Storm portrait in progress - start to finish
Updated: May 31
Often my portrait clients are surprised how much is involved before I even touch a pencil to paper in the studio. This album describes the beginning steps of Storm’s portrait for Cathy Nearman.
To start off, the client sends me all the photos of their loved one they want me to see. I tell people:
Don’t worry about whether it ‘"looks like a portrait".
Just send any photos that speak to your heart.
Cathy sent more than 100 photos.
I don’t look too closely at each photo until I have everything in hand that they are going to send. I then study all the photos, and create a photo catalog where I arrange them in an order that makes sense to me, with colored labels. This screenshot shows the top 3 rows after I’ve arranged them. The red labels are my favorites, blue are secondary favorites that would also work for a portrait. Sometimes clients have a clear favorite photo, sometimes all the photos they send are their favorites!
The process of studying and arranging the photos
can take me a full day. By the time I get done I am as familiar with the photos as my client is. Those photos contain the essence of what they love. The first step in my process is seeing/feeling that emotion as fully as I can.
As I study the photos,
I am looking at each one with an artistic eye and visualizing it as artwork….thinking about the strategy I might use to turn that photo into a portrait, the steps and techniques it would require. Then I make suggestions to the client about the 4 or 5 photos that I think would work best: that would make the most beautiful artwork, capture the beauty and personality of their loved one the best…and also fit within the budget that client has. The client’s feedback to those initial suggestions will quickly zero in on one particular photo (or group of related photos) and the concept that is most meaningful to them. People who haven’t worked with me before are surprised at how much collaboration there is between me and them in this process. Sometimes it takes days of back and forth email conversation to gradually home in on the direction we will go.
When Cathy sent all the photos of Storm, she didn’t tell me which were her favorites. After I sent basic suggestions based on those top 3 rows, she told me which was her clear favorite and why: “Storm is young in this photo..and it has so much sweetness in her expression, just how she really is.”. I moved that into the #1 spot (first on the left, top row) and told Cathy it would make a beautiful portrait.
Next I start playing around with the layout. What is the best way to take THAT photo, and turn it into a portrait?
I then send my client a layout I’ve created with Photoshop,
to give them an idea how the finished artwork will look. Usually there are more decisions to be made and the layout changed and adjusted, with my client’s feedback guiding me. That first layout is just the initial step. This is where my artistic expertise comes into play, and the client’s “loving heart” calls the shots. Now we are working as a team to create this portrait.
I emailed Cathy 4 versions of the initial layout, with captions to tell her my thoughts:
I started out thinking it would be nice to have this portrait similar to a head study I did of Cathy’s “Robin” in 2016, shown on the left here. (Robin was Storm’s mother.) I began my Photoshop layout using Cathy's photo, on the same grey background, and just showing Storm’s head and her white neck ruff, like Robin’s portrait. That's Layout 1, on the right.
But I didn’t think it was enough, just a short white ruff barely below her chin.
So I increased the space around her and showed more of her neck going down toward the chest. But because of the angle of the photo and the way she was standing with her head turned toward her shoulder, it shows the black that is on her shoulder, which makes it look like half of her forechest is black. That is not accurate, the front of her chest is white. I could change that black on the lower left to white, but I felt this layout could be better. It doesn’t yet have the dynamic feel that I want in a portrait — as though the subject is about to step out of the painting.
As I was working with layout #2, which looks like half of her forechest is black, I knew that I would have to show more of her body in the portrait so it’s clear that her head is turned and the black area is on her side. I like this composition a lot better than just her head and ruff. The black body on the left and the lower white forechest in the lower right (which is in shadow and there is soft sunlight on her face) helps lead your eye up to her facial features. This gives a nice balance to the portrait and her head position makes more sense.
Since I liked having more of her body and was very pleased with layout #3, I thought I would try it with some green grass behind her also. I like both #3 and #4, so it’s just a matter of personal preference.
#3 is very nice and makes Storm the total focus….all in black, white, and grey, except for her pink tongue and brown eyes. #4 adds additional color with the green.
Often I start with a basic idea (layout 1) and keep developing and building it, until I end up with the best result (layout 3 or 4). Sometimes I send only the final result to the client as my suggestion…sometimes I send all the versions in between. Any of these 4 layouts would work for a portrait. Those are my suggestions for Cathy, and she will tell me her preference.
At this point I also suggest sizes for the portrait and quote prices for each version based on size. I suggested 16 x 20 inches for version 3 or 4, and smaller for version 1 or 2. That helps the client consider cost in which version they choose.
Storm portrait in progress 2
As usual, I start with the ears.
Since I'm right-handed, I almost always start in the upper left and work down, so I don’t drag my hand through finished work. First I did the left ear, then working across the top of Storm's head, the right one.
There are all kinds of colors in a black ear. Browns, blues, raspberry red, many different greys both warm and cool. Those are the colors my eye picks out in a photo of a black and white Border Collie. I then exaggerate the colors I see. Not enough to look “fake”, but enough to give interest and vibrancy — “life” — to a work of art.
Colored pencil strokes make really great dog hair!
Storm portrait in progress 3
THE EYE OF THE STORM: The challenge of Storm’s right eye.
I paused my work in the studio for 3 days to address Storm's unusual right eye with the client Cathy Nearman. Read on to see why, and how Cathy and I worked together to capture that eye.
When I started working on Storm’s portrait,
Cathy pointed out, “She has a tiny bit of blue on her right eye but you may not notice it much in the way she presents her head.”
I hadn’t noticed any blue in her eyes, and my next day’s work was to start on her eyes — a critically important part of any portrait. So I paused to study Storm’s right eye in all the reference photos. I still couldn’t see clearly what “bit of blue” Cathy was referring to. All eyes show a blue-white highlight where light reflects off the eye, that’s what makes an eye look shiny.
So Cathy rounded up some additional photos.
I studied them closely and pulled out 4 pics that showed the right eye clearly, then sent this jpg back to Cathy with this comment: “I’m attaching a jpg that shows 4 pics of Storm’s right eye in the top row, and those same 4 pics are in the bottom row with the blue area circled in bright pink. It looks to me that the blue area is the whole upper half of her eye. And it has kind of a “tail” that drops down a bit lower along the left edge of her iris. I see that exact same thing in all 4 pics. So do I have the circled area accurate? That’s the blue area of her eye you referred to? In all the pics it looks like it is a very light blue-is grey….not a bright “sky blue”. Correct?”
Cathy replied, “You are correct at what you see in Storm’s right eye. You have circled the upper area where the colored area is in her eye correctly. That’s a great way to show me in your markup!”
That added two more days
to the time it would take to finish Storm’s portrait, pausing my work in the studio until I understood that small facial feature that makes Storm unique. It’s important to me to make sure every detail of a portrait is accurate, and truly captures the essence their loved one sees in them.
This is a screenshot of my monitor in my studio the day I worked on Storm’s right eye. The three images I have open in front of me for reference give me all the visual information I need. Storm has unusual eyes, with a lot of color and intricacy in them. Not just the grey-blue in her right iris, but the patterns and intricacy of the golds, rusts, and browns in both eyes.
And here’s the finished eye.
In the studio, working on the eye of the Storm.
Storm portrait in progress 4
Cathy really wants to capture Storm’s sweet personality in this portrait. What makes a kind eye? What puts kindness in an eye? I was thinking about that as I was completing the right eye. It’s the little things in the shape of it. It’s pushing the highlight of the lower rim up just a little bit against the bottom curve of the eye. It’s the tiniest touch of blue in the bottom corner of where the whites show on the outer side of the iris. I just keep shaping it with those little touches, little pushes…until I see the expression of kindness and sweetness show.
Storm’s eyes have a lot of complexity and intricacy in them. Not just the grey-blue in the upper half of her right iris, but the patterns and intricacy of the golds, rusts, and browns in both eyes.
Storm portrait in progress 5
The shadowed side of Storm’s muzzle shows how I put in the strokes of fur on the grey paper.
Zoom in if you are on a small screen. If you can view this large enough to see the pencil strokes, you'll see how the grey of the paper creates the "shadows" of the hairs that make each hair appear separate from the others.
This is how Storm’s portrait looked when I finished for the day in the studio.
Tomorrow I’ll do her tongue. That is always fun, when I’ve been working in muted greys, to do something with bright color.
Storm portrait in progress 6
This is how Storm's portrait looked when I finished work in the studio for the day.
Just love that pink tongue!
The first bit of pink goes in as I started working on her tongue this morning....
Now I’m layering different pinks, purples, mauves, and red-browns to form the tongue.
Working in the studio with Storm's reference photo on the monitor in front of me.
The upper set of pencils are the ones I've been using for Storm’s coat for the past two weeks - greys, browns, golds, black and white.
The lower set are the colors I’ve pulled out specifically for her tongue. With the swatches I made on the grey paper scrap to guide me.
Storm portrait in progress 7
Two days ago: this is how the portrait looked when I finished work in the studio for the day. All that’s left to do is Storm’s chest and shoulder. That will go quickly, because I’ll fade it out to the grey paper with fast scribbly strokes.
Today's work: bringing the left side of her black body around…coming into the home stretch on this portrait.
Cathy’s response to in-progress pics:
So, I checked my messages for the night, and I get to see beautiful Storm!
I showed Storm and she agrees it looks very stunning!
It’s so much fun to get acquainted with a new friend and discover new things together. You know, Storm just loves to use her nose and seek out smells with so much intrigue. Sometimes she inhales with so much force, I just wonder what she is thinking about what she has found. I’ll never know.
My best to you from Cathy and the gang, Storm and Raven
Storm portrait finished!
I finished the portrait of Storm (Conant’s Blizzard CD) for Cathy Nearman in Hawaii.
March 8 - The portrait arrived and Cathy sent this photo and wrote:
Storm portrait arrived this morning!! Yay!
I was out the door to work and my postman delivered this to me!
I had to rush to work but as soon as I get home today at 5pm I’ll open it up.
I can’t wait till I get home...maybe I’ll leave early!
Ernie and the gang ….we will have a celebration tonight opening it up.
Prismacolor pencil on "felt grey" Canson Mi-Teintes paper
16 x 20 inches
The portrait of Storm was done from a photo taken when she was young. Storm is 13 years old now. As the portrait was progressing, Cathy shared the photo of Storm on the new fluffy bed Cathy got her. She wrote: “Storm happy on her cozy bed outside. She has lots of trouble standing up and the bed makes it easier on her bones to get up on the hard ground. She seems very content and happy :)”
An interesting comment Cathy made while I was working on Storm: “A cute observation, as you look at Storm. Take a look at her brows… the white side of her face has white brows and her black side of face has black eye brows.”
(Storm’s mother Robin was a tri-color Border Collie with brown eyebrows)
When I emailed jpgs of the finished portrait to Cathy for approval she wrote back:
"You did an awesome job!! Magnificently, you captured Storm's beauty and strength, and I think we chose the best photo for this project! I mean, we only sent you over a 100 photos..haha
I can’t wait to see it, once I get to unwrap this special package!
Every piece of hair on her coat is beautifully drawn and the colors in her coat are glistening outdoors in the wind. Simply beautiful!!
I’m honored that you have drawn another beautiful portrait for the collection of the Conant’s Border Collies and and this one of Storm, I will treasure for a lifetime, along with Robin and Alina."
After receiving the portrait Cathy wrote: