I just finished a new piece of art that I’m donating to Mill Mountain Zoo for their Animals, Art & Articulation fundraiser. It’s a great event with food, a cash bar, silent auction AND an awesome discussion of artwork with animal themes. It’s right up my alley. Animals AND art – what a great combination! I created a pastel portrait of the zoo’s male snow leopard, Bali for the silent auction. I hadn’t created any artwork of Bali yet, and I had been craving to do something, so this was a great excuse to get to work. I took some photos of my progression and wanted to share them. First, I started off with a reference photo. I took this photo of Bali pretty recently, and I just think it captures his spunk well. He always has this little mischievous twinkle in his eye.
Sometimes I don’t depict exactly what I see in my reference photos – I might change the position of the subject’s gaze, or tilt their head, re-position an arm or leg, or change the environment or background, etc. But I loved this photo, and I didn’t want to change much about it. So I started off with my initial sketch. I used soft pastels and a pastel paper with a bit of a tooth. I prefer paper that isn’t totally smooth. I also tend to use a neutral colored paper. I don’t use white paper often, but I do use black sometimes. Black paper can create some really interesting pieces. When I sketch, I also like to use a neutral pastel (I know the sketch looks white, but it’s actually gray). White and black can stand out too much and become visible through the pastel coloring.
Once I get the sketch created, I work from the upper left corner to the lower right corner because I am right-handed and don’t want to smear any sections I’ve already completed. Soft pastels are chalky so they can be smeared easily. I also work from the background to the foreground. The initial sketch is the hardest part for me. It takes time to figure out the proportions and make sure everything is accurate.
Next comes color blocking. I start laying down big blocks of flat color as a foundation.
After the flat color, I start building up more color and working on details. I love working on the eyes probably the most. The coloring and detail work is my favorite. I don’t know if it’s because I can see the painting coming to “life” or if it’s because I just really love to work with my hands.
So here it is: the finished piece! It actually took many many hours to complete. There were so many spots and individual hairs to add.
So what do you think? I’m pretty pleased with the way it turned out. I’m not always completely satisfied with my work, but I can see that twinkle in Bali’s eye in this piece, and that makes me incredibly happy.
If you like this piece and would like to purchase the ORIGINAL and help out the zoo, come to the 3rd Annual Animals, Art & Articulation Fundraiser – Wednesday, August 14: 6-9pm at Mill Mountain Zoo!