pet portrait

From Polar Bear to Pet Portrait - It's All in the Eyes

Although I am an experienced portrait artist, over the past few years, my online presence has evolved to that of polar bear artist. Recent followers do not know about my portrait painting service. And so recently, when out of the blue, I was contacted to paint a portrait of a very lovely Labrador Retriever, it was interesting for me to learn that one of my polar bear paintings had inspired the commission!

Golden Lab Commission. 24” x 24” x 1.5” oil painting on canvas. ©Christine Montague Contact me  here , or visit  Commission a Portrait .

Golden Lab Commission. 24” x 24” x 1.5” oil painting on canvas. ©Christine Montague Contact me here, or visit Commission a Portrait.

How does a polar bear painting possibly relate to a portrait of a beloved pet?

It lies in that fact that I regard all my subject matter as portraiture, and my polar bear art is no different. I paint with the theory the eyes are the “mirror to the soul”. Until I get the eyes “right”, until they feel alive to me, I personally don’t connect to the painting. When that magical moment of connection happens, then the painting is on its way!

All artists have their own way of approaching a painting, especially when painting from photographic reference. Some artists apply the paint inch by inch, finishing each section completely before moving on to the next.

I use the more “whole painting” approach in my technique, but I start each session with the eyes and work out from there. As each new layer of paint is added, my focus remains on the eyes, until finally, the portrait comes to life in my imagination.

I have a biology degree, a fine art degree and most of an illustration degree. As a result, I like my portraits to be realistic and anatomically correct, yet emotional, too. But my ability to draw from my imagination, honed from my illustration studies, plays an important part in this process, too. One learns to be a bit of an actor - to feel that emotion and spirit of the subject and to try transfer it to the canvas.

For example, when I was commissioned to paint Dr. Oscar Peterson (Living Arts Centre, Mississauga, ON, Canada), I was honoured and thrilled to paint the jazz great’s portrait, but I had also never seen or met him in person. This was a larger than life portrait and I was working from someone else’s photographs. .

How was I to connect to the subject and make it more than a copy of a photograph?

First, I brought the whole painting to the edge of completion. It was a large painting (larger than life) and a complex one , as in fact it was multi-portraits.. Dr. Peterson’s piano was to be accurately represented. His hands were a portrait in themselves. And his face was clearly selected in the piano top!

So with the face roughed in, I began the final painting of it as I listened to the emotion- filled, heartfelt tribute of music and song that aired on CBC Radio that day. As his teenage daughter spoke lovingly about Oscar Peterson, the father, I did the final paint of his eyes and face.

So, when I began to paint polar bears, I wondered, how to bring the bears alive? How to make them more than a reproduction of a photo I took of a polar bear at the Toronto Zoo?

So for the painting below, Polar Bear Portrait Study 1 (Wistful Bear) ( and a couple of others in this earlier series) I placed my laptop on a stool in front me, as if a portrait model on a chair. One of my polar bear photos was up on the screen. I then created the polar bear portrait as if the bear was seated there in front of me. (wouldn’t that have been fun, although short lived.) Once again, the eyes say it all in this painting. (Read more about this painting here)

Wistful. Polar bear portrait. 12” x 12” x 1.5” oil painting on canvas. ©Christine Montague Contact me  here

Wistful. Polar bear portrait. 12” x 12” x 1.5” oil painting on canvas. ©Christine Montague Contact me here

So when Ottawa’s CTV news reporter and anchor, Christina Succi contacted me to paint a portrait of her beloved dog, I was flattered, but also surprised to learn that it was one of my polar bear paintings that inspired her request. But then I learned which painting and then saw a photo of her dear doggy,

Can you see the connection?

Wistful Bear      and the  dog portrait  it  inspired  side by side. ©Christine Montague

Wistful Bear and the dog portrait it inspired side by side. ©Christine Montague

If you would like to know more about my polar bear art , or info on how to commission a portrait, please feel free to contact me here.

More Little Portrait Paintings

For those of you who don't know I am gradually filling one of my studio walls with my 100 Little Portrait Project a series of 6" x 6" portrait oil paintings on canvas portraits. Here are a few of the portraits commissioned before Christmas.  I work from photos e-mailed to me, or from photos I take, if the subject comes to my studio on my "open to the public" days.

But so far, to my surprise,  almost every painting commissioned  is as a surprise gift for a loved one. Do you know that goes for my large portraits, too? They are almost always a gift!

Cool Cat

Imagine this big Main Coon cat  greeting you in the hallway when you get home or on the big wall at the stair landing! Well loved by all that visit my studio - even by those who aren't cat fans  (as one woman stated "Imagine if it was a horse!") this cat would be a unique art work for the home.  Painting #2 in the Giant Cat Series. 60" high by 40" wide. Black and white oil painting with gold and silver oil paint and oil stick. Next up - "Who's for Dinner"  - the 3rd in the series is almost finished too.

Taking Shape: New Cat Painting Begins

A new giant cat is emerging from the dark in my latest oil and oil stick painting - seen here in my studio at the Williams Mill.

The Colour Shaper tool is again proving useful to both add and remove paint creating great fur texture. Read all about the Forsaline & Starr Colour Shaper & how to use it here.

Finished Big Cat Painting Today

Detail of Big Cat Painting Copyright Christine Montague

I didn't want to leave the studio today until I finished this painting - I was so anxious to see it completed. Although I adore painting in oils, drawing was my first love, and so, it was exciting for me  to both draw (oil sticks) & paint (oils) in this art work. This piece also combines my love of portraits, my love of animals and my love of black (I am only painting in black until they invent something darker). Equally as fulfilling was my use, for the first time, of silver oil paint as my "white" - although its reflective values proved a little trickier to photograph. My iphone camera, couldn't quite do the trick.

Do you know that many artists give a lot of thought to the placement & appearance of  their signature on their paintings? Well, I am one of those artists. This new work called for a different look to my signature. Traditionally, on my carefully rendered, realistic paintings, I carefully print my full name in block lettering. I don't like my signature to distract from the work, and even will use more than one colour to print it so that the signature  flows with the work. This painting called for something more expressive. Artist Carmen Hickson of www.theredpigstudio.com lent me a nifty colour pushing brush* ( a rubber chisel tip instead of bristles). It was perfect for carving out a cursive signature with values that suited the painting.

By the way, "Big Cat Painting" is not the official title of the painting...

* I don't know the official name of these rubber tipped brushes, and tried unsuccessfully to  google them for this post. My son, who used to work at Curry's Art Supplies, informed me they weren't big sellers, but I sure found it terrific to use.  Do you know what this type of brush is called?  I did however find this new neat little cleaning gadget while trying to find the rubber brush name https://www.currys.com/catalogpc.htm?Category=A021B006823&Source=Search. I could have used this when washing piles of black oil paint out of about 8 brushes this evening :D

New Art - Giant Cat Portrait Painting Continues

Yesterday I mentioned I used Tri-Art's sludge as the preliminary step (the canvas was already gessoed in white)  to starting this 60" x 48" cat painting. I was quite enamoured of the taupe, neutral colour of the sludge, and began the day by ensuring areas had the sludge show through. This was not my original vision for the painting. Sometimes it pays to go with one's instincts, but in this case it was keeping me from connecting with the portrait. If I don't fall in love with the face, I know something is wrong.

So back to the plan - Black and silver oil paint for this silver tabby. What appears white in this painting, or light gray is actually silver. The painting is not done yet. But the concept that one side of the cat disappears into the darkness, and the other side is awash in silver light -  is becoming clearer.

This oil painting incorporates the use of oil sticks as well as oil paints.