portrait artist

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.

100 Little Portrait Paintings Begins

Baby Portrait Painting Copyright Christine Montague 2011 Last fall, I created a 6" x 6" cold wax portrait oil painting in an inspiring cold wax workshop with Janice Mason Steeves. The little monochromatic portrait received a lot of attention in class, on my blog and in the studio. At Christmas I was commissioned to paint a 6" x 6"  Siamese cat portrait oil painting. Not only did I enjoy creating this little portrait, it was surprising what a little treasure a portrait this size is. So for the sheer joy of it I decided I will paint 100 6" x 6" portraits over the next few months. I have other painting commitments so I won't be following the theme other artists have followed, for e.g. 100 portraits in 100 days, but I hope you'll keep checking back to see what's new. Better yet, subscribe to my blog and those portraits will arrive in your mailbox!

Meanwhile, I have other exciting news. My concept for the Salmon Run Project was accepted. This show opens June 9th, Art Gallery of Mississauga.  As soon as I pick up my "salmon" I'll start posting on that art project, too. Stay tuna! lol

Last Painting of 2010 - Looking Forward to 2011

I finished this 30" x 40" oil painting December 2010 - the last painting of my design before I began my commissions due for Christmas.  This figurative painting is of the model, daughter,  visiting my studio at the Williams Mill. This painting symbolizes many changes. It features my new studio, one of the few times I've painted an interior. My daughter, my model, is usually painted in casual summer get up.

Happy New Year!