Wednesday 25 September 2013

Teacher's Pet - Step by Step

Here's how I did the latest painting in my punning British stereotypes series. Having completed Vicar and Tart, Meat and Two Veg and Fisherman's Friends, I needed a new subject. So I asked the great and the good of Twitter and they came through, as always, with some excellent suggestions. The one that immediately suggested a fun painting to me was Teacher's Pet and I'd soon worked up a couple of rough sketches.

What appealed to me was the idea of making the teacher and the dog look like each other. So I did some picture researching and found the perfect dog - the wire haired fox terrier. It looks almost human. Perfect. It was also, coincidentally, the day of my photographer brother Si Colgan's graduation from Falmouth University, having won himself a place on their prestigious BA course in photography (it's considered to be the best in the UK). His gown and those of his tutors were useful reference too. Other inspiration came from childhood memories of old Will Hay films, of Jimmy Edwards in Whacko! (he grew that extraordinary moustache to cover scars he got as a pilot in WW2 you know), and the teacher from The Beano's 'Bash Street Kids'. And, of course, the acid caricatures of the late, great Ronald Searle:


So, having got a basic idea of what I wanted to do, I got my standard 16 x 20ins pre-stretched, pre-primed canvas and pencilled in my teacher and dog. Then I did the underpainting to get an idea of direction of light etc.

From the start I was quite pleased with this one. All I'd need to do was make sure that the characters stayed looking like each other. By the end of Day 1 (and about an hour of painting), I'd 'got rid of the white' - i.e. had most of the large areas blocked out - and had marked in pen where some details would go.

Curiously, when I came to do some work on the painting on Day 2 I almost wished I'd left it purely in sepia tones. I rather liked it. Maybe I'll do a painting in monochrome next? Anyway, on with Day 2 and I added some background and blocked in the main figures. I then started work on the teacher's face; I was quite pleased with the hangdog look I started to get. It reminded me of the late, great Clement Freud MP, co-star - along with Henry the Bloodhound - of those old 'Minced Morsels' TV adverts from the 60s and 70s. That said, my teacher looked a little too angry. I'd need to fix that.

He was also a little lopsided and the nose needed some work too. So, a good Day 2 and I was able to work much later than usual due to a new daylight bulb I've installed in my office/studio. It's a real boon. End of play, it looked like this:

Day 3 began with work on the two main characters. I spent quite a long time trying to get them to have similar expressions - which did mean painting out the teacher's eyebrows and starting over. Much more Clement Freudian. Next, I tried using masking tape to create pinstripes on his waistcoat but it looked all wrong; the lines were just too straight and too thick.

After a bit of faffing about, I decided to lose the waistcoat altogether and put him in a white shirt and tie - the tie would have my old school (Helston School) colours of blue with gold stripes. I figured it might be nice if the dog's collar mirrored this. So, here's the painting at the end of Day 3:

Day 4 began with some tidying up of the dog's moustache and then the teacher's shirt and tie. I then tidied up his gown. But the whole composition still seemed ... unbalanced. There was just too much 'open space' on the bottom right of the painting. So, taking one of those mad, brave steps I so often do, I decided to add a hand and a cane. A rubbish hand. Look how bad it is. LOOK! Sigh.

Yup, I had to do a bit of work on that hand to get it right. I'm rubbish at figure drawing. But, I think my efforts were rewarded because, at the end of Day 4 (and another three hours of painting time), I reckon I was close to calling the picture complete. It certainly looked like a better painting.

Day 5 involved painting in the tie and dog collar, adding a few shadows and liver spots and some detail on the cane. The expanse of white shirt was an issue so I gave him a pale lilac which also helped accentuate the white of his beard. It helped bring the painting together tonally and voila! Teacher's Pet was complete!

So, what have I learned while doing this painting? Well, the background was something new for me. I knew that too much would distract from the foreground figures so I kept it very loose and indistinct. I also learned that white acrylic paint comes in two forms - one for mixing and one for coverage. The mixing form (which I'd bought by accident) is used to lighten other colours but is rubbish for opaque coverage. You need Titanium White for that. I also painted a dog, which was a fun and something new. All I'd ever done before was cartoon dogs.

On the whole, quite pleased :)

Next painting: A Nice Pair of Jugs!

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