Stella, Acrylic on Canvas, 12”x12”, October 2021.
We’ve been living on the Bluff since the start of May, sleeping in the Love Shack, cooking meals in the outdoor kitchen, and relaxing in the covered solarium. It’s been magical watching the humpback whales breaching in the strait at sunset, while hummingbirds chase each other around the feeding stations. Overall, it’s been a long hot summer, full of construction dust, heat domes and a constant parade of visitors.
It would have been the perfect opportunity to practice some Plein Aire painting, but for some reason, I never managed to pick up a brush or apply paint to canvas for six whole months. I did spend quite a bit of time drawing interiors of the new house as we were busy working out final design decisions. This was necessary as the builders needed our input before they completed the foundation. However, I could also feel the tectonic pressures growing inside without any creative outlet for release. I knew once we moved inside in the Fall, completing a painting would be one of my first priorities. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to paint, until I received a message from our next-door neighbours in Vancouver. Their beloved dog Stella had passed away. Stella was a beautiful border collie, with a delicate, sensitive nature. She reminded me of many of the ranch dogs we had growing up and we were definitely buddies. I have taken many pictures of her over the years – always with the intention of making a painting.
As usual, I started by doing a value sketch to work out the areas of light and dark. I decided to try a somewhat abstracted portrait and used a reference photo that showed Stella standing guard on the neighbours porch where she could watch over her domain which was most of the South side of East 8th avenue. I wanted to reflect the amount of joy that Stella had brought to everyone on the block, so I chose a palette of bright colourful hues – Prussian Blue, Alizarin Crimson, Cadmium Yellow, Orange and Red, Teal, and Titanium White. I felt a little clumsy painting this pet portrait. I wanted it to be both recognizable and still portray some of my feelings, so I went for an impressionistic style. After a six month hiatus, I struggled with my technique. I think it’s going to take a few paintings to get back into my stride.
Although I was quite sad that she was gone, I didn’t want this portrait to have an air of melancholy. To do Stella justice, I wanted the painting to be bright and energetic. Initially, I chose a rich orange background to make the predominantly blue central figure stand out and vibrate with some of the energy I always felt around that sweet dog, but the background hue was so intense that it took over. I ended up trying a few different versions of the background: