This is Ghost, a puppy I once loved. I painted the background in the first photo a few days ago in preparation for his portrait. The rest of the painting took place today, and it’s the first time I’ve felt comfortable working wet on wet. I even managed to get a good result! Usually I let layers dry before adding details, but with this dog, the details were easy to do on the canvas all in one day.
I’m not sure if that’s a sign that I’m getting better at doing this, or if it was just an easy subject. Either way, I’m happy to have done it quickly enough so that it can dry before the weekend. It’s a gift for one of the granddaughters’ birthday.
Progression of Ghost
My artistic process
I’m new at this, having only started with oils late last year. I am learning so much with each painting. The colors I used were from Ozark rocks foraged here at home, except for the blackest black, which I made from soot gathered out of our chimney, and the white, which is made from titanium that I buy. The sandstones here are the source for most of the color that’s not black or white. I use thyme to make a yellow that is lightfast, and indigo or woad to make a blue, both fairly lightfast, but not as permanent as earth pigments.
I don’t draw a sketch with pencil but sometimes I do with one of the paints and a small brush. For this one, I didn’t make any sketch at all. Usually I make a background of colors I think will work well with the subject and then let that dry. If I want to soften transitions in the background, I’ll do that before it’s completely dry. Once I’m ready to start the painting, I block in the major forms.
What happened differently with this painting is that I decided to try and do it all wet on wet (except the background, which was dry when I started). Before this one, I always got my paints too oily and had to let it dry between the stages. I really enjoyed being able to blend subtle color and shadow changes with the wet on wet, so I’ll try to keep doing it this way until I learn better which things can go this way, and which need time to dry between working on it. There’s a lot of paintings on my list to do before the end of the year, and I want to also keep learning how to do human faces. But I feel like I made a lot of progress in my first year of working with oil paints.
The Story of Ghost
Ghost was a puppy I’d gotten from my friend Little Bird in 2020. I resisted taking that dog home with me several times before I finally did, and I really was happy that I did. When I brought him to the vet for his puppy shots, they said he wasn’t old enough yet to start the rabies series, even though he was a very large puppy, he was still a young pup. Before it was time to start the rabies shots, Ghost found a bat and spat it out near the back door, all mangled and slobbery. My heart sunk when granddaughter Chloe pointed out the bat, because I knew what that might mean.
Bat with Rabies
So, I put the bat in a bag and brought it into the vets office to have it sent off for testing. The vet assured me that it’s very unusual for it to be carrying rabies, maybe only 1 in a 10000 chance. Insisting that he send it anyway, I paid the fee and left. A few days later I got the dreaded call. Yes, the bat was positive. And so the story of Ghost ended badly. The options were to quarantine him for 4 months with no contact with other people or animals (except me, and I would have also needed to get the vaccine series if he’d scratched or bitten me). Someone would have had to come from the state weekly to do a health check on him. Or I’d have to have him put to sleep.
The Sad Ending of the Saga of Ghost
I chose the latter option, because this was a puppy intended to be a livestock & household guardian. With no exposure to other people, he had a good chance of becoming an overly protective and possibly aggressive dog, and with Chloe staying with me during the early part of Covid shutdown, I couldn’t risk her going out to pet him when I wasn’t looking.
Anyway, that’s the saga of Ghost. He’s the last dog I’ve owned, and I became attached even within the few weeks I kept him. I’m still not sure after that if I’ll ever be ready to try again. Chloe became attached to him, too, and so she requested a memorial painting of him for her birthday. I resisted that at first, but now I’m glad I did paint him.
First and foremost, apart from being an artist and author, Madison is a nature enthusiast. She enjoys using local resources in every aspect of her life and considers the land she and her husband live on as partners in life. They care for the land and the land cares for them. She’s an herbalist, gardener, and wildcrafter of medicinal plants.
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