Thursday, August 9, 2018

Donald Colley's Dog Sketches

Animal Week continues with a spotlight on the "Going to the Dogs" project by Chicago artist Donald Colley. He used Faber-Castell Pitt Artists pens and fountain pen to draw portraits of dogs in an animal shelter. I asked him some questions about how the project came to be and how he approached the challenge.

Gurney: What got you started sketching portraits of dogs from the animal shelter?
Colley: Bruce Velick, friend and owner of a gallery in Santa Fe, and lover of dogs, was looking to help a local animal shelter he said was well run and doing good work. So, he asked if I could pitch in. The concept was to help promote the shelter and aid in fund-raising by having a month-long exhibit of art about dogs during which myself and a local artist drew portraits of fund contributor’s pet dogs, with 80% of the proceeds going to the shelter. I would be there for the opening weekend of the exhibit to draw donor’s dogs. The shelter was really terrific to work with and very appreciative for the money we raised. Bruce felt the event lived up to his hopes. 

How did you prepare for it?
I’ve drawn cats and dogs from time to time, but to prepare for the challenge, I drew some friends' pets and my building’s resident cat from life to start timing their restlessness. I also reviewed some dog anatomy illustrations, looked over the drawings of dogs by other artists as well as executed drawings of photos of various breeds that I would download from online sources. The blue-grey drawing of the schnauzer nicknamed Azzurro and poodle head were drawn from photos.

You had a lot of different kinds of fur to draw. 
What was helpful and made drawing dog fur more familiar to me was the pretty near daily commitment I have to drawing in public so I have drawn umpteen hundreds of furry parka hood trim, wooly scarves and shawls, shaggy coats, dozens and dozens of fuzzy winter hats, and all manner of hair cuts and beards.

How did you select the dogs you drew? 
For the fundraiser I first went to the shelter and walked thru some of the facilities to see a goodly number of dogs. There was an Australian Blue Heeler that was the current darling of the staff who had been brought in with its muzzle full of porcupine quills that had to be surgically removed. That dog, Calico Jack, was healing nicely in the three weeks since his surgery and was socializing rapidly. He was quite sweet and a gorgeous fellow with great markings. An easy choice.

They put me and Calico Jack in a small room they called a cuddle room and left us alone with a few treats I could give CJ. It was my desire to draw CJ so I didn’t play with him and tried not to get him excited. I sat cross legged briefly, let him smell me, got licked a bit, spoke very softly to him and petted him in easy, long strokes. I only sat there a couple minutes before rising to sit in a chair ready to draw the minute he calmed down or got bored. I looked in a small holding room at a Beagle and a beautiful and delicate Pomeranian waiting to be picked up for adoption and chose the little Pomeranian as a contrast to the Blue Heeler.

Did you try to get to know your subjects first? 
While the staff at the shelter was enthusiastic about my involvement, they all seemed to have plenty to do so I was left to manage Calico Jack who calmed down and held a sitting position for a few minutes tops, during which I knocked in his basic profile and a few general areas of his markings and then it was off to the races as his curiosity and restlessness took over. The treats were of little help because he then kept trying to find the source and if there were any more. I got about 20 minutes with him. The Pomeranian I just watched thru a window and tried to be inconspicuous so as not to be a source of intermittent inquiry. I got a handful of quick studies of her.

How did the people who worked in the shelter help out? 
On the first day of the exhibit, the animal shelter set up a mobile adoption center in front of the gallery with a number of dogs that were up for adoption and volunteers to tend them. That day I drew Dorito the Chihuahua twice, Molly the black Pit, and a second drawing of Calico Jack as a volunteer and new owner completed paperwork for his adoption. The dogs were getting lots of attention so I just did my best to capture them. 

Did the volunteers help out by giving them snacks?
I took advantage of the time one volunteer was giving Dorito little treats. Some of the people who contributed to the fundraiser by commissioning portraits of their dogs, held their dogs. That didn’t always go according to plan, so I started the drawings and had to take some photos to later add information. Some donors couldn’t make the exhibit and chose to send several photos by email. The two Ridgebacks were very restless, so I kept changing my position to maintain a similar vantage point as they moved. But I also took some photos to work from later in order to make the colors and details richer. I preferred to get as much as possible on site even if the dogs moved. There was a lot going on with a half dozen dogs at times and several people coming and going. We tried to contain the dogs' energy by having a big cushion in the corner as the portrait setting, buuuuuut.......

What information from the pose do you try to establish right away when the dog is in the pose?
As with people, so much character is carried in the head structure and face as well as in the defining body structure and how the animal carries itself. I couldn't help but want to get a likeness as these were definitely leading to owners purchasing a drawing of their dogs. Short-haired dogs’ shoulders and rump I cut in with medium-valued broad gestural strokes that can be amended if my first assessment is off or if the animal shifts. I treat the furrier dogs like topiary with the indication that form is buried within. In the earliest moments geometry is my friend if I can see it clearly. And, while I don’t expect exactitude from the outset, if I happen to be warmed-up and fluid and hit a precise contour, so be it. 

How does your approach change after the dog is out of position? 
Not centering the sketch and reserving enough page for multiple figures means I can begin again and again with a restless subject figuring to add more info as the dog returns to similar positions. However, if my initial drawing is solid and contains coherent contours and principle body features, then I push on with surface markings, sprays and tufts of hair being almost like flourishes that are easy to add with some amount of arbitrary license. The beautiful silken haired dog named Remy was done almost entirely on site as his owner held him with a small amount of set up for his owner’s knees and hands in about 30 minutes and then later finished the jeans, cushion, and hand from photo. 

Do you ever shoot photos and work from them later at home? 
If you go to my website  Buttnekkiddoodles, the post Gone To The Dogs has most of the Dogs plus I added a couple of a friends’ Dogs - Dude! and Sluggo from much earlier. The two Huskies - Strider and Yeti, the Boston Bulldog - Lazy Bones, the Reptile and the White Terrier - Diogo and Bella Luna, Azzurro, and the two more finished drawings of Bruce’s Jack Russell - Olivia were drawn from photos.

The Ridgebacks were begun on site and polished up later. The rest were drawn were drawn from life. The one of Olivia curled on the tan rug face to the right was begun with her in that position but she kept swirling around repositioning herself. I worked on the tiles and rug while she did that. Then, she grabbed the rug, fought with it a minute or so, then got on top and curled into the identical starting pose and exact orientation to me. A bit of patience with some dogs, as with public sketching, pays off.

Watch Don Colley and his Pitt pens in action in this YouTube video (Link to YouTube)
Donald Colley's website
Winnow Gallery Santa Fe
Santa Fe Animal Shelter
Painting Animals from Life 
(Instructional video by James G.)
Digital download from:
DVD available at Amazon 


Shari Blaukopf said...

I'm the lucky owner of one of Don Colley's dog sketches. In fact, I am the lucky owner of two sketches because on the other side of the sheet is a portrait he drew of Irving, a subway artist. I had to get my framer to create a frame with glass on both sides so I could look at both drawings. Depending on my mood, one day I look at the dog and the next day at Irving. I cherish my Don Colleys. Thanks for sharing more of his dog portraits, James.

Carole Pivarnik said...

What lovely sketches, and a great project! Thanks for sharing this; I was unfamiliar with Donald Colley's work before seeing this post. Your blog is such a helpful and enjoyable resource so thanks for that too!

MK Buike said...

What a wonderful project! Of course, Don's dog drawings have a lot of character. It's good to occasionally find ways to use one's art to benefit a good cause.

I've done something similar. One of the local no-kill shelters has a popular Instagram account. I started doing watercolor sketches from the photos just for fun and practice. I then offered the originals to the shelter to use in any way they wanted. They sometimes give them to the person adopting the dog and they also use them as auction items in fundraisers. At one point they said they might make greeting cards, too.

Anonymous said...

I got my new dog from the animal shelter the day after, I tried to sketch her but I can't show here because I'm not good in art. Tara brings joy and happiness to us and I'm proud to say that all my pet is from the shelter.