At last, I managed to get some quality time this week with the Bengal 6! This weekend I was at a cat show in Peterborough and this little family caused quite a stir…
So, you’ll remember that we got as far as the outline last week…now was time to start some proper work.
This is a portrait on light grey velour in pastel. Mostly the blocking in is done with stick pastels which are great for larger areas, then for the fine detail I used Derwent and Pitt Pastel pencils.
With such a large piece I like to make sure that I start on the left most side (as you look at it). Since I’m right-handed, working from left to right ensures that I’m not smudging work I’ve already done.
I started with Shadow (I love their names) and as ever I started with the eyes…and suddenly there he is.
Next is to block in the main under-colours. Bengals have exquisite markings and their coats are almost luminous, so a vibrant undercoat helps to develop the depth of colour that you see in their coats.
Here’s a closer look. You can see where I’ve started to go over the undercoat on the nose the brightness of the yellow ochre is still coming through.
These photographs give a good idea about the colour, but they were shot in a hall with flourescent lights. And no matter how much you compensate in the camera, the images don’t really compare to seeing the thing in real life.
At this point I leave the face for a little while to add some body colour. This helps me with the overall blending of colour and I can flip back and forth between the face detail and the body colour. I find that graphite pencil is ideal for adding very fine detail into the face. Again when you sudy the lighter bengals they have a layer of fine, but darker, hairs that add depth to the colour.
Adding a little background colour here helps Shadow to stand out and suddenly creates a much more 3D image. The background will be refined as I gradually work on each of the cats in turn.
You can see in the images on the right and below that I’ve started to build up the layers in the body and the face.
I think it’s always interesting to look back at the outline to see how the piece is gradually starting to come alive. The outline of Spirit looks almost bizarre against the work on Shadow.
Finally, I get to a stage with Shadow where I am happy enough to move on to work on Spirit. This desn’t mean that Shadow is finished. He will be tweaked (in the nicest possible way!) as I work on the other cats.
Starting work on Spirit
OK, so now I’m ready to start on Spirit’s eyes.
In this image you can also see that I’ve started to block in some colour around the nose and eyes. As I mentioned earlier, at this stage it looks a little too vibrant, but remember that this is under-colour and there is a layer of detail to go on top.
I got so engrossed in Spirits face here that I nearly forgot that I was photographing the progress ;0). So there’s a bit of a jump here.
There were lots of Bengals at the cat show that I was at, so you can imagine the interest in this piece. My order book is once again stuffed with reference photos…
So here are my final two shots for this installment. Spirit is still looking like a little tiger on the image in the left as there is a layer of dark to go on top of this colour.
the final shot on the left shows progress so far with Spirit against his brother…
Come back for part four to see Spirit completed and work on Inca and the kitten…
So how do you agree on a layout for 6 cats in one composition when you have a portfolio full of images and infinate possibilities?
For me the answer is Photoshop. It’s a great tool for quickly and easily pulling a composition together to show to a client. I started out by selecting what I thought would be the best images to work with – you saw those in my last post. With Photoshop you can build up your composition in layers, a bit like a scrapbook except with no glue!
These are the first two layouts I tried.
I sent both to Tracey and Steve to see what their comments were. Like me, the guys favoured layout 2 with a couple of tweaks.
We spent 30 minutes on the phone one evening moving cats around and trying different images.
Our biggest issue had been getting a good shot of Carminah the kitten, but we solved that with the ‘jiggery-pokery’ that I mentioned in the last post.
Eventually we decided that this would be our layout:
With Shadow & Spirit looking into the picture from the left and Jasper & Sonnet holding it all together on the right, we felt that this was the right balance.
So….next comes al the hard work.
This will be pastel on velour, so my next step was to create the overall sketch on watercolour paper, the only paper I had that was large enough for the sketch. Although you can’t see the scale here, the piece of velour that I’m working on is 70cm x 50 cm. So quite large to do justice to such a family. You can just see the corner of the A4 reference sheet in the top left. Next to transfer the drawing to the velour:
This bit always amazes me because it looks so flat! Then suddenly when you start on the eyes, animal start to appear out of the paper…
I will start on Shadow in the top left hand corner, so that I’m not resting on work previously done…then the rest of the boys in the back row will follow.
Thats all for now… part three with Shadows eyes in a few days.
I’m very excited to be starting my next comission as I’ve always wanted to draw these beautiful cats.
Tracey and Steve Fordham have a lovely family of Bengal cats and we met at a recent cat show. They were keen to commission a ‘family’ portrait with all five of their cats, so Tracey got to work collating all of their best photos and sending them on to me.
On the left is Spirit – we met at the show and apparently he is inseparable from his brother Shadow who you can see on the right here
Next is Sonnet on the left and Inca on the right and finally you can see Jasper in the shot below.
We had chatted a little about the layout at the show, but I had a little time to think about such a large piece as Tracey and Steve were off on a Med cruise. When we caught up to plan the layout in more detail, Tracey had news! A sweet new addition to the family – a kitten called Carminah. So now there were 6 in the family portrait.
The next job was how to layout the composition. Bengals are known for their highly distinctive spotted patterning. This results from their origins – crossings between small wild cats and domestic cats. Carminah in particular has spectacular markings and Tracey wanted to capture this in the finished piece, so she spent many hours trying to entice Carminah to look at the camera. Now if you’ve ever tried to photograph a cat that won’t look at you, you’ll know you’re on a hiding to nothing ;0)
For an artist this is where photoshop comes into its own. For portraits with several subjects it’s important that the client is able to have an idea of what the finished portrait will look like. Photoshop is great for creating mock-ups of compositions and the speed means that you can involve the client every step of the way. Tracey had two great shots of Carminah which we decided would work well.
We wanted the back shot from first picture with the head shot from the second, so with a bit of jiggery-pokery we ended up with this – a workable reference shot for me to work from.
In part 2 of this project I’ll show you how we worked on the layout to agree the final composition.