just soften and blur the lines in the fountain base and the grasses and be just about done!

I am enjoying watching this develop and reading the advice you're receiving. It's very interesting to watch such a challenging ref come to life. Your work is gorgoeus, and however you finish, I am looking forward to it!!

01-01-2009, 02:50 PM
Jackie, thank you so, for your deep critique and suggestions on this, I had planned some of the changes you suggest, but some are pinpointing issues I had a bad feeling for, but no way to solve them. Especially in the foilage by the head, which was not working, but I was stuck on the plan of having it light so I could have the cats head dark. I like your changes there very much

Kadon, how true! really every work I "finish" is really just settling for "something" it is never right completely, I think my job is just to get it as right as I can for that one:lol: I've been working on the sun and shade thing for two years now, each one is a bit better than the last, I think the major thing holding me back on it is not enough painting from life. Our sight adapts to value relative to what we look at. So when we see shade, we see far more than a camera, and can pick up more color and nuance of light reflected into the shadows. Only painting from life will let me practice that, but I did spend time trying to see this scene and made mental notes when I was there. As a the great equine artist Munnings said, "one stroke on site is better than a cartload of memories"

Orchidaeca, thanks for your encourgement, I have a lot of work to do, and a lot of values to adjust yet

Thanks all, I'll work on the next stage today.

01-01-2009, 03:51 PM
I've been working on the sun and shade thing for two years now, each one is a bit better than the last, I think the major thing holding me back on it is not enough painting from life. Our sight adapts to value relative to what we look at. So when we see shade, we see far more than a camera, and can pick up more color and nuance of light reflected into the shadows. Only painting from life will let me practice that, but I did spend time trying to see this scene and made mental notes when I was there. As a the great equine artist Munnings said, "one stroke on site is better than a cartload of memories"

this might sound simplistic, but it really works. SQUINT, SQUINT AND SQUINT AGAIN. This helps to simplify values, and if you do it ALL THE TIME you will crack the sun and shade thing. And yes, you are right about working from life; apart from the fact that our eyes pick up much more than we might imagine, if we work all the time from photos, we are fooled by the tones within the image and never really learn how to tackle the tones properly.

I am glad to have been of some help, and I am absolutely sure you will sort this out and your puss's owners will be thrilled to bits.


01-01-2009, 06:32 PM
Jackie, I think I'll print in big type SQUINT, SQUINT SQUINT! and post it on my easel:lol:

I worked a little more light and form into the fountain, changed the plants by the cat's head,( still not set there) started poking around trying out color and values for forground, and put a more detailed value map on the cat. One tiny change of 1/8th inch in the line of the whisker break, finally got a more softened look for expression, this is very close now, only a few final tweaks at the end for whiskers and tiny highlights. The little white specks are just the micaceous paint I used they do not look that way in RL and as I finish will be nearly gone...just a tiny subliminal light will show off them.

01-02-2009, 03:44 AM
hours more( not counting anymore):lol: working on the stone floor,and the cat's coat, which changes with how she sits, and in changing light, posting a couple more refs including one I found that I should have done instead of the one I chose, since the head shows more, and hence more expression, not starting over tho:lol: I think the chroma of the leaves is too high, and there is a rather unlovely shape of leaf right by her head.( open to suggestion here) but leaving adjusting till I get the cat and forground in...

Don't I just wish I was one of the wonderful artists on WC who just start in one corner and work down to the bottom and it's all finished. How do they do that?:eek: I'm constantly changing my mind about values, as they all influence each other, and making changes in placement, turning a bit more here and there...Oh well we each find our own way,

I'm currently at the place I get in every pastel where I long for my paints so I can mix just the right color, cause I don't have a pastel that matches what I need.:D

the last attachment is the current wip, the other is the one I shoulda done:crying: :

tomorrow I'll go back in and use some of Jackie's great suggestions, now that I have the whole thing laid in. I squinted more today that was good, I lost some of the drawing on the cat and will have to correct it , nothing stays still! came across a definition of passion today from the Latin patoir, meaning to suffer or endure...I have huge passion for this work:lol: Thanks again for all the helpful comments that are getting me along to a work that comes somewhere close to what inspired me.

01-02-2009, 06:40 AM
You are doing SO well with this, keep it up, keep it up, bravo.

re artists who work from corner to corner, finishing each tiny bit as they go...this really only works if you are working from photo reference and copying religiously, it rarely works from life with all its attendant changes of light in the landscape, just fyi I NEVER EVER work that way, and have always been encouraged, by really great teachers, to work across the whole "canvas" to the same level at the same time.

If you are unhappy with the tones of the leaves, cover the cat with a piece of paper, then vigorously spray the foliage with fix. It will darken without you having to change anything!


01-02-2009, 11:39 AM
This is coming along beautifully!! Thanks for sharing your struggles, as I am learning from watching.

I also just spent two hours reading the 100 Horses thread, and Wow! I'm so inspired! Not to paint horses, but by your very methodical approach to getting better at a particular subject. I'm very excited--I feel like it helped kick me out of rut. So, thank you!!

Now hurry up and finish this cat, because I really want to see the finished product!

Donna T
01-02-2009, 12:13 PM
Gosh, Colleen, this is going to be a gorgeous painting and the cat's owners are going to love it, no doubt about that! I'm so glad you put the crack in the fountain. For some reason I really like that. :rolleyes: I think the likeness is amazing!


01-02-2009, 12:50 PM
Thanks Donna, the "crack" is actually a vein in the stone, I'll have to tone it down some eventually.

Wow Kim, that was a lot of reading, I'm glad there's enough there to inspire any artist, even if they are not horse nuts.

Jackie, that makes me feel so good. I've tried to work that way because it seems so much more efficient,:lol: but I've never succeeded even when sticking close to a photo ref. and as you mention if you go away from a ref it's completely undoable.

I'm wondering if you'd share something for my next section which is the treatment of edges where the main subject overlaps the forms and space around it. So far I have two main observations that are starting points, ie light against dark and soft verses hard edges. Could you speak to this, with your experience as a fine artist and teacher, it remains a fairly mysterious process to me, and I would be happy to have you use this work if it helps. Everything is in parts and pieces at the moment. How can I make it whole? I know I will be changing values and color temp all over, but my question is more focused on just the edges of my subject against the space around her. This may sound really weird, but I have 2 things going on in my head at these points, creating an illusion of depth, saying "this is in front and that is in back" while my brain is experiencing the 2 dimensions of marks and color on a flat plane. Like a dual feedback system all at once.

Everlasting thanks for all the insights you've shared here. Frequently I can get a picture to work, but it's much better if I know why what I did works or doesn't as the case may be:D

01-02-2009, 01:56 PM
Coming nicely and thanks for bringing us along.

I think you have some excellent advice here. My only two cents are very minor... just make sure the stripes are too marked in value change - unless of course they truly are!!! Only you know! Barb

01-02-2009, 05:28 PM
Thanks Barb,
the current stripes are only place holding for the moment, they will barely be there when I'm done, but I don't want to lose the location as they help make the form stronger. I'm still messing with the stones, until they are done I wont know how to finish the cat, this work is really a lot about values, and all of the interacting to create light, and secondary reflected light... very subtle changes I'm having a time with as I don't have a big enough range of tones in some colors...may have to go shop:lol:

01-02-2009, 08:03 PM
today's work
more on the greens around her head, toning down and changing shapes.
Lots of work on the stone patio, first deciding grout or no grout lines, ( took them out) leaves or acorns? tried on a small panel, no go on this, too busy. But still have to do something to liven it up and make it work with all the busy top half, finally decided I'll do more lively color, and some textures and workout the more complex shadows, meaning getting the shadow cast with in the shade section...MORE values:lol:

Starting to detail the fur, trying to do this without doing every hair, by using patches and the side of the hard pastel. Eventually there will be hairs as she has a whole overcoat of long white guard hair that helps give her the "frosted" look where the light hits. Corrected the drawing again, it keeps creeping out of bounds.

To get the curve of the fountain I finally cut a curve out of paper, I couldn't get it to line up, when I did that only off a tiny corner but that was enough.

I think it's starting to come alive at last

Thanks for looking in. Going to the store to look for one or two pastel colors for the shadows.

Deborah Secor
01-02-2009, 09:51 PM
It is definitely coming alive! Excellent stuff happening here and I'm looking forward to your shadow colors now...


01-02-2009, 10:28 PM
I'm so glad you put the crack in the fountain. For some reason I really like that. :rolleyes: I think the likeness is amazing!Donna

Better than leaf placed in a strategic place eh Donna?:lol: :lol: :lol:

01-02-2009, 10:29 PM
Lovely work Colleen...your perseverance is paying off.

01-03-2009, 01:11 AM
thank you kadon, peserverence is more important than talent:lol:
here they are so far Deborah, I bought a couple of Unisons to help

this is just the first lay in will have to go in and provide more changes, I long to put in some leaves or something, but everytime I do it just is a distraction...and anyway Aunt Wally's mom is very neat and tidy in her garden so I'm imaging she just swept up:D Perhaps the cast shadows in the shade will be enough, I'm getting interested in this kind of light, I'd like to do more, only with oils so I could get just the right colors.


01-03-2009, 08:01 AM
I'm wondering if you'd share something for my next section which is the treatment of edges where the main subject overlaps the forms and space around it. So far I have two main observations that are starting points, ie light against dark and soft verses hard edges. Could you speak to this, with your experience as a fine artist and teacher, it remains a fairly mysterious process to me, and I would be happy to have you use this work if it helps. Everything is in parts and pieces at the moment. How can I make it whole? I know I will be changing values and color temp all over, but my question is more focused on just the edges of my subject against the space around her. This may sound really weird, but I have 2 things going on in my head at these points, creating an illusion of depth, saying "this is in front and that is in back" while my brain is experiencing the 2 dimensions of marks and color on a flat plane. Like a dual feedback system all at once.

It is WONDERFUL that your brain is experiencing the 2D qualities of your image, so few artists can reach that valuable goal, so be very, very pleased with yourself.

I am v short of time, so let me just say that you need to study your image to decide where you want the focus to be. Here, you can afford to leave plenty of "edges", they will help to focus attention.

Elsewhere, yu can afford to soften edges to allow the image to have more visual flow ....and there are two simple(ish) ways to do this,

one is to make sure that the tones are so close that when you squint at the pic it is hard to discern one shape from another;

the other is to physically "lose" the hardness of an edge - you can do this by taking a HARD pastel and gently working across any edge lines so that you knit one shape with another. Try this on another piece of paper, you will see what I mean. There may be other ways; these are the main two ways I use.

Please forgive my brevity. I hope this information helps. I have all ready disucssed the counterchange issue, which I hope made some sense, let me know if you need me to enlarge, or show examples.

Remember the squinting thing. you can not only squint at your subject matter, but also at your image. By squinting at your painting, yu will quickly discover which areas need to be "softened" or pushed back to be less significant.

There is a style of painting which celebrates sharp, crisp shapes...nothing wrong with this either, but then you have to find other ways to direct attention to your focal area.

01-03-2009, 02:27 PM
Thank you Jackie! Your words are so helpful,:clap: and my mind is relived to find out something I was trying to get rid of is actually a good thing, that's twice now your explanations have helped me relax.

Counterchange is a new word for me, but what it means I understand completely, and I'm adopting this word which explains what usually takes me two sentences to emcompass, I've used it a lot to help me in this work.
Knitting the edges with a hard pastel is a new one. I'll try that out

I got up this AM and found, magically, the work is nearly done, I'm not sure I need a whole lot more in the stones, or anywhere else. I like to use each work to focus on one thing, like an exercise. This keeps me interested in more than just capturing a likeness, or making a pretty painting. On this one I've decided to really focus on edges for the finish work. I'll go back through the whole work and look at this aspect and bring it to the highest level I can on that issue. I've put red dots on the places that will get the most work as I see it now. As for the focal point Jackie mentions, it will be the cats face. Since I moved her off the "sweet" spot ( ie the rule of thirds) this is a bit tricker than usual. So I am thinking that the whiskers are going to do most of that, they will be a strong element right there being light over dark and sharp edged.

I did some steam fixing yesterday, as the tooth was filling up, I use steam because it's non toxic. If I use fixative, it takes 2 days before I can bring it in from outside and breathe free:eek:

Still left to do, refine coat pattern, correct drawing in the head, edges:D

Donna T
01-03-2009, 03:03 PM
Every time I see this I am so impressed! This is such a gorgeous piece, Colleen and your hard work is really paying off. Jackie's explanations have helped me too so "thank you Jackie"! Do you always steam fix your pastels? If you have time, we are having a Steam Fixing Experiment in the Soft Pastel Talk section and it would be great to hear your thoughts on the subject. I know you are on a roll with this painting but maybe when you're finished you'll have a minute to check it out and comment.


01-03-2009, 05:30 PM
Colleen, this is such a great learning thread. Thank you for sharing all of your struggles and progress. Your painting is looking great! :clap:

I'm rating this thread. I hope others will too. There is so much great information from Jackie and others, it's really appreciated!


01-03-2009, 06:51 PM
Oh, Terri, good idea! I'll rate it too.

Colleen, this is coming along beautifully--your hard work and careful thought are really paying off. Thanks again for sharing your process so we can all learn from it!

01-03-2009, 09:34 PM
I rated it too. What an awesome WIP! I am learning o much and it is really coming along so beautifully! What a great job you are doing. I'm not sure I would have the patience to do a piece like this. Maybe someday when I get better at pastels. Just wanted to let you know that thi i looking so good and the people who commissioned it will be so happy to have it. :)

01-04-2009, 05:01 PM
Ok homestretch coming up, thank you Donna, Kim, Terri and Sara I don't know what rating is, but I'm glad this is helping people, it sure is revealing to me:thumbsup: Doing things by intuition is great, but understanding where intuition led you is more lasting.

One thing that comes to me, is even if I work "looser" than the tight sharp edge detail folk, my work is just as difficult. Every stroke and edge is considered in how it is working in itself and how it affects the neighborhood around it. Every shape is considered, how is it working in rhythmic relation to the main subject, how is it massing into a larger shape and what is happening to the composition. Right now I'm considering all the leaves, the edges, the temperature of the shadows, and the chroma of the color that will read close or far. In my brain the painting is switching back and forth, one moment the object, the next an abstract shape of color. My early schooling was in abstract art, and that is still with me in how I see a painting, and it's why composition is king to me.

In this one there are several compositional challenges, esp a balance of horizontal and and the vertical of the cat and column, I'm on thin ice, but still skating.:lol:

Now the real tweaking starts, trying not to mess up what's right, and knit together the bits into a whole composition. Remembering why I was inspired to do this, the loveliness of the cat, the day, and mood I want to convey is central to me, because without that the painting will wander hither and yon. So I balance my decisions against that central inspiration, will it help or hinder my concept? This is not a rigid formula, sometimes I abandon one concept because another really insists. But that doesn't happen often, because I really try to start from the thing that inspired me to begin the work.

In the end it really helps a painting to have one central idea the artist has a focus on, then the elements will support that central idea. If you have cows in a field, a barn, a pasture, the road and the sky, and all have about equal attention by size or color value etc, you will be hard pressed to make a strong work of it. If you are Constable( famous English landscape painter) you would take that scene and make the most amazing sky ever, and the other elements would just be there to show how awesome the sky and clouds were that day.

So in this one I'm not quite sure how to get all these elements, the fountain, the cat, the stone, the greenery, to balance, right now they are all close to equal, and that's why the tweaking will have to knit together the pieces.
in the attachment, I've placed the major compositional lines in blue and the supporting rhythmic elements in pink, so you can see how I'm seeing it.

I also want to note for some here who think this is a bit over the top, I am a mature artist, at a stage where I can consider these things, as I have good working technique, and a sound fundamental knowledge of the basic art elements already. If this seems a bit over the top, I don't always do every piece this way, when I do studies I just let it all go and paint, and it's very freeing, then when I come to a major work I have new info. I don't find all this musing and considering a burden, but a pleasure, to see and make art go to higher and higher levels, to be amazed by what shows up, in tiny incremental steps and missteps. (how little it takes to move the work one way or the other.:lol: ) One of the great pleasures of pastel is the quickness of change and possibility in the dust.

If you made it to the bottom of this essay:D : I'm trying out some water falling, very subtle, to give me more verticals...what do you think?


Donna T
01-04-2009, 05:25 PM
You write all the essays you want Colleen and I'll read them - not over the top at all and a great way for me to learn. I always wonder about what steps an artist has to go through in his/her mind. The WIP steps show what happens on the paper but it's just as helpful to know the thoughts behind them. I'm not sure about adding water, partly because it would violate the "keep it simple" rule and partly because of all the technicalities involved in painting water. Would it splash on the leaves? Would the sparkle of the water draw attention away from the cat's eyes? That kind of thing. I know you'll do what's best for the painting. Carry on!


01-04-2009, 10:15 PM
I'm really enjoying your thought process. I'd probably get brain damage from thinking that hard about a painting, LOL, but I enjoy it when someone else does the thinking and takes me along for the ride!

I messed around with this a little, to work out some of my thoughts on the composition. I hope you don't mind. I may be out in left field, so anyone reading this, please feel free to correct me.

I don't think you need the falling water at all. You have enough going on in the background to distract from the cat. I like the strong vertical of the cat's body crossed by the horizontal of her tail, with the supporting horizontals of the fountain base and the supporting vertical of the pedestal (see the blue lines on image #2). I'd keep those verticals right there by the focal point and not spread them out further.

here is how I see the eyepath in this piece:

I feel like most of the strong lines are leading in toward the focal point, but I feel like the pedestal and bowl are leading me out.

Now, if I were photographing this scene and wanting to get a nice shot of the cat with a pretty background, I'd open up the aperture to blur the background slightly. I'd leave the forms recognizable, but keep all the detail for the cat. I've rendered it very crudely in PS (ignore where I cloned out your directional lines):


A painting is different from a photo, and in this piece I don't think the bg needs to be that blurred, just needs the edges softened, especially on that pedestal. I also desaturated the pedestal slightly, to help keep it from leading the eye out. Now it echoes the cat rather than competing (IMHO).

01-04-2009, 10:59 PM
Excellent analysis Kim, and I quite agree, the water is gone, not at all helpful, wanted to test it, but if I need the verticals, I can do it with plants or even color. Also bang on the fountain, I'm currently sending down the values and slightly softening edges which will get me what you suggest. I did start with a very "photo" blurred background little, by little it got more crisp so now I'm redoing edges some and lowering chromas. IMO too much blur resulted in too much separation of fore and background.

The thinking you point to is really what I'd call a dialog between me and the work. That is, I do something, the painting reacts, I take a moment and just look to see what's needed a mark, correction, a wild guess, or some wonderful advice from another artist who has more experience, and I do that, then the work reacts to that. In other words, the thinking come after the action most of the time, did it work or not, sometimes I can't tell, and that's one place WC is so great in doing a WIP. Not all works get the deep thinking of this one, I'm stepping beyond my usual course and letting the painting be my teacher. There have been several missteps, but they teach as much as the right steps. Of course it doesn't take that long or become that static, but it's my best stab in words at what is going on. Its a way of trying to be present with the art, not working on automatic, or by formulaic rules. This gets harder later on when the eye and brain are so used to seeing the work that a fresh view and action gets harder, so there are things to do at that point, reversing the image, or one thing I use is a black glass.
a rectangle about 4x6 of glass painted black on the back side,(you can use black plexi too) held at a 90 degree angle to the forehead, and you look up and see the image, less color, and upside down. This is a very old trick, I heard about, low tech but it gives a fresh view

Donna, so right! as soon as I figured out I'd have to have it land somewhere, I gave it up, bad design decision, but isn't that the beauty of pastel couple of touches and it's all gone:D

Very close to finishing now, probably tomorrow.

01-05-2009, 01:25 AM
Well the end of the road is here, first I want to thank everyone so much for the support which was sorely needed as I blundered along in this new place.

Special thanks to Jackie who's clear and simple words make so much learning possible. I want to thank my clients too who gave me free rein and no pressure. I just sent an email for close to finish viewing, so will wait and see if they want changes...

Everything, except the whiskers, is complete I think, there are many things that don't show in the photo, greens, blues and warm pinks in the fur, some reflected tones of green and warms in the shadows. The whiskers will make the final difference in the expression, but I want to make sure I'm done with the rest before I put them in as they are quite fussy to get right.

Feel free to mention anything that you see

My Best to all

01-05-2009, 02:30 AM
Well done Colleen! And thank you for you generosity. Kathy

01-05-2009, 06:26 AM
Well done indeed!
You have a great deal of ability, and an excellent mind for a painter - your early training in abstract art has proven to be very helpful.

I am so glad you didn't add the water; the painting has lovely curving forms as the MAIN geometric element; too many verticals, or horizontals, to contrast with the curves, would have been a huge interference. It is always best to have ONE MAIN IDEA for the underlying geometry/design - ie, verticals OR horizontals OR diagonals OR curves, with these alternative elements there for variety and contrast, NOT to be a conflicting source of visual energy.

I do hope that your finished pic is not quite as dark as it appears on my screen, you need the strong contrasts of light and dark to get a real sense of sunlight; if the whole thing "goes down" too much in tone, the sunlight gets lost. However, I am on an old computer away from home, it could be my screen making it all a bit dark.

I have no doubt your clients will be thrilled to bits.


01-05-2009, 08:58 AM
Lovely job!! I'm especially enjoying the little touches of color in the cat's coat.

01-05-2009, 02:16 PM
thank you Kathy, Kim and Jackie....

when I post for some reason if it's right on my computer, it come out way too light on WC....so I could have overcompensated .....when I get the whiskers on I'll try again, I've also altered the greenery again to get a little smoother flow by the cat..

Big hugs to you Jackie, you are an amazing teacher:heart:

Donna T
01-05-2009, 03:05 PM
This turned out beautifully, Colleen, but we all knew it would! Thanks so much for letting us see how it progressed. I would love to have this on my wall and I imagine Aunt Wally's owners are going to cherish it.


Adriana Meiss
01-05-2009, 06:23 PM
Although I have not commented before, I've been checking your progress. It's really nice of you to show us the steps and your thinking process. Your painting is lovely!

Sorry to mention this now, but I was not aware of it before: check the ellipsis at the base of the fountain. I used my flexible ruler and it seemed to be a tiny bit higher on the right hand side of the kitty.

01-05-2009, 07:08 PM
Thank you Donna, for sticking it out with me:thumbsup:
Adriana, if you had to get a flex ruler to check then maybe it's ok:lol: I am still considering it but the reason I made it "off" has to do with how strong that horizontal is visually in that area. I could not lower values any more than I did or the light would not read, by slightly changing the curve, it softened the area. I am still considering the shadows over there, I think this is something of poetic license but I'll look some more.

I got a lovely note of acceptance from my client, who said I got her likeness just perfect as she often sits there(her favorite spot) and contemplates other Realities:lol: and she loved the pose which reminded her of the Egyptian Mau cats. Tho Aunt Wally is up there in years, she is as slim as a young girl.

I am also still looking at the upper curve of the back and the dark shape in the foliage behind, it will be reworked, and still working a little , the light and dark pattern of the coat, over the next day or so.

This will be the last post however, the whiskers are done, and a couple of close ups...back to my oils after this for a bit
It was really fun to visit here and reconnect,

Final did my best with the color, it's a tiny bit less contrasty in RL

close ups ( all a bit on the blue side)



01-05-2009, 10:09 PM
WOW Colleen,

I have been lurking in this thread all the way to the end. I love your thought processes, and have learned a great deal, ESPECIALLY FROM THE SPINOUT THREAD STARTED BY DONNA OVER IN PASTEL TALK. ABOUT THE STEAM FIXING EXPERIMENT. As this is a WIP probably to be saved in infamy, for future reference I better add the url.

I was holding my breath, and waiting to comment. In your very first post you mentioned you wanted ...

"One thing I'm trying for on this is the pattern of sun and shade, it's unusual to place the cat in the shadow, and the sun behind, but I love the play of warm and cool and will try to bring that out."

I thought towards the end you were straying from this, then Jackie popped in and offered some great C&C. I am happy to say....Yes, the cat looks in shadow, with the sun streaming behind. It could possibly be a bit sunnier for more contrast behind the cat, but you have it nailed.:thumbsup:

Sign it and let your friends enjoy it to the nth degree!

Thanks so much for this very entertaining thread!

01-05-2009, 11:10 PM
thanks Carol, you should try this yourself and see if that "bit sunnier" would work, there is a very careful balance needed so the foreground and background don't separate:) I can justify it as well as here in Northern Calif where I live, the sun is not always so bright, the air is full of moisture, and the sky often overcast, the light hazy. Very different that where you live in the high desert, where the sun is very intense....Had I had a different color of cat, say an orange tabby, I might have been able to do that tho.

01-06-2009, 12:23 AM
Fantastic Colleen! Absolutely beautiful! Kathy

01-06-2009, 01:37 AM
Thanks Kathy,

Now that I see it posted, have to say it's washed out, if you have Photoshop you could take it and lower the brightness some to resaturate it:)

01-06-2009, 03:23 AM
Yes Colleen it never seems to come out the way it is painted, and putting it in photoshop can help...but I think your close-ups are gorgeous and give us a better understanding of the detail, colours and toning....the background and everything about it is such a pleasure to observe. Kathy

01-06-2009, 04:42 PM
I'd guess you'd call this a PS.

the day after a finish of a work I frequently have a "hangover" OMG it's just a mess and everything glares out at me. So I've learned to wait til at least the next day or two and then look agian. I put it where I see it walking by, and at the 2nd or 3rd day if some area still gives me grief, I think about how to change it and if it's worth it.

In this case that dark green area by the cats back still jumps at me.

So I put the work in Photoshop and start a lot of What Ifs....

what if I:
•make it lighter there, how light what color, what forms( did this with the paintbrush tool)
•lighten the left side
•alter the ellispe
•add more pink flowers( I made extra bright so I could see them)
•add some darker color on the edge of the belly fur (some one pmed me to •say it looked too straight, when I looked I saw the angle was right but the fur highlight was making and edge.)
•fix the upper edge of the fountain
•broke up some of the dark patches just a bit more
•lassoed a few areas and changed brightness or color (this is a tool in Photoshop that select a outlined area, where you can change things just in that area)
• reworked some of the fur and lightened a couple of the tabby stripes.

I figured out the "washed out" issue, the contrast of the painting is so high between light and dark the camera can't quite get it. So I also balanced this pic better between light and shade. it's more true now on my screen
if you look you should be able to see some of the scribbling marks I used to redraw and rework in the greenery. it will be harder to see what I did on the cat. I scribble in new color as I can build it as I go, since its all one line if it's too much "command Z" takes it out and I can redraw again. I know not everyone uses a computer, but it has become part of my art work now, don't know how'd I'd get along with out it, much as I hate to admit that:D

I did all of the above, and this is the result, now I'll look at this and at the painting and decide what I need to do. For sure I'm getting that dark wormey form off the cat's back, but I'm not sure this is how I will do it. I'll mull this over and try a few other ways out until I think its better.

doing What ifs in Photoshop, keeps me from messing with the work and getting things over worked but lets me keep dialoging with it, in a non harmful way. I could have used this on the water falling idea earlier instead of putting it in, but that was so slight a change it was not a problem.

The bottom line to me is messing with things at this stage, has caused me to make things worse instead of better so often, so with PS I can mess around without going over the cliff with the work....I want to go just to the edge and stop:lol:


01-06-2009, 06:55 PM
Colleen, such a wonderful thread, and thank you for letting us follow your process, and thank you who made input, too, this has become a great thread for learning.

Beautiful painting, and the fur is just sublime with all the colours in it!


01-06-2009, 08:37 PM
Good grief Colleen!!!!!!!!!! Thank goodness you can laugh at yourself. Thank goodness you know that in spite of your perfectionist character you know when to call a halt. And that is when the work is perfect!