Anatomy of a Portrait

“Redheads Have More Fun”  portrait of Willy

I have been working on a commissioned portrait of a beautiful 8 year old chestnut warmblood gelding.  Commissions require extra care, because we all have unique perspectives based on our experiences.  I wanted my vision to capture the horse’s sweet generous nature and the owner’s expectations.

I took extra care with the pencil study, being careful with Willy’s anatomy, his stunning drop-dead-gorgeous-good-looks and conformation, as well as his sunny personality.  I took extra time drawing his face, as the face and especially the eyes are the window to the spirit.

willy 1
pencil study

When the pencil study was complete, I did a value map.  I would recommend this step to anyone who wants to ensure success with a studied composition.  This process is not suitable for alla prima quick painting, but it works out many of the compositional problems that could crop up in a larger studio work.  My process is to find 3 values- dark, medium, and light.  I combine close values from the pencil study into larger connected shapes.  When I get to the painting stage, I keep the values accurate, and add a variety of color within the value shapes.  This variety of color enlivens the painting’s surface and the subject of the painting.  I also like to create lost-and-found edges at this point.  Where the sunlight touches the edge of the horse’s body, I have allowed the shapes to merge with the background- (horse’s left front leg and hoof.)

willy #2
Value map

The next step is the underpainting.  The underpainting sets the tone/temperature for the completed work, as this glaze will glow from within.  I have a warm golden wash in a variety of tones and tints- (hansa yellow, gamboge, raw sienna, burnt sienna).  I masked the areas of white- blaze and socks, and left those white areas in shadow blank- no underpainting.  For this portrait, I want a warm painting with distinct blue shadows on the horse’s socks and nose, so I saved those shapes for later painting.

willy #3.JPG

After the underpainting was dry, I painted the background.  I wanted a very soft, light background that wouldn’t compete with the horse.  I used both blues for contrast and yellows for harmony.  When the background was dry, I built up shapes, added color, and worked from light to dark, using my value map.  As the body was taking shape, I switched to a smaller brush to complete the face.  The face slowed the process down, as stated before, an artist must capture the soul here.  When the horse was complete, I added energy in the foreground with lively brushstroke and splattered color.  I wanted to convey the energy of a joyful gallop and the impression of a flowery meadow.


This work will be previewed at my Open House Sept 29, 2017 5-7 PM at Backstreet Street Bagels & Gallery.    To purchase a painting or commission a work, use this link:     purchase painting

Commission a Pet Portrait

%22Out of the Shadows%22 sold copyDo you have a beloved horse, special cat, epic dog, or other legendary pet?  Consider having a portrait commissioned to preserve memories and celebrate your bond.

To capture your pet in a painting, I become acquainted through many studies in pencil  and paint.  If you are close, (within a couple hundred miles), I will come to meet your pet and take photos.  If you are farther, you can send a variety of photographs and/or video.


Use the form below to inquire about making a commission.  We can discuss size, medium, colors, pricing, etc.


Conversano Mima as poured watercolor composition

Life is busy.  At the end of the month, I will give a demo at the local Montrose Visual Arts Guild for poured watercolor techniques.  Later in the spring, (TBA date in June), I will present a 2 day workshop in the technique at the Western Colorado Center for the Arts.  I did complete Conversano Mima in the poured technique.  I had planned to bring it to my demo, but I liked it so well I hung it in the Artists of the West Elks show, hanging this month in Gunnison (Colorado) at the Center for the Arts.  The portrait of Mima’s head does not lend itself to poured watercolor.  With all the detail, it will be a conventional painting with brushwork.

Conversano Mima White Horse Vale Ranch, Goldendale, WA  Lipizzan Stallion
Conversano Mima
White Horse Vale Ranch, Goldendale, WA Lipizzan Stallion

The show includes four of my watercolors, hung like bookends in the gallery.  AWE runs through March 28.

Gunnison Center of the Arts
Gunnison Center for the Arts
AWE at the Gunnison Center for the Arts
AWE at the Gunnison Center for the Arts

A Few Pages from my Sketchbook

I have been working on some pencil studies of Conversano Mima, a friend’s 20 year old Lipizzan stallion at White Horse Vale Lipizzans in Goldendale, Washington.  The studies are very different.  The first is a dynamic expression of horse power, while the other is a formal portrait.  Because the drawings are so different, the approach to these paintings suggests different techniques and strategies.  The next step is to test out some of my ideas with watercolor.

study of Conversano Mima, pencil, copyright CIsgreen 2015
study of Conversano Mima, pencil, copyright CIsgreen 2015
portrait study of Conversano Mima, pencil, copyright CIsgreen 2015
portrait study of Conversano Mima, pencil, copyright CIsgreen 2015

Leader of the Pack

The finished painting of Stella with part of her herd at Strang Ranch, Carbondale Colorado.   A most satisfying project, to capture the horses, the mountain setting, and the mood of the day.  All the horses were excited, and Stella led the band up and down the pasture.  She is such a strong, independent mare, the Queen Bee of the herd.  My goal was to visually tell the story of such a mare, with both personality and attitude.

A curtain of rain hung from the skies, lifting in places to highlight  the golden landscape of Strang Ranch, especially the aspen grove and blooming rabbit brush.  Mt. Sopris stands sentinel in the distance.

I think when one spends a lot of time with a horse through visual study and painting, that horse gets into the psyche. I was able to learn about Stella on a deep and very unique level.  Today I saw her as the subject of a new painting.  I plan to paint her in a looser, more stylistic manner, while emphasizing  her strong queenly personality.

Leader of the Pack
Leader of the Pack