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Rocky


My latest commission, this is Rocky.

This is the second piece for the same client as my most recent commission post, my painting of Sammy, the Golden Retriever.

Rocky’s portrait is a memorial piece, as he passed away some time ago. The very image of a firefighting dog, Rocky was the fire mascot in the World Police and Fire Games in Vancouver in 2009.  He even participated in the parade and opening ceremony.

I’ve never painted a Dalmatian before and this was a fun piece. It was a challenge to make sure I got all of the markings in the right place, even as I exaggerated his features in my whimsical style.

When it comes to getting it right, it’s not only about the features themselves, but also the relationships between the features, affecting how believable the likeness will be. This is especially important when painting people.

Black and white fur is tricky because I couldn’t paint pure black or pure white. The blackest black or whitest white in a colour piece will create flat dead spots that will rob the image of its life. It’s all about degrees of shading and how the light reflects in the dark and light areas. Black will often be a very dark blue, white the brightest yellow or pink.

There isn’t much fur detail in a short-haired black and white dog, so it requires restraint. Too much detail and it wouldn’t look right, especially if I painted the fur too sharp. It became about manipulating the depth of field, blurring out some areas and sharpening others. The personality and overall image were the focus and it was important not to have any one detail distract from that. He really does have that heart shaped feature above his nose, however, and I wanted to make sure it was evident.

This client was a joy to work with, for purely selfish reasons. Aside from some minor direction I was happy to accept, I had the freedom to paint these beautiful dogs my own way. For this painting, I asked if they wanted me to include the collar or not. I didn’t include one for their other dog because he had long, luxurious hair, but I was hoping they would want it for this one. They did and said they preferred it to be red.

Considering that Rocky was a firefighter dog, it added a lot, balancing out the black and white with a splash of colour. Had they given me no direction at all, I would have made the same choices.

Because I don’t know how the clients are planning to hang the canvases, I wanted them to look good on their own or together, so I made both of the backdrops blue, with Rocky’s a little darker because I liked the way it looked against the subject.
After painting whimsical wildlife and pet portrait commissions for more than ten years, I’m confident in my abilities and the skills I’ve developed. But each painting still presents unique challenges, and I would be disappointed if it were otherwise. Overcoming those obstacles makes for improved skills and better prepares me for the next piece, no matter what that may be.

As always, the most crucial part of any commission is the client’s approval and I’m happy to report that they were pleased with both finished pieces. Next up, I’ll be sending these off for printing, then shipping them to their new home in B.C.

For you tech and art people, I painted this image in Photoshop on a Wacom Cintiq 24HD display. Photos are only for reference, not used in my paintings. It’s all digital brushwork.

Cheers,
Patrick

© Patrick LaMontagne
@LaMontagneArt
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Sammy

Near the end of last year, I was contacted by a woman in BC who had seen my artwork at the ferry terminal in Victoria, on merchandise licensed through Pacific Music & Art.

Christina was complimentary of my work, which is always nice to hear, and when she saw that I did commissions, she inquired about my painting her Golden Retriever as a gift for her husband. She included a photo of the two of them.

Before taking on a commission, I usually like a little back and forth to ensure I understand the client’s expectations, and I want to see reference photos. If the images aren’t good, I can’t do a good job, and I’ll decline the opportunity. Christina supplied me with plenty of great shots and suggested I Google the pair, just in case there was press reference I might like.

You see, Sammy is a working dog, and Larry Watkinson is the Chief of the Penticton Fire Department.

Photo Credit: Mike Biden

Before long, I was reading with fascination, articles from different BC newspapers. In September of 2019, Larry and Sam were deployed to the Bahamas to help with the rescue efforts following Hurricane Dorian.

As part of a team of Burnaby Fire Fighters and their rescue dogs, they searched for cadavers in the wreckage. The USAR team must be self-sufficient in their operation, and while the goal is to get there as quickly as possible to find survivors, it’s often too late, despite their best efforts. The team had previously deployed to Nepal in 2015.

They spent eight days in 40-degree heat in the Bahamas, having to source their own accommodation, water, food and resources. These dedicated professionals are volunteers, using their own vacation time to help others in need, leaving their supportive families back home.

Following the deployment, Larry was quoted in the Penticton Western News as saying, “We have to recognize that we live in a great place and a beautiful city and to remember to look after each other. That’s something I’ve come home with and have been reflecting on every day.”

I asked Christina if she wanted Sammy painted in his rescue vest, and she declined, saying, “He is first a family pet.”

When people hire me for commissions, they either want a traditional portrait or my whimsical signature style, the same way I paint my wildlife portraits. While I’m happy to paint both, I do prefer the ones where I get to add more personality, and was thrilled when Christina said she wanted my style. They’re just so much more fun to paint.

Later in our correspondence, she wanted to make sure Larry liked the idea, and thankfully he did. No longer a surprise, I didn’t have a firm deadline on this, and they hired me to paint another family dog since passed away, which I’m working on now. Rocky was a traditional firefighter’s dog, a beautiful Dalmatian and I’m also painting him in the whimsical style.
Sammy was a joy to paint, and I had so many great reference pics to work from, which allowed me to create the likeness from more than one source. While Sammy’s nose has lightened with age, Larry had requested I paint it dark, as it was when he was younger, which I was happy to do, while still reflecting the light. My work is all about artistic license, especially the whimsical style.

Christina and Larry were both pleased with the result, which is always the nail-biting part of any commission, waiting to hear if the client is happy with the work I deliver.

Once I finish the second painting, I’ll have them both printed and stretched on 12”X16” canvas, ready to hang, and shipped to Penticton.

I get to meet and talk with a lot of great people in my work, but this is one of the stories and commissions I’ve enjoyed most.

Cheers,
Patrick

© Patrick LaMontagne
@LaMontagneArt
If you’d like to receive my newsletter which features blog posts, new paintings and editorial cartoons, follow this link to the sign up form.