Black Betty Portrait Finished

Black Betty Portrait Finished
8×10 oil on canvas “Black Betty”


This painting has been mentioned on my blog a handful of times over the last year. The last time I posted about it, it had been so long since we had worked on it that I incorrectly thought it had been a year already. It was a project I started with my sister-in-law in October 2016 that we were supposed to complete together. With only a couple of painting sessions together (closer to last October than not), I decided it just wasn’t going to happen. Life just keeps getting in the way and with my sister in law’s third baby scheduled to arrive this month, I see the continuing trend. For some reason, I couldn’t not finish this painting. It was a persistent itch sitting in my studio. As soon as I finished my still life series, I pushed to get it finished.

This painting has been a bit of a train wreck for me. I probably should title it “How Not to Paint a Dog.” Although, I do think it came out pretty decent looking in the end. Brace yourself for some seriously scary work in the following progress photos. The problems started at the very beginning with a less than accurate sketch onto the canvas. My proportions were all off and I found myself correcting a lot of mistakes when I started blocking in.



That first initial block in wasn’t that bad and I actually really like it. If I had just painted in a background and left it, it would’ve been ok. If only I had just left it. But, I made the horrible decision to paint the background blue. It was bad. So I warmed up the background up with a muddy poop color and added some texture to the fur. While the whole thing is bad, the far eye really gave me the most problems throughout. My fumbles with it are really apparent, to me anyway.



I left the poop background for a while and made some determined efforts to fix that wonky eye. The overly textured fur was bothering me so I smoothed it out in the next iteration. I also added yet another layer to the background, a nice flat grey, and a slight improvement. That eye though…



That eye got a few more layers on the next go round and the background was smudged but I didn’t really care since I had decided that I didn’t like it anyway. The rest of the painting escaped abuse that time. And finally, after roughly 5 months of neglect, I repainted the entire thing. Again. I swear, there are so many layers of paint on this canvas that this dog is nearly 3D. I think it’s the first bit of sold progress since the initial block in. It looks slightly less tortured, but the picture evidence certainly proves otherwise.



Since the initial sketch in October of 2016, I’ve finished 36 other paintings. I learned a lot from those paintings and gained enough confidence in my myself to attempt this painting once more. I feel like I managed to overcome most of the issues plaguing it, but I honestly wish I would’ve sanded it down and started completely over. I suspect that I would’ve had an easier time getting it right with a blank slate.

Since completing this painting, I have plans to subject several failed paintings to a thorough sanding. I even bought some Gamblin oil ground to re-prime them since I absolutely love starting with bright white canvas. Anyone else go out of their way to complete a painting no matter what? I think I’ve finally decided that it isn’t worth it.

5 thoughts on “Black Betty Portrait Finished”

  • Amber, I admire your strength of will to keep trying until you were satisfied. I could not do all that …if a painting goes wrong for me I’m afraid I just abandon it! I have had canvases with 3 or more paintings overlaid on them. So interesting to see all your stages with this one …my favourite is the penultimate one though. Amazing.

    • Thanks. I don’t know why I had to finish this painting, but I’m glad I did. From here on out I’m definitely abandoning paintings that don’t work.

  • Admirable persistence Amber! When all that’s seen is the end result, people rarely contemplate the process that led to it. Even though you have such mixed feelings about it, this is still a great tool to educate people about some of the behind-the-scenes blood sweat and tears artisits go through!

    • Thank you Fiona. I really debated putting those progress photos out there. I’m glad they’re appreciated. This was a serious blood sweat and tears painting. I like to think that it’s the difficult paintings that pave the way for those really fun easy paintings that practically paint themselves. Reminding myself that the work is worth it really helps keep me motivated on the difficult ones.

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