Paintings With Soul

Since October 2006 I've been a daily painter, creating a new pet portrait at least 5 times per week. Over the years I've expanded my offerings to include a variety of animals, pets, race horses, children and other treasured heirlooms. In addition, I accept a limited number of commissions each year.

In 2015 I am honored to be the Kentucky Derby Artist.

You may use the links below right to receive my daily paintings via email or to follow my blog with a feed. I post additional info, including in-process jpgs and other related information, on the studio Facebook page as well.

Meanwhile, thanks
so much for your continued support of my artwork.

Friday, September 26, 2014

What I Have Learned - Wilted

From 2005, a gallery stretched painting titled "Wilted (Taco)," a larger than lifesized portrait (24" x 28") of a beefy chihuahua. Before I became a daily painter, I often painted really, really big.  I held onto this little big guy for 9 years, but he's spent the last couple in storage. I think he deserves a new home. Ask nicely, and he can be yours for rollback-to-2005 pricing of $700.

I couldn't think of a better piece to end my week of critiques than with Taco.

Because sometimes, even if we can't articulate it, a piece comes together and shocks us. These are the special ones, the "ah-ha" paintings, that we take special pride in.

So what does work here? I'll tell you:

1. Taco isn't centered, but he's firmly rooted. This guy isn't budging one bit, and the composition is structured to send that message.

2. Look at all the color here, even though he is a (mostly) white dog! The form is modeled with shifts in color, not just shifts in value. And while the color isn't quite perfectly harmonious, it works - it amplifies his solid body nicely.

3. There is variety in the brushwork that creates interest. And while there are few soft or lost edges inside Taco, the ones in the background make me very happy. And the brushwork in his furry chest? those gestures make me smile, too.

4. The ground behind his head could be a smidge lighter in value, and that would pop him forward  more, but then, too, that sharp edge across his ears and the crown of his head that exists now pushes him forward as well. I'm pretty certain I wasn't thinking about atmosphere when I was painting him, so I'll let that one slide.
Thanks for indulging my critiques this week - I learned a lot myself, going back through my archives. I should practice this more often.

Enjoy your weekend!

Thursday, September 25, 2014

What I Have Learned - Pleased to Meet You

From 2005, a gallery stretched painting titled "Pleased to Meet You (Introductions)," a lifesized portrait (20" x 18") of three labs. 

All week long, I've been sharing older paintings, talking about what I would do differently today. It's been a great process - really reminding me that, despite my own feelings that I don't know much about painting, I actually do know quite a bit more than I did just a few short years ago.

Today's painting, well, if I were to tackle this one again, I simply would choose not to paint it at all. The composition is so bad. The idea is fantastic, but I allowed myself to fall in love with the idea instead of the execution. That's impetuousness for you!

But I'll critique it anyway:

1. Compositionally, there is a nice central point, but the yellow dog's head is a tough read, and the chocolate's front leg is awkwardly cropped. Furthermore, the black dog's back mimics the chocolate dog's head and neck - it's hard to look at anything else. There are so many other ways I could have approached this concept, but instead I painted the photo as it was, and stifled my artistic license altogether.

2. Modeling form by only changing the value of color is a beginner's mistake. It's also the hallmark of relying too much on a photo reference. 'Nuff said.

3. There is no light source, which makes the forms float oddly in the picture plane. The dogs need to be anchored with shadows and a light source. Again, allowing the photo to direct my decision making. Not a good choice.

4. The edgework here is uniformly crisp. I know, super boring, right? loosen up and lose some of those edges and create interest in how the form is depicted.

5. I haven't talked at all this week about embracing materials, but this painting seems to be a good example of NOT doing that. It's very flat and smooth and bears little trace of brushstrokes. Don't get me wrong - I have the utmost respect for photorealist artists and how they manage to create a super smooth surface, but that just doesn't move or engage me like juicy brushwork. Create a gorgeous rendering that breathes, and then remind me somewhere, in either your gesture or your surface, that it's just paint. Allow me to see your hand, and that gives me a window to your thoughts, and hence an emotional connection to your work.

I'm off to my easel now to practice what I preach. Feel free to join me!

Thanks, as always, for following along with my artwork,

What I Have Learned - Pippen

From 2004, a gallery stretched painting titled "Pippen," a lifesized portrait (20" x 34") of a miniature horse.  I heard 3 or 4 years ago that this painting was for sale in northern Michigan, although it initially sold via a gallery downstate for a horse crazy little girl's bedroom. I do hope that Pippen has a home now......

Continuing our walk down memory lane, I'm sharing older pieces and talking about what I would do differently today. Just because I would do things differently does not reflect poorly on my initial effort (well, not always - yesterday's painting was a really bad one!). Pippen here is a nice example of a fun and successful painting.

However, there are still things I would do differently.

1. Hello, photo reference!! How can I tell? well, the darks and inky blacks are even, regardless of their distance from the viewer's eye. And the highlights are all evenly white, regardless of the local color. And that shadow? dang but it's harshly dark and dead. I have learned in the 10 years since painting Pippen that photos are only a starting point, and that they lie about many, many things. For one, shadows are not automatically black. Additionally, an object in shadow grays out as it recedes from our eyes. Photos rarely demonstrate this phenomenon.

1a. Also, highlights are not automatically pure white!

2. My color sensibilities have changed remarkably. Pippen is modeled true to form,  but there is no color/life/variety in the shadows that indicate reflected light, local color, and his environment. And seriously, the shadow his brown body cast on a yellow green ground would not be rusty brown - it would carry undertones of the ground. And that ground would also be reflected back off his muzzle and belly, and maybe even in some of the underside of his mane. And his body would be modeled with a range of color - not just brown pushed into different values with whites and blacks. Same goes for his darker markings.....

3. Brushwork can be similar and predictable (boring!), or it can be varied and fascinating and pull the viewer through the whole surface. The same could be said for edges - I could lose more edges inside of Pippen and along his shadow, and the painting would be far more interesting.

Again, I'm not slamming this piece or saying it's no good - all I'm pointing out is that I've learned a few things over the years that, in my opinion, would turn this into a stronger portrait. And, hopefully in another 10 years, I'll be able to say the same about my current work.

As will any of you who are actively creating!

Thanks, as always, for following along with my artwork,

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

What I Have Learned - Bellyrub

From 2005, a gallery stretched painting titled "Bellyrub," starring one of my original studio muses, a rescued and timid calico named Turtledove. I couldn't find a record of how large this piece is, but I honestly didn't dig for that long. I'm guessing it was approximately an 18" x 24" gallery stretched canvas.

Continuing yesterday's walk down memory lane, this week I'm sharing old pieces and talking about what I would do differently today. Here is a rather shockingly bad painting, and a few thoughts about how I would improve upon it. 

But oh boy, does It burn my eyes to look at this one.

1. Can you tell this was a flash photo reference? Hard shadows that do not indicate a light source, a "hot spot" of white on her belly, large unnatural reflections in her eyes, and no detail/depth in the shadows. And look at how flat the colors are - there is very little modeling inside her markings.

2. It is dangerous to allow your love for your subject to overshadow a critical (and necessary) assessment. For instance, each of her paws/legs are of differing thicknesses and lengths. There's no way she could have walked about, given how I've drawn her. But all I saw when painting was her sweet face, and I didn't bother to really assess the rest of the painting. 

3. I wanted to paint a sisal rug, but instead of finding one to actually look at, I imagined it in my head. Now mind you, I have no visual memory of sisal rugs to pull upon, have never owned one or lived in a home that had one. I just liked the idea and made it happen without investing in research first. Can I also add that globby paint never equals gestural brushmarks?

4. Every single edge is hard. There's no variety in brushwork here, and that creates a boring image. Look at Sargent's work, and study how he uses hard and soft edges to add interest.

5. Ok, so I've been a little harsh. Let's talk about what does work - the composition is nicely balanced. There is an "X" created with the shape of her body against the pattern in the rug, and that extended paw creates a nice little tension to the balance. Her markings dance in an abstract pattern (squint down to see) and accent her face while gently forming the shape of her body. And the stripes of the rug, while poorly painted, are an important element to keeping her form from sliding off the bottom edge.

I assure you that at the time I made this painting, I thought it was the bomb. It hung in a place of honor in our home for quite some time. It wasn't until I LEARNED about painting from life (and the hazards of photos and assumptions) that I began to see shortcomings in this piece. 

Which is the hallmark of a growing artist - becoming disillusioned with works you've previously done. That is the price of steadily growing better.

Thanks, as always, for following along with my artwork,

Monday, September 22, 2014

What I Learned - The Red Collar

From 2007, a gallery stretched painting titled "The Red Collar." This piece has been in a private collection for many years (THANK YOU!). You can read about Harley, my muse, and the painting's seed of inspiration here, and then this post includes the story behind the painting's unveiling.

Artists are always learning and growing, and it's sometimes hard to remember that those who might be considered accomplished started out learning the same basics as everyone else. So, as requested, this week I'll share a few older paintings, along with a checklist of what I've learned since then.

First off, let me say that The Red Collar is a strong painting with a lovely mood as is. However, given the things I've learned the last few years, were I to paint it again (and I'm very tempted to!), I would change some things up.

1.  A direct light source would help accentuate the dog's beautiful form. He is very flat, and his lines are so lovely that I could have featured them more delightfully, and manipulating the light as it is painted is one way to do this.

 2.  I would put FAR more color in his body and merling than just the blues and grays. And the same goes for his whiter areas - adding just a hint of pinkness would make him more alive.

3.  There is no clear focal point, and choosing one (his face and paws? the collar? the inner edge of his body?) would improve the painting's focus.

4. I would handle the rug with more sensitivity and range of colors. There would also be reflections of that rug in his body - an object reflects it's environment. And a stronger indication that the rug itself is circular - that's an important part of the design.

5.  My lightest light would ONLY be inside his body. Don't care what the rug looked like or how bright it was in real life, the painting is about the dog's shape and how it drapes over the rug. So my lightest lights (and darkest darks) would be in the dog only.

There's lots of other things here, but I'll leave you with this short list. And I'll share a new old painting and tips tomorrow.

Thanks, as always, for following along with my artwork,

Thursday, September 18, 2014

To Flash or Not To Flash

This is Finnigan, a cattle dog mix, keeping an eye on our front yard from the comfort of his club chair. Both photos taken within seconds of each other on an evenly lit day with the same camera. The upper photo is a flash one, the lower photo was exposed using natural light.

I ask collectors to send me non-flash photos for portrait work. Oftentimes they don't understand what I'm asking or why. Here is a little explanation:

1.  Flash photos cast unnatural shadows, often masking the actual edges of the animal. Look at the space behind Finnigan's ear and head - see how his ears appear larger and harder in the flash photo because of the shadow? See how the space on his chest, between his legs, is equally shadowed as that foreleg reaching towards up?
2.  Flash photos reflect off the surface of the subject, and do not allow for coat texture, nuances of color, or skeletal structure to be visible. There is far more information in the lower photo, and I can see clearly how his double coat lies, the edges of his mask, and the shape of his ears.
3.  Flash photos unnaturally flatten the subject to a handful of values. Nuff said.
4.  Flash photos often startle the subject, causing an unrealistic expression or body language adjustment.
5.  Flash photos reduce picture depth, which becomes an issue when working with complex compositions. Yes, there is more detail in the quilt in the flash photo, but I'm not painting a portrait of the quilt. I want to see my subject in as great detail as possible.
6.  Flash photos wash out natural color reflections in the environment. Look at that lovely creep of a shadow up the arm of the chair behind FInni's head in the lower photo, and that fabulous reflection of the pillow in the opposite arm. These sorts of details place him firmly in his environment, a key element when painting anything.
7.  Flash photos often create red eye and eliminate all detail in the muzzle area. On animals with thinner coats, flash photos also highlight skin color, something the natural eye doesn't normally pick up.

Because in many cases I'm not able to actually meet the animal I'm painting, I rely on the photographs submitted to tell me their story. Another reason why I want the best possible images  - so that I can see the animal the way their family knows them.

So, just a little info about what I look for in reference photos. 

Thanks, as always, for following along with my artwork,

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Back to School, Day Two

"Orchard II," 10"x12", acrylics on museum quality panel, a study created plein air my second day of Vianna Szabo's Plein Air Workshop at Millers Big Red Cider Mill this past weekend. This is an extra special painting because it's really two different pieces all in one (see below) AND it has a dinosaur - it's only $250 if you are the first one saying please.

Like you learned yesterday, I got to paint with none other than Vianna Szabo this last weekend!  

Day two brought about conversations of atmosphere and color, drawing and painting depth, and allowing the viewer to step INTO our paintings. 

We made value sketches, committed to a compositional idea, and set up our gear.

I lost my composition, though, as the sun moved - my left to right shadows, including an awesomely menacing claw shaped shadow! - disappeared with the noon sun. And I hadn't captured them adequately.

I tried to fake it, but didn't have the visual memory to pull it off. I angrily wiped out my corridor of grass just as Vianna walked up behind me.

"So, you're chasing the light, aren't you?" Why is it that she can give such critical advice in such a kind and humorous manner?

Chasing the light means that the artist is allowing the changing atmospheric conditions to dictate their painting, instead of sticking to their original idea. I would imagine it's also one of the main reasons so many people struggle with plein air landscape painting, because landscape is the worst sort of model, always moving and changing and sass talking the artist.

We talked about the importance of that initial value study - that it needs to capture the form and light patterns while we are filing away visual memories. It has to be strong enough to stand on it's own and keep us committed to our original idea long after the light has changed.

Our compromise was that I would retain my intent, those railroaded shadows, using what was currently in front of me (because I had limited visual memory of the previous scenario).

And I set another challenge for myself - really working on capturing the atmosphere, the movement in between the branches and forms.

I think I did a decent job of things, and regardless of what my painting looks like, my brain is full of new ideas and concepts, and I am already making plans to get my gear outside soon!

Thanks, as always, for following along with my artwork,

PS Lots of photos from the weekend are here. 

Monday, September 15, 2014

I Went Back To School!!

"Orchard I," 8"x10", acrylics on museum quality panel, a study created plein air while shivering majorly at Millers Big Red Cider Mill this past weekend. I don't do cold, but I ventured into the chilly great wilds this weekend for the opportunity to paint plein air with one of my mentors. You can snag this painting for $200 if you are the first one saying please.


I got to paint with none other than Vianna Szabo this weekend! I was part of her landscape painting workshop. She took 8 of us on a whirlwind immersion to the joys - and realities - of painting plein air.

The first day we focused on composing and editing the landscape. Plied with donuts and warm cider, we then ventured into a wet and cold orchard to create value studies that solidified (or should have) our concepts.

My first ah-ha moment came while working on my color study. I was tracking my brushstrokes on a value scale (I thought to better understand the realm of greens seen). Then I discovered how much of my color fell smack into that "3" of the middle value range. 

So what does this mean? My initial thought is that I'm allowing myself to be distracted by color, and not fully using value, and this could be why I sometimes struggle with building great depth.

Vianna recommended I study some masterpieces and reduce them to 5, 3 and 2 values each. I was too exhausted to tackle this challenge right away, but I do think this will be eye opening, and an exercise to try later this week. From the warmth of my own studio!!

Tomorrow I'll share what we learned on Day Two!

Thanks, as always, for following along with my artwork,

PS Lots of photos from the weekend are here. 

Friday, September 12, 2014

Nabu, all done!

"Nabu," 24"x24", acrylics on museum quality panel, a larger than life commissioned portrait of a border collie, private collection (THANK YOU!). I can do something similar and work from your photos - just ask!

Nabu's been on the easel for a bit each day this week, and today I'm calling him finished and asking my client for her thoughts.

I have another large painting in the wings which should take up the bulk of next week. It is super top secret, so I won't be able to share a peep about it. 

Which means I have no blog material lined up! I'm open to suggestions as to what to post - what do you want to see? 

Thanks, as always, for following along with my artwork,

PS In process photos are  here. 

Wednesday, September 10, 2014


"Meg," 6"x8", acrylics on museum quality panel, a commissioned portrait of a little Maltese who is loving her second chance at life, private collection (THANK YOU!). And but of course I can paint like this for you - just ask!.

Meg was adopted into her new home last fall. She joined two older brothers, and didn't take long at all to leave her pawprint on her new Mom's heart.

Who knows what her previous circumstances were? She is timid and remains fearful of men, but she knows how to snuggle and love on those who are kind.

And that's pretty much how the rest of her life is going to play out!

Thanks, as always, for following along with my artwork,

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

"Nabu," 24"x24", acrylics on museum quality panel, a larger than life commissioned portrait of a border collie, private collection (THANK YOU!). I can do something similar and work from your photos - just ask!

Ok, so the kids are back in school and also back en force with their afterschool activities. This means I have the luxury of regular studio days and larger blocks of time to paint! and to market, and to do paperwork, and to clean, and to volunteer.

And to fully enjoy the fine art of the 2nd Breakfast.

What is your fall routine?

Thanks, as always, for following along with my artwork,

PS In process photos are  here. 

Friday, September 05, 2014


"Austin," 11"x14", acrylics on museum quality panel, a memorial painting for a good friend starring her one and only special guy). I can do something similar and work from your photos - just ask!.

Artist Michelle Grant was one of my earliest mentors and supporters. Over a decade ago, she relentlessly answered my questions and I spent hours studying her paintings, trying to figure out her particular form of magic. 

Michelle also generously shared photos of her Austin, a gorgeous sighthound with one amber and one shockingly blue eye.  I painted him larger than life (I think his head was about 30" tall), sent him off with her blessing to an exhibition, where shortly thereafter the painting sold to a collector. In typical fashion, Michelle was thrilled for my sale. And then earlier this summer, she let on that she regretted not having Austin's painting for herself.

He he he. Merry Christmas, Michelle, just a little early. Consider it a very small token of my thanks for mentoring turned friendship.

Thanks, as always, for following along with my artwork,

PS In process photos are here. And Michelle is one of the reasons I freely share images of my process and answer questions. Just trying to pay it forward!

Thursday, September 04, 2014


"Elvis," 8"x10", acrylics on museum quality panel, a commissioned memorial painting for one heck of an awesome dog, which means this one has a home (thank you!). Inquiries may come here .

My heart breaks with these sorts of projects. I remind myself that we say goodbye way too soon to each of our pets, and that I am giving collectors something extraordinary that they didn't have before, a wonderful touchpoint for sharing memories and commemorating their family member.

But it's still hard. My heart is just a wee bit too big, I suppose.

Thanks, as always, for following along with my artwork,

PS In process photos are here.

Wednesday, September 03, 2014


"Tucker," a small commissioned sketch, done in paint on paper, of a spaniel. Tucker will be heading home tomorrow.

In May I offered painted sketches (simple, lower cost, commissioned portraits done loosely on paper) - originally only 10 of them - but as you may know, it's hard for me to say no. Especially when I heard all your stories and saw all the faces. I ended up accepting over double that, and have been working on them over the course of the summer months. 

Tucker's here represents the last of those.

Next it's on to some pretty exciting exhibition and gallery pieces, along with a couple large scale commissions. 

Thanks, as always, for following along with my artwork,
Warmly, Kim

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