Pete – original oil painting donkey

This is Pete, he’s a donkey that lives in a field that I walk past with my dog. He’s in a field with horses and what strikes me about Pete is that he is always so alert and curious about who is walking by. The horses rarely look up or express any interest in anything going on but Pete always does

This is new for me on two fronts, firstly it is the largest painting I have done and it’s the first donkey I have also painted – in fact the first horse of any type. A little daunted I decided to keep trusting my style and method and see where I ended up. Quite well actually, it is a beautiful painting.

Pete’s gentle curiosity and lovely colours which became more apparent the closer I looked made me realise that I had potentially a great painting if I got it right. What follows is a breakdown of my method…..

This is the photo that I decided to use of about 20 that I took. He was kind enough to pose for me for quite some time. I cropped the photo to focus only on the head and shoulders. This image allowed me to see the multiple colours that the sun had illuminated.

You can see how soft and gentle his eyes are, they were to be my focus..

My method of painting follows a fairly consistent format. I use a mixture of raw umber to create three tones, mid is just raw umber, mixed with white for a light tone and mixed with ultramarine blue for a darker tone. Brushes are always flat long haired brushes that create bold decisive strokes. Sometimes I will cover the surface with a warm golden acrylic colour, I use exactly the same golden colour under my pastel drawings. It does create a lovely warm feel to the piece. This particular piece is created on a wooden panel that is cradled, which means it has an inch or so frame on the back to support it. It has been sized (sealed with glue) and gesso oil primer on top. This has to be done when painting in oil to prevent the oil from seeping into the wood.

I use the same mixes to create a really rough idea of where Pete is going to be placed in my piece. Identifying the dark, mid & light areas. I’m not really worried about exact placing. This stage is purely instinctive and as such is my most expressive. Unless really well out I won’t alter these marks.

I always like to push it as far as I can with the 3 tone mixture. Keeping the brushes big until I can’t go any further then I go down a size, paint more 3 tone and then go down a size again. The aim is to keep it simple – just 3 tones yet working on bringing the proportions into shape. Oil is very forgiving and allows alterations easily. Introducing other colours into the mix simply comes by adding those to the three mixes that are already there. Looking at the subject carefully there is a multitude of colours, some need to be ignored otherwise the painting will become like the photo which is not the aim. Making decisions about which colours to go with and which to leave out is all part of the process.

I’m seeing an awful lot of colours in Pete’s fur, it can feel overwhelming and then other things begin to slip. The proportions on the side of his face are losing shape whilst I add the colour tones. Stepping back from the painting often shows these things up immediately. Even taking photographs like this and looking at them on a screen can also show up mistakes really quickly.

Suddenly I spotted this warm orangey brown in Pete’s fur, I remember at this point in the painting really feeling that I was out of my depth. All the worries about painting something too large, too complicated etc begin to tap away in my head. One way of settling this is to simply dab with broad brush strokes the colours where they should be and then walk away for a bit. He looks like he’s got measles or something but it seems to work for me.

I obviously don’t keep Pete looking like that. After a break I use a hog bristle brush to blend and soften those harsh brush strokes. Some I keep and others I layer strokes over the top. Bringing the background into the image more I’m able to correct that mis-shaping on the side of his head. I really like this abstract style of brush strokes so I don’t want to go too heavy with the blending brushstrokes otherwise I will lose it all.

And that’s Pete complete. For his neck and main I have blended more of the brushstrokes in, it’s created a softer look and allowed his face to push forward out of the picture and look more 3D.

Pete is available to purchase from my online shop:

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