I was approached at the Doglovers Show by breeder and show judge Jane Harvey of https://janedogs.com/ to do a painting of a Maltese to add to her webpage. This later transformed into a much more interesting and challenging project.
Jane is a passionate dog lover and possesses a vast knowledge of all things canine. She has had the desire to see a painting of the Kangaroo Dog come into fruition for many years now, and when she saw my dog portraits, particularly Fergus the Wolfhound, she saw something in my style that triggered her curiosity.
Her vision for a painting comes from her research for her website page https://janedogs.com/from-kangaroo-dogs-to-greyhounds/ and she wanted a painting that could be an addition to that historical page.
Jane also writes articles for the dog magazine http://www.dognewsaustralia.com.au/ and decided throughout this adventure to write an original story about this iconic dog that has fascinated her for so many years and submit it to the next issue of the magazine.
Now like me, you may be wondering what a Kangaroo Dog is and why you haven’t ever seen one. According to Jane, “this dog was responsible for feeding our very early settlers by bringing down kangaroos and wallabies so these early settlers could eat. So they were somewhere between a Scottish Deerhound and a Greyhound.
Jane had envisaged the dog to be running somewhat like the T.S. Gill drawing below.
The other image she gave me was of “Oscar” the wirey looking guy at the top of this picture.
So I didn’t have that much reference material to go on with, but I felt like a challenge.
On to the sketches. Without an actual Kangaroo Dog in front of me, or even a decent photo, I did what everyone does these days when they’re looking for inspiration – scoured google and Pinterest.
I found a few ideas that I could get inspiration from so started doing some studies just to get a feel of this dog and how he might have looked and moved.
The challenge was to tell a story about this dog and it’s importance to the survival of the early convicts and settlers. Without the meat of the wallaby and kangaroo, these early European immigrants would have perished, as they just didn’t know how to survive in this strange continent (they probably should have asked the Aborigines, but that’s a different story)
Apart from the dogs themselves, I also had to think about what sort of landscape they would have been in. Beautiful green cow paddocks didn’t exist in Australia yet, so I was reckoning on a fair few trees. Well I don’t live in an area that was colonized in the early days so I had to ask my good friend Pinterest for another favour. I would have loved to have gone down south to do some plain-air painting for this project, but you’ve got to use what is available to you at the time.
I decided that the dogs would be running, as Jane envisioned and perhaps some wallabies were nearby. I probably should have had the wallabies running for there lives but we decided to illustrate the them sitting on some rocks and watching – as though if to say – what is that?
I sketched this pastel drawing below to show Jane if I was on the right track with her vision for the project. I had my doubts, but she loved it – especially the “double-suspension” gait on the shaggy guy. This movement is indicative to the Sighthound and was one of the characteristics she wanted included in the painting.
I wasn’t too happy with the composition though. Didn’t make any sense for the dogs to be running in a straight line and not relating to their prey. I fiddled around some more and then began on the painting.
Below is the first layer of paint that I blocked in just to show Jane, so she could have an input before I got too advanced. She had a couple of suggestions and I had some changes to make also. (I tried to sneak in the wallaby running away, but got caught out)
Jane didn’t really mind what landscape I put the dogs in, as long as the picture worked as a whole. Compositionally I didn’t like the way the trees sat on the horizon only. I needed to add more trees, but didn’t want to interrupt the view of the dogs and wallabies.
After a lot of experimentation, the painting had more trees in the landscape (which I wasn’t happy with) and dogs that looked a bit more interested in the job that they were bred for. I feel a bit sorry for the poor old wallabies just sitting there. I wanted them to be hopping off and making their big get away. As a commission artist, you have to stick to the brief as much as you can. At least they are on the alert and look like they are just about to bound away. Run little wobblies.
Check-ins with Jane were always interesting. Although she liked the concept of the dogs heading towards the wallabies to illustrate their purpose in the colony, she did not like the position of the grey dogs head, as you couldn’t really see his features. So I adjusted his neck. This meant that now his head wasn’t going in the direction of his body and he looked a bit odd. Because of the head adjustment, the legs now looked out of place to Jane’s expert eye and ,as she really wanted to show the double suspension gait, she asked me to adjust the front legs of the grey dog to illustrate them in full extension. She helped me out by sending me this illustration.
At the same time, I was experimenting with getting more texture into the landscape. I was fast discovering that it is easy to get carried away with your work – look how much shadowing there is under the dogs now – ouch! – and it’s WAY TOO GREEN!!!
And those legs? To my eye, they looked far too long. And, of course, the dog is definitely now running directly side-on and not really showing any interest in the wallabies. Maybe they’ll get away after all! I spent a bit more time fiddling with the light and bringing more Naples yellow tones the lighten the landscape but left the legs long to see if Jane would agree with me.
Now I’ve got a bit more definition in the grassy bit in front of the wallabies and the rocks have more texture. Another check -in with Jane.
Amazingly she was really happy with the dogs, even the giraffe-long legs of Shags. Only a couple of “minor” touch-ups” suggested within the area around the tree bases and could I possibly turn his Shags’ eye so that he is looking a bit more at the Wallabies, like the yellow fellow is? Well I can try! I dab here, a stroke there, and we are done. Wallah!
I’ve incorporated a bit of an eye socket and structure to the head and adjusted the position of the ears, but I think that’s as far around as I can get this guy to look and still be believable. Did you notice that I did a sneaky adjustment of the legs? You can see the shadow of the longer legs just in front of his front paw.
And here are the little wallabies looking a little wobbly
After another check – in it was decided that the trees looked too ordered for virgin scrub. I totally agreed so had another think about how I could make the landscape more interesting. A bit of researching colonial Australian art and a few fun tree painting hours later and we were done – just in time for Jane to lodge her article and my image to Dog News Australia. Yay!
The painting has now been sent to be professionally scanned by the team at http://www.arthousehq.com/ who will capture it beautifully and produce perfect giclee reproductions, which will be available on my site https://buyartnow.artstorefronts.com/opal-pastro.
Wow, what a ride. When Jane first approached me to do this without legitimate references, I was very skeptical that I could even do it – afterall, I usually just paint a single animal from a really good reference, and maybe put it in a paddock of green grass. So I went into this project as a great opportunity to grow as an artist and to give it my all. I won’t lie to you. It’s been a lot of work, but I’ve really enjoyed the process and my dogged determination to give it my very best to deliver the best product I can to my client.
The original painting is also available. Our hope is that it will capture the imagination of a member of Australia’s Hound community or someone who is interested in the untold histories of days gone by. Contact me for details.