6″ x 8″ Oil on Prepared Masonite Panel

March 13, 2009
Joker is a portrait of a Black Clydesdale I photographed about four yeas ago at Express Clydesdales in Yukon, Oklahoma. Joker was originally painted as an 8×10 colored pencil on gray paper.

In looking for subjects for the Flemish technique, I looked at old images as well as considering new. Because I’ve always liked these big horses and this big horse in particular, I decided to revisit this particular portrait as an oil. It was the perfect small study for one of the 6×8 panels I had lying around.

I also still had the original drawing (I keep most of that material for every painting), so all I had to do was reduce it to the appropriate size and transfer it to the prepped panel, then ink it in.

As soon as the ink was dry, I painted the imprimatura, which properly toned the painting for the painting to come.

That was a simple matter of rubbing the surface with walnut oil, then wiping off the excess oil and applying the imprimatura tone. The colors used were Yellow Ochre, Lamp Black and a little bit of Titanium White. As usual, I am using M. Graham Oils exclusively.

The only thing I’m not one hundred percent happy with is the tone of the imprimatura. The goal color is a neutral “olive” shade and I have yet to get that color or even close to it. However, since all of my subjects so far have been animal in nature and primarily horses, the more red-brown shade seems to be working.

March 20, 2009
Joker has dried for one week and is now in the umber layer phase. Lots of brown paint!

To vary the routine, I’m using different application techniques. Some are being used with medium or walnut oil, some are without either.

Some of the paintings are having color ‘rubbed’ onto them as much as possible and I am using brushes on others.

All of them will eventually see brushwork because I have yet to find a way get color into a small, tight detail area with a cloth, no matter how tightly I fold it. But the rubbings are superior to brush work when it comes to an even paint layer and the gradual building up of value layer by layer.

The initial umber layer work on Joker involved rubbing burnt umber into the background area with a cloth, then working it around until the right combination of lights and darks was achieved.

March 23, 2009
I’ve learned something in the studio; I’m too detail oriented at all stages.

Before starting to paint today, I opened up the Country Pitcher lesson and looked at the First Umber Layer stage again. Guess what. I’m supposed to be just blocking in lights and darks and some of the details at that stage. Not creating an entirely finished umber layer.

I also learned I’ve gone way too dark on some of them.

And the biggest surprise of all is that there are not multiple stages of umber layer work other than getting enough layers in to get the job done. There is not a first umber layer and a second umber layer. Just one umber layer that may or may not go through several stages as the values are developed.

So I’ve gone astray on at least two of the paintings by going way too dark way too soon, (Contemplation and Impulsion) and I’ve gone astray on most of the others by getting away from the basic lesson plan.

But, part part of learning new things is making mistakes and learning from those mistakes.

The first thing I did when I began painting was mix up some medium (2 parts solvent, 1part walnut oil) and put a wash on Joker. That should have been the first thing I did in the previous painting session, but I fortunately didn’t get so far advanced in that session that I can’t pick up at the start again today.

A basic wash of Burnt Umber and medium was applied to the painting using watercolor like techniques. Only the brightest highlights and the white blaze were left alone.

That was followed by darkening the shadows and mid tones, then darkening the shadows still more. I did a little bit of detail work with reflected light in the shadows and with the detail around the eye, but attempted to stick with the lesson plan.

At the end of the session, I considered the umber layer finished and set the painting aside to dry until April 13, 2009 (three weeks). At that time, I will determine whether it’s ready for the next stage or needs to dry a little longer.

April 27, 2009
It took a little bit longer than planned, but Joker is now in the dead layer phase. The colors used are Lamp Black and Titanium White with just a hint of Prussian Blue and Burnt Umber added.

The process begins with a dark mixture and a light mixture and a range of values is mixed from those two extremes. The goal is to use each of the palette mixtures to create a full range of values in the painting with as little blending as possible.

I attempted to follow that procedure with this painting but couldn’t help doing just a little bit of blending!

April 28, 2009
II thought at the end of the day yesterday that the dead layer on this painting was finished. I even photographed it for my files and for this post and was happy with the work.

But as soon as the image popped up on my computer screen, I realized there were a couple of areas that still needed work.

So I spent part of my studio day today tweaking those areas, most of which involved the play of light over the shoulders.

I refrained from a lot of tweaking but was successful in tweaking just enough to solve the problems that had become apparent. The end result for those few minutes extra work was very pleasing.

June 8, 2009
Joker entered the final phases of the painting process today with color work.

I had been pondering how to finish the background for a few days. Joker is black and I had considered the possibility of leaving the background as it was and simply finishing the horse, to create emphasis where I wanted it.

But when I looked at the painting this morning, I found some flaws that would need to be covered. For a moment, I thought about fixing them with shades of gray to duplicate and maintain the current look of the painting.

Then I decided a blue cast would complement Joker’s coat color much better and with much more depth than a plain, black background would.

I wanted to keep it as simple as possible, though, and since the values had already been established to my satisfaction, I decided to rub color over the painting with a cloth.

The first color was Manganese Blue and it was rubbed over the entire painting, except for the white blaze. I used small, circular strokes for the most part, but also followed the contours as necessary. Paint was applied over a dry surface (no oil had been rubbed into it before painting began) and without the use of any medium or oil mixed into the paint.

Prussian Blue was then rubbed into the dark areas with the same method and using the same cloth.

Even though the layers of color were very transparent, they did add just the amount of depth and color I wanted in the background. Rubbing the same colors over the horse also established the basic coat color in a fashion that was very pleasing.

When the work was done, the painting was put up to dry.

I am using M. Graham Oils for this painting, as with all the other paintings. Today’s work was done without the use of additional mediums, oils or solvents.

June 11, 2009
The first thing I did today was darken the background with an application of Prussian Blue in the darkest areas. I also rubbed it into the shadows on the horse, using a rag for both areas.

I then used two small sable rounds to begin painting the horse, starting with the mane. To create a strong black, I mixed Prussian Blue and Transparent Red Oxide on the panel, stroking one onto the panel, then blending the other into it. Titanium White was used to create highlights.

The mane and forelock and both ears received attention, though only the mane and off side ear are anywhere near finished. I also painted the eye to give it a little more life, then darkened the cast shadows on the neck and the shadowed side of the face.

I used an Opti-Visor to see the details in the photograph and to reproduce them or enhance them on the painting, so I was limited in the amount of time I was able to work before eye strain set in. I love working small (this painting is 6×8), but eye strain can be a problem, especially at the end of the day.

July 14, 2009
I oiled and wiped the panel with walnut oil, then brushed Prussian Blue into the darkest areas of the background and some of the shadows on the horse.

The horse is beginning to stand apart from the background, which is exactly what I’m looking for.

And the background is looking good, as well. Other than the blue-ness around the chest, I think the background may be finished.

Of course, that will all depend on how it looks when it dries, and how the painting looks overall when the horse is finished.

September 19, 2009
It’s been a long haul, but I can finally call this painting complete.

The final stages of the process didn’t follow the guidelines very much and the painting spent a lot more time sitting idle than it spent on the easel.

With one portrait in the drying phase and the next one at the drawing phase, I took advantage of the free studio time to work on Joker. It didn’t take much time to finish the painting. Thirty minutes to add highlights and details to the mane, forelock and face and to work on the shoulder a little bit.

In the previous work session, I toyed with the idea of adjusting the background, too, but when I finished with the horse, I was satisfied with everything else, too, and simply signed the painting and put it up to dry for the last time.

Joker is a 6 by 8 inch original oil on prepared Masonite panel. It is available unframed for $350. Contact the artist for additional information.