Here we are with another puppy painting, but this time it’s my brother’s Labrador, Marley. We’re not entirely sure how old he is, we got him back in 2013 from a rescue shelter when he was around two years old, but no one knows for certain. In any case, he’s now at least 7 years old, yet his playfulness has only increased over time! We suspect he was abused by his previous owners, so as he settled into our family and then became increasingly confident of his place in a loving environment, he’s continually opened up to expressing more of his playful puppy self, a self that may have been suppressed or even punished in his past. We don’t know for sure, but it’s been an incredible journey with him – when we first met, he would flinch if anyone made a sudden move, apparently afraid someone would hit him… whereas now he will actively seek out our hands to pat him, even nudging under them and leaning into us to maximise that connection!
Another thing he likes to do is roll about on his back, asking for tummy rubs, or sometimes just for the fun of it, and that’s what I’ve depicted in this painting. The inspiration came just after we’d installed a new vinyl floor, one which looks like wood, but is noticeably softer to walk on compared to what we had previously. I cannot pretend I know what Marley thought of the whole thing, only that he took to it immediately, happily rolling about, glancing up at me like this was the best thing ever! It’s at this point that I snapped the reference photo that eventually lead to this composition.
This was a particularly challenging painting for me to complete however. When I painted my portrait of Hope last year, well he was in the sun, so his white fur was even whiter and brighter than usual – relatively easy to handle – and the rest of his features were pretty well defined in patches of black, brown, and grey. Marley, on the other hand, is in theory a single-coloured “yellow” Labrador, but in practice, his fur features different shades of orange-brown, without any very clear points of distinction separating different sections, not helped by the layers of undercoat that seem to vary in shades as well. On top of that, I was painting him upside-down, exposing the rolls of his neck which create their own odd areas of light and shadow. But beyond the difficult colours, I also just had a huge struggle even drawing him in the first place. Hope, in his portrait, is essentially just an oval with ears. Whereas Marley was a whole lotta shapes all put together.
I had to take a different approach to this painting. You can read about my process and see some “making of” photos here.
In any case, I’m both surprised and happy with the results on this one! There seriously was a point about halfway through where I thought I wouldn’t be able to do it. But as with my previous Hope painting process, I just persisted, adding layer after layer and refining it each time, until suddenly I took a step back and realised it was actually improving, and soon after, finally done! It feels like such an achievement to me, to be able to complete a painting like this, so far out of my perceived set of skills. An intimidating challenge, but you have to step out of your comfort zone in order to improve.
So now I’ll be pairing this painting with Sunny Hope Dreaming, and taking it up to enter them in the local gallery show. Cross fingers they like what I’ve done! These paintings are not for sale however – I’m too attached to them! Not just because they’re my family, but also because of what they represent to me as an artist, overcoming my doubts to paint better than ever before.