This post is going to be in two parts because I have a follow up that relates to this litter as well and am waiting for more photos to arrive

This artwork is one of my VERY favorite pieces to date because of it’s subject matter and the recipient of  the painting.  This of course the well blogged/facebooked “G” litter bred by Diana and Jim Hillygus of Jidi Chows… friend and awesome  human being!!!!

Some time ago one of the puppy owners (that tall kid with his footie on the bench….”Guy”) Diane and Jay Venenga who I met on my last trip to Iowa, contacted me to commission a painting of all 5 puppies , based on my 8 week photos to give to Diana.  I was so incredibly flattered and considered it a GREAT honor to bring Gracie ,her sisters, and brothers  to life on canvas!!

The process is a lengthy one when working with multiple subjects in one painting so I decided from the start to document the stages (72 of them that I actually counted) from conception to final art.  Just a few of them are here for you to get a feel for how I work on them, keeping in mind these are only a handful of the steps involved in this fusion of watercolor and painting on the computer. Weeks of work and planning  went into this canvas panel

Above is “Guy” in the original photo I took.  I isolated him from his background roughly and repeated with each baby.  Each puppy taking a full evening of  work at the computer

This is Gretsky now owned by Love and Bob Banghart…I tried to choose unique poses for each baby and ones that highlighted their personalities

This beauty is “Glory” which is the puppy Diana kept

This is Gabby owned by Layla Loveless in Washington State

Of course who else would this be but GGGGGGG…GRACIE!!!

In the above view I put each puppy on a separate layer in Photoshop and started shifting they around  for placement

The next step was to experiment with sketching in the placement of the elements.  I shifted dogs , plants, pots, bench for about a week until I came up with something I was happy with.  The challenge was to keep the scale of the puppies accurate to one another and their surrounding “props”

Above is what my Photoshop layers looked like the first day of working on the computer portion of the painting.  Each element is on a separate layer …..down to the eyes being on a separate layer as well.  These were only a FEW of the dozens of layers I had to keep track of.

Now I go back to the photos and place them according to the sketch just to get an overall view of balance , color tone, and composition.  I take notes right on the images about what I want to add or subtract so I don’t forget important details.  This stage gets studied and notes taken for about  1-2 weeks before I start the final painting

Now it’s time to get to work/play on the real deal!! The first thing I do is put down my pale background watercolor washes.  Not much detail  or contrast here at all….that comes later on in the painting process

More layers of color are added and the little expressions emerge… and then notes taken to study for the next stages of the painting

Now that the watercolor washes are in place I do a “contrast sketch” to  determine where my highlights and shadows will be

There are lot more stages between that contrast sketch and this final painting above but those will be featured in a video which will be done soon!!!    This painting is 18″ x 36 and Diana received it today!!! Boy was she surprised!!!

Diane and Jay, that was one of the hardest secrets I have EVER had to keep and I want to thank you for giving me the opportunity to created something for my best friend, of a subject that is so near and dear to my heart.

To have the chance to cuddle, photograph AND paint this litter was pure joy and an honor…and I even get one of the babies for myself!! Pretty sweet gig my friends!!!!! Diana and Jim …..ENJOY !!!!!  Diane and Jay…You guys ROCK!!!!!


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About Sandra Miller

My name is Sandra Miller and I love to ART. I enjoy my studio and home in beautiful Portland Oregon with my husband Steve and our charming Finnish Lapphund dog named Ihana