A couple of clients have a Schnauzer and a Labrador retriever – they asked me (via the Caplan Art Designs gallery www.caplanartdesigns.com) to do a dual portrait while also reflecting the owners work/personal life! I have a series of questions I ask (about color preferences etc. details) – I also request photos of the dogs. I was lucky enough to actually meet these dogs in person. Earlier in this blog you got to see my “practice” sketches for the dog breeds in this commission. After receiving the answers to my questions and photos of the dogs I created 2 pencil drawings to the scale of the proposed finished work. I also created a number of hand dyed paper swatches to show the proposed color scheme.
Here’s a photo of me dying some paper blue. I did several layers of this blue color on the paper in order to build up the “proper blue” that best matched the client’s preference.
To keep this document brief I’ll not show photos of me creating the 20 base colors I created for the “swatch sampler” – so multiply the above photo 19 times at least.
Once the papers were dry – we met and the clients chose one of the two pencil sketches. Small adjustments were made in the color scheme and the drawings. And additional research was done. For example, I studied what vest collars are like, what wing-tip shoes look like, where cuff-links are on a cuff and gold pocket watches how they sit in a pocket and how the chain drapes. I asked about and investigated what a “bar” in court looks like. I researched how the sleeve of a judges’ robe hangs.
I also “filled in” the other colors of hand dyed paper I’d need to produce the finished painting. Where a section in a painting will read as “blue” there may be as many as 5 different shades of blue papers which are collaged/layered together. Where a paper may read as “blond wood grain” there may be multiple layers of color applied to each paper that forms the various tones within the shape. Yes, it’s complicated and takes a lot of pre-planning and research.
Once all of the papers are done and dry (there are now over 50 pieces of hand dyed paper) I begin cutting out shapes. Here I have cut out the overall shape of the Schnauzer’s head and paw out of a greyish-blue dyed paper. A light pencil marks the future placements of other pieces of darker grey paper and or lighter white-grey paper.
At this point I’m cutting and gluing together all of the various shapes from the various “base” papers to form the overall characters and aspects of scenery. With an Xacto knife I cut the needed shape positioning it using tweezers. Then I would adjust the position – often several times – before gluing it together. Then I would press the glued papers flat and let them dry.
As I constructed the Schnauzer character I got excited and focused – and I forgot to take photos of the steps of construction. As I worked kept laughing, imagining the Schnauzer lawyer saying “My client is innocent, I tell you, innocent. My client, the Great Dane you see before you, could not have possibly reached down to such a low table to eat the 4 hams, 5 chickens and the pot roast which is alleged to have been on that table. It was beneath him to have…”
There is a lot of “back and forth” work to get the shapes and positions correct – to adjust the colors and layers. Here is a succession of photos to give you an idea of the test-adjust-test routine.
In the photos below you’ll see my original pencil drawing – which I’m using as a guide.
The Judge’s glasses are made of two pieces of paper: I cut the glasses frames out of a “gold” paper and glued them onto a white paper which acts as the “lenses”. All elements within the artwork are cut hand dyed papers which interlock.
And so it goes – back and forth – building up each element in both 3 dimensional space as well as 2 dimensional. For example, the watch in the Schnauzer’s pocket is a complete watch – with numbers on it – even if you don’t see all of it in the finished artwork. Behind the suit coat lapels is the entire vest… the tie actually fits under the white shirt collar. The flag is several different colors of paper pieced together and actually hanging from a pole (a cut piece of gold paper). If you could tell the Schnauzer to move over you’d see the entire “bar” he is standing in front of and behind those is the entire “bench” on which the Labrador judge sits.
Once the “base papers” have been assembled into each element needed for the overall artwork I glue them onto the cradled board.
I pre-planned for how the various shapes “wrap around” the 4 edges of the board. This way the judges bench actually looks/feels like a 3D bench. All we don’t see are the witness boxes. The flag extends to the side and top edges of the painting. The judge’s arm continues on one edge. As you can see in the photo the floor extends over the bottom edge.
When these base papers are glued on they are pressed flat – and left to dry several days under weight.
Then the excess paper hanging off the edges is trimmed away with my Xacto knife and the now blocked-in painting is put on my easel. There many more cut pieces of paper layered on at my easel – many of them are very tiny pieces of paper, the size of a fingernail or smaller, others are tissue paper thin allowing the underlayment to show through – these papers are cut with my Xacto knife carried to the easel then glued into place. More building up of paper layers until each element within the artwork has more tonal ranges and dimension. For example, the Judges glasses got more highlights and shadows glued onto them – they went from being made out of 2 pieces of paper to being made out of 6. The Schnauzer’s eyebrows and whiskers are layered on. And so it goes…
Once again – even though it took quite a bit of time – I got so focused and excited about what I was doing that I forgot to photograph the various steps I did between the above photo and the finished artwork pictured below. (The finished artwork is protected by varnish.)
So here is the finished piece (details of size and media below the photo).
“Innocent, I tell you….”
Size 10 x 10 x 2 inches
Media: Hand dyed paper, handmade paste paper, book cloth and acrylic on cradled board