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The riddle of painting white on white

Updated: Nov 3, 2021

I recently took on a commission of a plucky poodle called Monty. I always like to hear stories about the dog to get an idea of how the dog sits in the family. It gives context to the painting I’m doing and the stories I hear will embed themselves in my unconscious and reappear in some form in the painting; whether it be in the style, a look in the eye or an attitude in the posture. I don’t know how it happens but I am somehow able to pick up on subtleties in a relationship or in a character and translate them visually. It is rarely conscious and it seems to happen without me having to try. I suppose this is the expression of feeling.

Monty is part of a family that has recently moved to London from New York and I’m told that he is giving great support to the kids, who obviously adore him!

One of the challenges with painting Monty is that he is a white dog on a white background (the owner specified she would like Monty to stand alone without a background). At first glance, white on white can feel like an unsolvable riddle - but I take the time to closely inspect the finer details of Monty’s fur and the quality of the light falling on the different depths and textures of the hair that covers his face and body. I re-discover what I always find with ‘white’ dogs - they usually have brown hair around their noses and often lining their mouths. I also spied some brown on his ears.

Managing to find something other than white on a ‘white’ dog is like finding treasure - having some browns to work with instantly adds interest and variation to what could be a monochrome affair. It breaks the seal of the quest to enrich the painting with some colour. Further inspecting Monty’s fur, among the greys there also are purples and blues. Writing this now, I wonder whether my mind is creating that or whether it is really there. Am I being creative or observant? I don’t think I know the answer to that question. But I do know that I mixed up purples and blues and added them to a painting that I find successful.

Looking at the completed work, Monty looks like a proud guarding presence, willing to bestow care and attention to his family while also being fun and affectionate. Painting him so confidently and fluidly was a joy and has opened up freedom and possibility in my work.

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