Thursday, January 3, 2019

Claire's Portrait

© Robin Edmundson, 'Claire Introducing Pepper to the Duckling',
watercolor,  12 x 9 inches.

For a few years now, Claire has been asking me to do a painting of the ducks and the dog.

There were several challenges:

  • Ducks are a moving target.  You can practically watch them grow when they're little and they're either hiding or racing away at light speed.
  • When the grown ducks are still, they tuck their heads under a wing and look like giant fluffs, with no discernible features.
  • Dogs are frequently still, which is lovely, but this dog is black.   Black dogs show their features as they move and the light reflects off their fur.  If they're still, they're a black lump with no discernible features.  
  • I'm a landscape artist. I like barns and hay bales. Painting people and animals makes me nervous and when I'm nervous I don't paint well.  
Claire told me I was being ridiculous and to just paint the dog or the ducks for heaven's sake. 

So I kept stalling.  For another year. 

In the meantime, I had the camera close by one day when Claire was snuggling the ducklings and teaching Pepper that ducklings are not snacks.   I was able to get a few pics of the three of them - enough to combine some poses and come up with this composition.


But I kept stalling.

This year I decided I wanted to surprise her for Christmas, so I pulled out the photos and went to work.  I knew that Claire would love a painting of one of the animals, but getting her in there with them would put me in the running for BestMomEver - as long as it turned out.   I figured I'd just keep doing draft after draft after draft until one clicked.   First I did a couple of pencil sketches to get down the composition.   Then I started painting.

More challenges:
  • My daughter is ghostly pale.  What pigments to use for skin?   I used a very pale wash of burnt umber with a tiny bit of quin magenta.
  • She changes hair color frequently.  Which color to put in the painting?   I went with her then-current color -- natural [dark blonde] at the roots and dyed red and burgundy at the tips.  [Those colors didn't last much longer - her hair is purple as of New Year's Day]
  • She was wearing an old work shirt that she hated.  What to do instead?  Since she had red [orange] hair and I knew the background would be greens, I went with a pale purple shirt. I really love the purple/green/orange combination and I figured that would make me feel easier when I was painting.  It did.  
  • The dog is black and in photographs looks like a big black hole. How to get a look at the rest of her features well enough to paint them?  For this, I went to photoshop and adjusted the brightness until I could see Pepper's features.  It was so bright that you couldn't see much of Claire at all, so I just focused on the dog and then when I was painting Claire, I darkened the reference photo back up. 
I kept telling myself not to worry about getting every detail - to use this as practice suggesting some things instead of spelling everything out.  Each time I painted the piece, I tweaked the colors or shapes a bit and each time I got more practice painting the dog, which turned out to be the most difficult part of it for me.   I did two sketches and two paintings and the third painting was a keeper.  

I framed and wrapped it and gave it to her after dinner on Christmas Eve.  She was very surprised and very happy with it.  [I did get the BestMomEver award.] 


  1. Great picture! Your Pepper looks like our Lettie. Black dogs take the worst photos, even when they are being cute and adorable. Best Mom indeed!

    1. YES! You are totally right! Claire has now challenged me to do another pic of Pepper on black paper - all I'd have to worry about are the lights. [Maybe I'll tackle that in another 3 years...]

    2. Ooohhhh, I can't wait to see that! I think that would be brilliant!


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