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Wrick, from A 19 Planets Art Blog left a very interesting comment on the previous Biskit post. He talked about how much more realistic Biskit seemed using a photo reference and how some of the photo distortion actually gets into an artist’s work. He went on to suggest that it might be interesting to try a dog from life.  The above painting was  done from life.  This is Haley, a friend of mine’s dog. I had just read a book about using watercolor and charcoal together and had wanted to try my hand at it.  The book was titled “Painting People in Watercolor” by Alex Powers.  The drawing is done in charcoal.  I do more than just a line drawing when I work this way and continue on with it until I have areas shaded in. The next step is to paint with watercolor.  The watercolor picks up some of the charcoal as you work in and around it.  There is an interesting mix of opaque and transparent passages.  

Thanks, Wrick!


  1. Am I understanding you correctly, you painted this dog from real life, not a picture! How long did he stay asleep? None the less the painting is awesome, Leslie; I love it! You really need to get yourself on utube so I can watch you.

    • This took about two and a half hours to completion. Haley slept for quite some time. I was able to get the basic drawing down in about fifteen minutes (gesture-like). She moved. Changed her head position and legs, got up and walked around and layed down somewhere else. I have found with life drawings that the important thing is not so much the reality of the exact figure but some essence that passes on something of the moment, the gesture, and the mood. I could always walk over to her and look at the pads of her feet or where her eyes were placed on her head if she moved before I had included some of the details I wanted. That is what gives drawings and paintings from life that “other” something. Thanks, Debbie!

  2. Quite a peaceful image, this one.
    I like the mild tones you chose.
    They convey the sense of relaxing

    • Oh Richard, what a neat observation. I chose the secondary triad of oranges, violet and green to paint this scene. I had read that the secondary triad enhances a peaceful scene and the primary triad energizes a scene. I have remembered that and experimented with my color choices many times. Thank-you for this insightful comment!

  3. The Alex Powers book is one of my favorites and one I find myself referring back to quite often. There is a checklist in it that I have found useful for myself and also for my students to determine artistic priorities.

    • 🙂 I probably could have guessed you would like this book, Chris. You are so good with understanding much of what he has shared in it. I am still absorbing some of the information and refer to it frequently. The thing I like about the list you speak of is the diversity it offers artists. Sometimes I think we get in ruts and don’t know how to proceed. Thank-you for bringing my attention to that list, once again!

  4. Leslie, you may be able to go and check her pads, eyes, etc., but to be able to complete all the light and shadow is remarkable. The movement of the charcoal must be like an exploration. New discoveries with each stroke. I’m sure Haley is pleased!

    • Oh yes, you make a good point, Amy. Even the light was the essence and not something totally there. I believe it was more of a gray day but the light that there was came from a window to the left. I wanted to try to draw the viewer to her face and repose, there, so chose to darken and deepen the charcoal underneath. I streaked the white in to furthur grab attention. The charcoal, the paint, the total immersion into the subject all becomes an incredible mini journey in discovery not unlike life and what you write about. This piece is framed and hanging right above that electrical outlet in my friend’s kitchen. Haley can see it all the time. 🙂 That’s the truth! Thank-you!

  5. Awesome work from life! Very impressive! Thank you for mentioning the Powers book, I didn’t know of it before. Looked it over on Amazon and requested it from my library already – looks like a really interesting book.

    • His work is not photo realism, Alex, but you will not be disappointed. There is so much he addresses that every artist should own a copy. He takes us a step beyond and pushes us to consider possibilities. Too rich for one sitting. I was immediately drawn to the composition, line, gesture and energy in his work.
      Thank-you for the comment!

  6. I love watching my dogs when they are sleeping and they move around a lot in their sleep. Impressive capture of the sleeping pup. Your work is a great source of inspiration. I used to draw with color pencils and lately, I hear them calling out to me to free them from the storage.

    • Thank-you for the comment, Emily. If you have the time, get those colored pencils out. I admire anyone who has the patience for colored pencil. However, I have wanted to sit down with them and try to find some freer loose ways of working with them and just have not taken the time. Would love to see something you do. 🙂

  7. Ah, Leslie … your artistic talent, and your love for our canine critters comes through here. Beautiful rendition, and the charcoal/water color combo is great!

    • Hi Kate,
      I have been thinking of you a lot lately. Thank-you for this comment! Have to love the doggies!

  8. Some times interesting feed backs result in such lovely work and this is absolutely adorable.. lucky that he slept for quite some time and “co operated” for your work Leslie!

    • You nailed it about feedback, Padmaja. When I first began drawing, I could not understand the reason behind drawing and painting from life. You have to draw and paint from photos, imagination, and life for some time to begin to recognize differences. It is not that one way is better than the other but that we, as artists, gather information from each form of reference we use. Yes, it is good that she slept…..Thank-you!!!

  9. This is beautiful Leslie. I always admire your amazing work!

  10. Leslie, I love this painting! I’m very interested in mixed-media, and I’ve always wondered about charcoal and paint, so it’s so great to see that you can use them in the same piece (and create such beautiful effects!). Dogs are my favorite subject, so I know how tough it is to work from life with them; it seems that Haley was a cooperative (and adorable) model. Thanks for sharing.

    • Try it, Laurie! The major complaint that my students had about it was that it left such a dark piece. I think it takes longer and doing several, though, to know if one can use a process or not.
      It is tough to work from life with them. Most of my paintings and drawings of them from life are when they are sleeping. Here is one I posted, earlier, of my little Tucker: I followed him around to get the poses. Thank-you, Laurie!

  11. The light in this piece is fascinating. I was drawn to Haley’s tail where white fur reflected light, which then drew me to the light source. Only snow can create such a beam of light through what appeared to be a glass door, or possibly window. I then immediately felt a winter day with sun reflecting off snow and what a superb time for a dog to curl up in the warmth of that light. Pretty incredible to feel the context of your painting while sitting in the desert of Arizona.

    • Haley has white fur peeking out everywhere in her late age and she is lovely and deserves to be lit. Oh yes, I see what you mean about snow reflecting white light as I look out my window to a scene of white and it is not unlike the white in this painting. Thank-you for pointing that out. I learn so much from comments and this one I will stash away in my memory banks, Nancy! I remember sunlight in Arizona reflecting off concrete and being white enough to be blinding! Thank-you, Nancy!

  12. The charcoal and watercolour really work Leslie! The close up of this particular painting is wonderful too! This dog must have been a dream to work with 🙂

    • My example of charcoal and watercolor is really shabby compared to Alex Powers. Haley was easy to work with while she was laying down, for sure. I would never have been able to get a good portrait from life, however, as I don’t work fast enough. Slow and hum-drum more my way. Thank-you, Lynda!

  13. I love the way the dog is curled up in the corner and the light coming through the window. You do such amazing and beautiful animal portraits. (The Husband is still talking about that cow painting!)

    I found it so interesting that you did a charcoal drawing first and would have thought that the charcoal would have made the watercolor look “dirty” but it hasn’t.

    Brava for you painting Haley from life.

    • The charcoal does make the watercolor look dirty and that is one reason many of mystudents do not like this particular mixed media project. I think it may require a certain vision. Much of Alex Powers work, like this, is low key or dark. The are dramatic and lean more toward value study than color. It takes some getting used to. The same painting, without the charcoal would be bright, indeed, because the major colors used were diox violet, sap green and quin gold. Thank-you for the thumbs up on the animal portraits. They are my favorite, as you know.

  14. I like how your use of white compliments the dark lines, Leslie. Hi. Nope, no ‘horses’ inside of Haley. Unless in the sleep/dreamstate….LOL. Hi.

  15. I would have never thought of using green to paint a dog !! but it works ! you are so amazing !

    • You made my day, Isabelle. Thank-you! I chose the secondary triad to paint this scene of a slumbering Haley and added that green, on a whim, to balnce the greens used elsewhere. It seems to help in tying the background to the foreground. An instructor had mentioned this to me many years ago and it works!! I, sometimes ask my students to paint something in colors other than the local color of a subject so they become accustomed to balancing their paintings.

  16. This is such a cool painting. It seems your confidence in laying down swatches of colour has exploded. I love Alex Powers work and have his book on my shelf too. I have always had his comment about changing from Powers the programmer to Alex the artist close to my heart.
    Charcoal is so committing but of course this is not an issue for you (at least you don’t seem to shrink back).
    Leslie your pushing at the edge of comfort is so inspiring and your results are encouraging.

    • I can’t always do this, Stephen, as you know from viewing my work over a period of time. Working from life and limiting my time seems to help in this. I believe Charles Reid speaks of this in his book. I think I am one of those artists that pushes my paint a little more than he likes, but I highly respect his work! Charcoal is committing and these don’t always turn out. Love your recent painting of the fishermen!!!!!

  17. Leslie, Interesting painting and process. Do you know if spraying the charcoal with water or soaking the paper after the charcoal drawing is done would “set” the charcoal? Kind of a modification of the Peggy Brown process? I like the perspective on this…the overhead perspective with the floor falling away is great…sort of like van Gogh’s yellow bedroom.

    • I do believe the spraying with water would set the charcoal more because it sets quite a bit while being painted into with the watercolor. I always fix these with matte fixative because the charcoal can still smear and I store these in a portfolio sleeve. I also fix my pastel and watercolor and the wax resists that I do. Good Question. I was sitting above her while rendering this scene. I think that helps with that falling away look to the floor. Thank-you, Linda!!

  18. Very interesting Leslie,
    I have sketched live animals, but I have never painted them. I want to go to the stables and try to do some plein airing with the horses… Someday when southern Indiana ever warms up! Beautiful and interesting painting once again.

    • You will probably do just fine. Just finished a horse painting and I have always painted them from photos. I imagine I could manage a painting from life of horses tied to a hitching rail or harnessed and standing at the curb waiting for the next passenger…. 🙂 sort of like sleeping dogs. Ha! Thanks, ryan!

  19. aloha Leslie. – yeah, just in case you’re wondering, i did see this post the other day when you posted it. i thought it deserved more time than i had when i saw it. i didnt think it would take me this long to get back to it tho – hahaha on me. …but then that’s probably often true.

    thank you for the point over and the post. way cool to see the two. i like a lot about both. in some ways i think this way feels more personal to me – like it’s personally your way. i like that.

    i’m not sure if i was very clear in the previous comment (the Biskit comment) or not.. may be realistic isnt the right word. both ways of working are valid of course. one is painting from what our eyes do looking at what a camera has done in a photograph – the other is painting from what our eyes do on 3 dimensional objects (if we’re painting from the world around us). and yes, imo, there are valid reasons for doing both.

    i think there are a lot of ways to paint from what our eyes do. hmmmm… where would painting from our memory come in to that? i suppose it’s from our eyes view too. altho may be the distortion or effect is eyes + memory. hmmm… then of course there are dreams we can paint from too… bwahahahaaha, interesting.

    painting the photograph… there are some issues already resolved that we do not have to approach or consider in the way we do when working from the live subject (even if the subject is a ball or a fence). one is that the camera/photograph has already transferred the subject to a flat surface. unless the camera and photo are specialized (a stereoscopic camera and photo) the camera is seeing from a single eye point of view – which flattens a view out considerably. so that step from 3 dimensional subject to 2 dimensional surface isnt there when painting a photograph.

    we see in stereoscopic vision tho. one of the advantages of stereoscopic vision in life is that it helps us know distance to an object – which has advantages. seeing with two eyes means we actually see slightly around objects – that’s what makes the depth so much clearer. close one eye, and look at a pencil held in your hand, then switch eyes. it looks like the background behind the pencil jumps slightly – that’s because each eye is seeing from it’s own single point of view. our brain combines the two views into one view. when we close one eye our view of the world becomes flatter. it’s harder to tell how far away the pencil is from the background when we look with only one eye. this two-points-of-view is the issue we face when transferring what we see to a flat surface (our paper/canvas). it’s the process of how we do that, which imo, helps a painting become more like the way we see, than the way a camera sees because the camera sees with only one-point-of-view.

    in some ways painting from life can look more like the way we see than painting from a photograph because we paint from the view point of both eyes. altho painting from a photograph is painting the way we see a photograph, the photograph itself has already flattened the world so we do not see in 3-d and have to make that transfer – 3-d to 2-d as we do when painting from the actual subject.

    to me, it’s two different ways of approaching a painting. both valid, but an interesting difference. i like seeing how an artist resolves that issue of going from 3-d to 2-d – there are a lot of ways to do that – probably as many ways as there are artists in the world. this is something i miss when it’s a painting of a photograph (altho there are as many ways to paint a photograph as there are artists too). as i’ve said, there are other things which make the process in painting a photograph of interest. so it’s simply that there is a difference, one isnt the same as the other.

    i like your approach with Haley. i like the way charcoal and watercolor can mix. much as i like the way ink and watercolor can mix. in the end, i think painting is mostly about color. may be color and light and a lot of other things too but mostly about color. i like the ways in which you approach color. your color approach on the photograph painting is what attracts me most about it, i think. you approach color in a different way it seems to me, with Haley. i like seeing both. making a painting work is about making color work. i hope you continue exploring both processes with your sense of color. fun. aloha – Wrick

    • Thank-you for sharing all the above, Wrick. I agree with you and discuss this with my students. There are artists who work exclusively from life. There are artists who work exclusively from photos. There are artists who work from memory or feeling or color or a myriad of other things. …and for different reasons. I knew what you were saying in your previous comment and I so appreciate your comment. There are as many ways of creating as there are people who wish to explore it. I am not so much about any one way, but numerous ways, otherwise I would fall short when I face my students. My journey is to not turn them off to any way they wish to create. I try to explore it all in order to inspire them. You see, the worst thing for me to witness is for one of them to put the pencil or the brush down because they feel they can not create. I view everyone as an artist. Some have just not taken time to explore. You are dear, because you share with all of us very pertinent issues in the field of art!

      • aloha Leslie – i agree with you. my thinking exactly – we are all artists – even if some of us dont realize it yet.

        yes again – create in your own way. each of us has the ability to create and each of us has a unique way of being our self – no other being can do that way better than we our self can.

        teaching/studenting, a course, workshops or classes can help us in a lot of areas – tools, materials, some ways to use these things, concepts and ideas, even theory and philosophy – and may be one of the most important things, the language(s)of art – these are all valuable and worthwhile reasons to join and participate in classes and instruction and a great way to move forward on our path. in these settings, imo, as a student/learner i want to try to do what the instructor is suggesting, try to understand what they are getting at and do it in their way – not as my way but to learn. eventually i’ll keep what works for me and allow the rest to simmer in me until i’m ready for it. it’s all valuable resource.

        ultimately and eventually it’s up to each person to find their way of working that is unique to them outside of all the ways in which we have learned – or may be going on from these ways into our own new territory of our journey. …to me, that’s when it really begins to get fun. trying things, exploring things, discovering through our own investigation – yeah, wow fun. taking on what i dont know and exploring it to find out and see what happens. i believe when we do this, we open path ways and shine lights that help others on their own way too.

        my thinking is that a teacher/student relationship works both ways, i can learn from my students, my students can teach me. just as they can learn from me. that is another of the great benefits of teaching/learning. the idea of teaching and studenting is to launch each other on into our own path, rather than making more versions of our self in others. it’s exciting when someone you’ve been working with in your way, begins to explore their own path and it becomes so very uniquely theirs – their way. that’s a very fun thing to see as a teacher (imo).

        yeah, everyone can create and we can all become good at being our self when we create. cool on that. way cool on that. way cool on what you are doing Leslie – mahalo and aloha

      • I agree with you totally on not making more versions of ourselves as we teach. We are on the same page.

  20. I like this a lot, Leslie. I like the way the dog looks both relaxed and alert at the same time – some kind of life in the limbs, I think. And I think that’s the thing about working from life – as movement naturally occurs, it shows in the artwork.

    • Thank-you, Val. That is what I love most about working from life. I might add that working from life gives us the knowledge to incorporate in our other work what memory and a photo can not. I like it all.

  21. This is lovely Leslie. I’ve used charcoal with my acrylics with mixed results, what you have here is stunning. I’m wondering how long this painting took you. My life drawings are done in minutes, not for any particular reason, although I do remember during art college we had life drawing classes where we were told to draw as if ‘the bus was waiting’. I really like the shades and the muscle definition, I can see the same in your horse above. I think painting from still life or life drawing with a real model is always much better than photographs, you pick up elements that cannot be captured from photos. Very nice- very, very good!

    • This painting took around two and a half hours. No, Haley did not lay there the whole time. I get something down and go for it. My friend has other Goldens that were laying around and Haley curled up several times while I worked on this. I am not fast at anything other than quick continuous line drawings. I, personally, like working from anything. I honestly believe working from life is an admirable activity and well worth the time spent. Thanks, Keith!

  22. Painting from life is a challenge especially when it’s time to capture some details and suddenly the subject moves. Haley looks so peaceful and cosy. Another wonderful painting from Leslie.

    • I can deal with more movement than I used to but have not adapted to quick movements like drawing dancers from life or horses moving around a pasture. Most of my drawings of dogs from life are slumbering pieces like this. Thank-you, Francis.

  23. dear leslie,

    another dog painting here. love the sleeping pose the dog here. i think the suggestion of wrick made this watercolor painting almost a conversational piece of art. i have been thinking lately of edgar hopper’s painting as pointed out to me by lynda in my recent poetry post. and i love the parallelisms of my thought to wrick’s suggestion. and i think the idea should translate into my verses also.

    thought provoking blogpost here. thank you very much.

    • Hi Marvin,
      What a wonderful thought about this becoming a conversational piece. I think that is one of the highest compliments others can pay an artist because it reflects an interest in the work by someone else and also raises questions. Thank-you, Marvin!

  24. I have been playing around the idea of using a combination of charcoal and watercolor for a particular piece I had in mind for an art class, but wasn’t sure if the two would combine well. So I did some research and stumbled upon this page. Interestingly enough, I own a copy of “Painting People in Watercolor” by Alex Powers. Without having found this page, I probably would never have thought to look through my books (sort of an obvious answer) so I just wanted to say thanks!

    • You are welcome, Ashley! Sure wish I could get mine to look a little more energetic like Alex Powers. Maybe in time. Thank you for this comment and the visit!

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