French Bulldog study in acrylic using Zorn palette

zorn palette study of french bulldog
French Bulldog acrylic sketch using Zorn palette

An odd thing has happened now that I have oil painting supplies in my studio: I feel released to play more with my acrylics and be less concerned about being as economical as I can with them. It’s liberating!

After finally making my Zorn acrylic color chart, I wanted to try painting something with it. I found this image of a French Bulldog and the colors looked like they’d translate very well. I started by doing a thumbnail sketch to get familiar with the shapes and values. In addition to trying out this palette of colors, I wanted to use a looser block-in approach by marking just a few key points in lieu of a full drawing, and massing in the large shapes with the dominant color I saw in the shape. My hope was that it would be a looser experience and unlock me from trying to be too exact.

Another thing I did for this study was identify the major color families and make color value lines on my palette before beginning to paint. I used the stay-wet palette and no mediums, other than spritzing the top of the paint piles from time to time with a water-retarder mix.

I’m setting aside my nice bristle brushes for the time being for use with the oils, but of course have many other brushes to choose from. For this study I used a variety of synthetic brushes including some Silver Brush Bristlon flats, a large Mimik Hog filbert, an Isabey Isacryl filbert, and a small Princeton Imperial round, on 9×12 Strathmore Canvas Paper. As I worked with them, I concentrated on the way the character of the brush felt as opposed to simply using the brush to apply paint.

During the painting, I got rather hung up around the eyes and nose so I think doing a bit more drawing to at least identify their boundaries would have helped. But I did enjoy how much more loose and casual the experience was overall. Having the color value lines set up before I began was enormously helpful for keeping the colors on the canvas more harmonious. Having the limited palette contributed to this, but I felt much more confident about picking up a color this way as opposed to mixing on the fly. Perhaps with more experience that will become more intuitive, but for this stage I loved the premixing.

Some things I’d improve next time:

  • sketch in the placement of eyes, nose, and mouth
  • think more in terms of large shapes and not discreet elements (ongoing area of study)
  • choose a background color that doesn’t contrast so much with the subject (I chose this cool color intentionally to contrast with the warmth of the dog, but it looks more modern than I was shooting for)
  • lay down a coat of retarder on the background area to allow time for blending (like with the cloud exercise)

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