Meet Dave, Felix, Iggy, Elsa, Buster & Ginger

“First off, I am a dog lover,” says Illustration Professor John Nickle, to exactly no one’s surprise. While the award-winning illustrator’s spunky, high-minded animal characters for children’s books are 100% imagination, these hard-living pups serve as the illustrator’s live muses.  He knows their stories, predilections, where they hail from, accessories they look best in and the ones they chew through. Prof. Nickle tells of his experience with each of them here:
"Dave," by John Nickle
“Dave” by John Nickle
I was given a blurry, one-inch square Xerox copy of Dave’s ASPCA mugshot, attached to his rescue paperwork. Apparently the guys who found him, stuck a hat on him for the photo. I re-shot the photo reference for detail and lighting, and added a different hat but kept Dave’s stunned expression. 
My inspiration comes from the 18th century English painter George Stubbs, known for his animal paintings. I recently saw several of Stubbs’ horse paintings at the Met and was struck by how subtly weird they were.
Rundown & Felix
“Rundown & Felix” by John Nickle

Rundown is a big, solid Hamptons dog by way of Baltimore. Felix is my dog, a crazy Italian Greyhound. They see each other a couple of times a year when we visit our friend Stacey in Sag Harbor. When they play it’s like watching a weight lifter and a sprinter dance and trash talk.

My challenge is to push the paintings beyond straightforward animal portraiture and find a little twist to make them interesting.

"Iggy" by John Nickle
“Iggy” by John Nickle

Felix and I know Iggy and his owner Dani from Prospect Park. Dani says that Iggy’s face reminded her of a pansy. I had a hard time composing this with just one pansy, so a halo seemed to be a good and appropriate solution. Prospect Park is the background.

The series dovetails nicely with my illustration and painting classes at FIT. They are collaborative, like illustration assignments, and I use a classical approach to the making of the paintings.

"Elsa" by John Nickle
“Elsa” by John Nickle

Elsa is an Icelandic Sheepdog. Her “mom,” Annika and the family are avid skiers and split their time between Vermont and Brooklyn. Elsa is a fiery, focused, and vocal little dog, aka the “Bjork of Prospect Park.” I wanted to juxtapose her intense presence with the serenity of a snowy landscape. 

I encourage each client to tell me their dog’s story and encourage feedback during the photography and sketch phase. I take a lot of photos for reference and usually use about four final choices for the main reference.  One photo for expression, one for angle, one for color and one for lighting.

The final paintings are all acrylic on wood. I start with a monotone underpainting and then apply a combination of washes, opaque paint, and glazes.

"Buster" by John Nickle
“Buster” by John Nickle
Buster and Ginger are roommates in New Jersey. Rendering fur was the big challenge here, of Ginger’s flowing locks and Buster’s crazy patchwork. These are part of a three-part commission that includes the client’s son.
"Ginger" by John Nickle
“Ginger” by John Nickle

For each of the paintings, I made the background a bold, solid primary-ish color so that they could be hung close together as a triptych, spaced and hung as either a horizontal or a vertical set.

John Nickle has been teaching in the School of Art and Design for five years. In the undergraduate Illustration program he teaches drawing and painting, illustration assignment, and senior portfolio classes. In the MFA program, he split teaches the Exploring Media class.

To see more of Professor Nickle’s work go to: John Nickle Illustration

All images used with permission.


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