Pet Portrait of a White Cat and the Tradition of Glazing

pet portrait painting of white cat

Shiro
5″ x 5″
oil on aluminum

 

Painting pet portraits is a journey of discovery

Years of training in traditional painting techniques and my past pet portraits form the foundation for each new piece I make. Yet with each portrait I still learn new things. Mixing just the right color still feels like making magic, and finding the precise technique to create a new texture of fur or feathers is an enchanting challenge all its own.

A perfect example is my recent cat portrait of Shiro, a fluffy white fellow with piercing blue eyes. In this case, the key technique to capture the luminosity in those beautiful eyes, as well as the soft sense of fluff, was glazing.

Glazing is a little like magic

Evidence of glazing is found in the earliest examples of painting. The idea is to apply transparent layers of oil paint atop the dried lower layers. I use Gamblin’s Galkyd media for the upper layers of my paintings and when glazing, I increase the medium enough to create transparent layers, which offer a sense of optical depth. This is one reason why painting always look better in person than when reproduced. In reproductions all the colors are flattened out and the transparent layers are lost.

Glazing is typically used in just a few key areas of a painting. The areas of optical depth attract the viewer’s eye more than surrounding areas of opaque paint, so it’s a great way to help direct the eye of the viewer around a composition and create focal points. Gamblin has a list of pigments that are ideal for glazing on their website. I used Phthalo Blue, Phthalo Green, and a touch of Indian Yellow in Shiro’s eyes.

From Dawn:

We absolutely love the picture.  You rendered him so beautifully!  We have a special spot in the house to hang the picture so we can look at it every day and it looks amazing.

Thank you again.  It is such an honor and a treat to have a piece of your art and it is so special that it is of Shiro who we love so much.

Thanks so much for the commission, Dawn!

See more examples of my paintings on the Pet Portraits page and learn about the commission process on the Commissions page.

On the Easel: July In Progress

Works In Progress, Monthly Miniatures Rabbit and Honey Bees, oil on copper, 4" x 4" each

Works In Progress: Monthly Miniatures ‘Rabbit’ and ‘Honey Bees’, each 4″ x 4″ painted in oil on copper

Busy as a bee! Working on two Monthly Miniatures at once.

Being a new mom means I really have to make good use of my limited studio time, and I have to be ready to use any spare moment. Though I am already the sort of artist to work on several pieces at once, it’s now especially useful for me to have several paintings in the works. Working in oils, one layer has to dry before the next one starts, which means lots of downtime where I can’t work, if I’m only working on one painting at a time. The drying time can be up to three days (‘Titanium White’ is the worst, it can take a week to dry if it’s cold in the studio). Though I only plan to finish the bees this month, I already have a head start on September’s miniature painting, and I’m excited to see it take form (‘Rabbit,’ above)!

Work In Progress, Rabbit Portrait, oil on copper, 2" x 2" by Rebecca Luncan

Work In Progress, Rabbit Portrait, oil on aluminum, 2″ x 2″

Even more rabbits for a group show in October at Childhood’s End Gallery

I’m really excited to be a part of an anniversary exhibition featuring small works at Childhood’s End Gallery in Olympia this fall. This little guy I found has lots of great colors in his fur, and I’m anxious to finish it! It will be displayed along with two portraits of my rabbits, Charlie and Ellie: I’ll post them all together when they’re ready!

 

artist Rebecca Luncan working in the studio on figurative oil painting

Work in progress, Oil on aluminum, 24″ x 36″

Steady as she goes! Progress on my figurative painting series

Somehow I’ve officially been working on this painting for a year! It’s large and detailed, and there has been a lot on my plate. But I am eager to wrap it up and continue with the series, so I have set a deadline to finish it by the end of the year! Expect to see more progress shots in coming months.

On the Easel in June

Black-cat-in-progress

Black Cat in progress – experimenting with background treatments

Despite my hungry little bundle joy, (i.e. my adorable, two month old son Isaac), June is off to a great start in the studio. Here’s a peak at four little paintings I’m working on right now.

The first of the lot is of Jolly Rajah, the black cat. I actually started this one months ago as an experiment related to the monthly miniature series (I considered a series of black cats). I had considered this little one finished, and originally it featured a window with a tree in the background. But it didn’t seem right to me, and I ended up going with the Into the Country idea instead. After contemplating it for a while, I’m reworking this little guy. I’m trying out a simplified background now, working to define his features a bit more, and also to create a stronger focal point at his lovely eyes.

I love the beautiful little 1920’s brass and celluloid miniature frame I have for it, so I’m hoping to salvage the painting. I’m also hoping that working through this painting, will help me get a better idea of what will work in the fourteen remaining frames I’ve been collecting in this style. Here’s a link to the finished painting!

 

Oliver-in-progress

Commission In Progress

I love painting animals, but I have to admit to a special soft spot for dogs

This little guy is my top priority in the studio right now. He’s the first of my June Miniature Pet Portrait Specialand will be completed in time for a special occasion. I have added a couple coats of paint since taking this photo, and I plan to have it finished by the end of the week so it can be shipped out to its new home right away. 

 

miniature rabbit paintings in progress

Rabbit Couple in progress

Rabbits for a group show in October at Childhood’s End Gallery

I told you there would be more rabbits! It’ll be hard to separate these two paintings, and I’m considering selling them as a pair. Once they’re finished, they’ll go in a lovely pair of matching antique frames I’ve been saving for just the right couple. I’m planning on three or four more rabbit portraits and will be on the lookout for new models! Contact me if you have a willing bunny!

Visit Rebecca in the Studio!

Seattle independent filmmaker Aaron Bourget has edited a video from a recent visit to the painting studio.

It’s difficult to be in front of a camera (especially when 6 months pregnant!) and Aaron really helped make me feel more comfortable. I hope you enjoy this glimpse into what’s hanging in the studio, and what I’m working on!

Thank you Aaron!

Pet Portrait Commission Underpainting of Leo the Cat

Cat-painting_in-progress_rebecca-luncan

The pet portrait of Leo the cat is seen in the first stages of the underpainting, where you can catch a glimpse of my process.

I like to make quick, loose underpaintings on top of an underdrawing before I get fussy with details. Many people like to do monochromatic underpaintings (also called grisaille) but I prefer to use full color because it helps in balancing the composition. I blocked this painting out as seen above, but I often start painting with just black (mixed burnt umber and ultramarine blue), as in the Bride of Frankenstein Mismatched Portrait, then go back to block in the rest after it’s dry.

Why do an underpainting?

First, it’s helpful to figure out the composition quickly before too much time is spent adding details that may need to be changed later. Small alterations are part of the process, but this step can help prevent big changes later.

Second, having multiple layers of paint creates a depth and richness that is visible in the final painting.

And third, when done properly with a “fat over lean” technique, a lean underpainting can help prevent cracking in later years. A lean layer uses very little oil medium (though you can use artist’s grade turpentine or similar) and typically uses paint colors that dry quickly. Because a lean layer has a high proportion of pigment granules per volume of oil binder, the paint film has a rough surface that allows subsequent layers to grab and stick more effectively. This lean layer is brittle on its own, but it is protected by subsequent ‘fat’ layers (lower pigment to oil ratio) that are more flexible and resistant to cracking, though they take longer to dry.

My Underpainting Palette

Oil paint colors dry at different rates and those that dry more quickly are ideal for use in the underpainting. For my underpainting, I typically use a Flake White Hue (a less toxic lead-free replacement to traditional Flake White), Cobalt Yellow, Venetian Red, Cobalt Blue, Ultramarine Blue, and Burnt Umber. Other quick drying colors are Cobalt Green, Manganese Blue, Prussian Blue, Manganese Violet, Raw Sienna and Burnt Sienna.

Have an underpainting palette you love? Please share in the comments!

Infrared reflectogram detail of Jan Van Eyck’s painting

Take a look at this wonderfully detailed conservation report of Jan Van Eyck’s Margaret, the Artist’s Wife. I love seeing the infrared reflectogram details showing how the underpainting was slightly different than the final painting. The Italians have given us a word for this phenomenon: pentimento.

Visit the Commissions page if you’ve ever considered commissioning a portrait of your own, and follow me on Instagram to see more images of paintings in-progress.

Painting on Copper – May Monthly Miniature

Bunny Rabbit miniature oil painting on aluminum by Rebecca Luncan

May – Charlemagne, oil on copper, 4 1/4″ x 3 1/4″

My second Monthly Miniature of Charlemagne the rabbit, follows a 500 year tradition of painting on copper primed with a clove of garlic.

Lavinia_Fontana_-_Self-Portrait_in_a_Tondo_-_WGA7986

Lavinia Fontana (1552-1614)-Self-Portrait in a Tondo, 1597, oil on copper

Paintings on copper have been made by European artists since the mid 1500’s. Many examples from those first few hundred years survive even better than their canvas and wood panel counterparts.

Then as now, copper surfaces are first sanded, cleaned with denatured alcohol, and topped with an optional layer of garlic juice. Garlic juice etches the surface of the copper and it’s most effective if followed by a coat of lead white. The process hasn’t changed much, except many more artists today (myself included) avoid the highly toxic lead white paint.

Artists don’t often get to grow their own art supplies. The garden is another huge creative outlet for me, and now a tiny bit of it is in this painting.

Fearsome Bală stalking in the garlic patch, Photo credit: Evan Grim

My cat, Bală stalking in the garlic patch, Photo credit: Evan Grim

Check out Alberti’s Window, An art History Blog for an in depth discussion about Lavinia Fontana’s self-portrait above in reference to her being a female painter in the 1500’s.

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