• Image Dump: New cat (and human) oil paintings!

    Yes, I’ve been busy painting lots of cat portraits and human portraits. Because I’ve been neglectful in updating this blog, I’m dumping a lot of new oil paintings in this post!

    “Sun-kissed Tabby,” 6×6″ oil on canvas panel

    This painting was just completed tonight, but it waited on my easel for way, way too long. So glad to finally call it “done”! I really loved capturing all the different colors I saw in this kitty, not least was the light showing through the ears.

    “A Lock of Red Hair,” 12×12″ oil on panel. Photo reference by Marvin Mansilla (used with permission).

    This is another painting that took a long time to complete. I actually signed it years ago, but only recently decided that it was truly “done” after a few touch-ups. I saw this fantastic photo on Instagram, contacted the photographer, Marvin Mansilla, to get permission to do a painting. He said yes, and here is the result! Thank you so much, Marvin, for being such an amazing photographer!

    “Corazón roto” 6×6″ oil on canvas panel

    I’m learning some new techniques and studying some new (to me) art concepts. One new thing is speed painting, or oil “gestures.” The goal is to see how much can be done in an hour. Well, I couldn’t quite finish this painting in an hour—it took 80 minutes. But I’m still surprised with myself! This painting is part of my “novela” series (paintings inspired by Mexican telenovelas).

    In this portrait painting, this poor man obviously has had his heart broken, hence the title “Corazón roto” (broken heart).

    I used a limited palette of White and Burnt Umber. I like Winsor & Newton’s Burnt Umber, as it has a warmer cast than some other paint brands.

    “Minus the Tabby” 6×6″ oil on canvas panel

    This is another “speed paint,” or a “gesture” painting, though it took longer than an hour. (Probably two hours?) This time I used a limited palette of Burnt Umber, White, Ultramarine Blue, a tiny bit of Yellow Ochre to mix the green eyes and a tiny bit of red to add some color to the nose.

    Minus is one of my kitties. She is named after a cat we had when I was a kid. My dad named the original “Minus,” but I have no idea why he chose that name. (He had a propensity to giving everything and everyone weird or hilarious nicknames!)

    Minus is a very sweet kitty, but a little “minus” in the brains department, alas. But of course she is very loved!

    “Wide-Eyed” 4×4″ oil on canvas panel.

    I loved the reflection in the eyes of this kitty and enjoyed capturing the many colors in the fur and also that wide-eyed expression.

    All these paintings are available through my Daily Paintworks gallery.

  • Mini Tabby miniature painting (2 x 2 inches)

    Close up cat portrait in oils, 2x2 inches, by J Dunster
    “Mini Tabby” oil on gessoed panel, 2 x 2 inches

    Yes, another cat painting! I decided to go small again, and recently completed this tiny kitty portrait in oils. As I mentioned in a previous post, I love Trekell’s mini painting panels, which was what I used here. The texture on the painting surface is far smoother than the other mini 2×2″ canvas panels on the market.

    Photo for scale, showing size of cata painting compared to an iPhone.
    For scale: The little painting next to an iPhone SE.

    I can complete a painting this small in a relatively short amount of time, but in this case, I thought I had “finished” the painting but then changed my mind and did a little more work on it a few days later. Sometimes artists need to get some distance from recently finished art to see if there is anything else that needs a little work, and that was the case here. What also surprised me was how I was able to add far more details than I expected on something of this size, which is a good thing!

    This painting is currently available for sale on DailyPaintworks.

    I’m currently working on several more cat paintings and also just started another portrait from my “Novela series.” It feels so, so SO good to be back to painting!

  • Mini Siamese Kitty and other paintings

    Mini Siamese Kitty – 2×2″ oil on primed panel

    New small cat paintings

    I neglected to post these paintings earlier, after I first painted them. But it’s never too late. Here they are now!

    I painted “Mini Siamese Kitty” on a Trekell Mini Panel. I LOVE LOVE LOVE these panels and bought an embarrassingly large amount of them. They now reside in my substantial stash of painting panels.

    They are fabulous panels because they have a subtle texture that isn’t too overpowering when you’re painting that small. I much prefer them over extra-small panels that use canvas.

    To give you context to comprehend how small this painting is, behold:

    Mini Siamese Kitty next to a pink packet of sweetener. Just so you understand HOW SMALL this painting is!
    “Green-Eyed Kitty” 3×3″ oil on panel.

    I really enjoyed painting this tabby. I used a 3×3″ mini panel from Trekell with that same sublime subtle texture. So much fun to paint on—so much fun!

    “Fluffy Tabby in the Grass” 5×5″ oil on canvas panel

    I enjoyed painting this tabby kitty with all the grass reflecting on his fur. The size at 5×5″ was a little small, but since oil paint is so smooth and buttery it’s amazing how much detail you can capture if the canvas texture is not too rough.

    “Siamese Tabby” 6×6″ oil on canvas panel

    The color cast of the reference photo was a little warmish and I battled capturing the contrast between the warm yellow-greens and the magenta-burgundy colors in the shadows. In the end, I liked the way the painting turned out. Such beautiful blue eyes on this kitty!

    Inspired by telenovelas

    “Ana” 6×6″ oil on canvas panel

    I fussed with this portrait a bit, but…what the heck, put a fork in it, it is done!

    If you’ve seen a few select shows in the USA or if you speak Spanish (or study Spanish), you might (might! the likeness isn’t perfect!) recognize this woman. She’s a Mexican telenovela actress and I love the telenovelas. Many of the small portrait studies I paint are “inspired” (meaning the likeness is purposely not 100% there) by Mexican telenovelas. I am learning Spanish and watching Spanish TV is a great learning tool. But I’d be lying if I claimed I just watched telenovelas to practice Spanish. I also just love the over-the-top drama and the gorgeous Mexican landscapes and architecture. Watching my telenovelas is a true guilty pleasure.

    There is a wealth of inspiring painting material from these telenovelas (so many emotions expressed, so much drama!) and so I’ve got a queue of reference photos from telenovelas lined up, ready to be painted.

    A few other examples of “telenovela inspired” paintings include Jorge, Indecision, Eavesdropping, Señorita, Intense, Sad Tears, and Mercy.

  • “Biter of Hands” & some “questionable” choices

    “Biter of Hands,” 5×5″ oil on canvas panel.

    I haven’t been updating my blog in a while, but here I am! As you can see, I’ve made some big changes—moved my blog from my main domain (jdunster.com) to this wordpress-hosted site (jrdunster.com). I just got sick of troubleshooting wordpress problems and resolving issues and incompatibilities with my web host. Let WordPress themselves do all the heavy lifting!

    So here is a small oil painting of one of my cats, “Minus” (or also known as “Void” because sometimes she seems a little “void” between her ears). She does sometimes bite hands. Very affectionate cat, but sometimes gets overexcited and then…bites.

    There is also some news (see reference to “questionable choices” in this post’s title) about…kittens. Yes, I have some new models for my cat paintings.

    The neighbors couldn’t keep these kittens and we just couldn’t fathom the idea of leaving them to their fate, so now we have kittens. They’re all adorable, very loving, purr constantly, and are very naughty. (They wouldn’t be normal kittens if they weren’t naughty!)

    I’ve already got a few good photos ready to use as painting reference. They’re utterly precious.

  • Tracing vs Freehand Drawing: Where people LOSE THEIR DARN MINDS

    One of the most contentious topics among artists is whether it’s okay to trace photos, use other drawing aids, or is drawing freehand the only way to go? These types of discussions often devolve into INSANITY. Why is that? Let’s discuss.

    “Remi” pencil sketch drawn from life.

    First, my personal disclaimer:

    • Drawing and art tools are just tools. There is no such thing as “cheating” (as long as you’re not dishonest) and the use of a particular method or tool does not make you “not a real artist.”
    • Nobody is telling anyone what they MUST do. If you’re happy with how things are for you now, keep doing what you’re doing!
    • If you’re relatively new(ish) to drawing and painting and feel a little overwhelmed by anything in this post, just bookmark it and check back in a year or so. No rush. Just keep drawing and painting and enjoying yourself!


    I think it’s a combination of ego, defensiveness, purism, and … defensiveness.

    Let’s identify our two groups:

    • Artists who believe that freehand drawing is an integral part of drawing and painting realistically.
    • Artists who say, “Whatever works!” and “da Vinci used drawing tools so it’s good enough for me!”

    Some of the “Drawing is integral” crowd can get very “purist” and make claims that anyone who doesn’t draw isn’t a “real” artist. That’s carrying it too far. There are many artists who use drawing tools a lot, perhaps because their freehand drawing is weak. But their artwork looks great and they sell. How is it that they’re not “real” artists?

    Some of the “da Vinci did it!” artists are too dismissive and (sometimes) butthurt when anyone suggests that there should be more freehand drawing in their life. Maybe they’re in denial. “I can draw but…” or “It doesn’t make any difference!” The hard-core defensive ones will even say, “People say they draw freehand just to brag. It’s a bunch of extra work for nothing.”

    (Before I go further, I’d like to point out that “Da Vinci did it too!” but he also drew these sketches of cats, lions, and dragons, things he couldn’t have been capable of drawing without good freehand drawing skills. Tools were tools, but he wasn’t overly dependent on them.)

    And so, we have egos clashing and craziness. And we keep on coming back to debate it again and again. (Me included!)


    Okay, so I’m one of the freehand drawing people. I occasionally use a four-square grid (like you can see here on my other blog) but not that frequently.

    I’m a drawing evangelist because it is a skill that has given me many opportunities and advantages.

    Because I can draw, I can draw from life (not copy a photo). Photos “lie” to us and when we always use them as reference (as we are forced to do if we can’t draw well freehand), we get stuck in a rut of repeating the “lies” that photos show us in colors, values, and edges. And our paintings suffer for it.

    Before and after studying under the amazing artist Adam Clague.


    “Before,” I could draw accurately (the “before” painting was, ironically, painted from a live model). But I didn’t like my colors. They were too warm, they didn’t look natural. I sold my art, but sales were often “meh.”

    The “After” painting was done after I attended a workshop taught by Adam Clague. That painting sold only a few hours after I first put it up for sale online. (Which happens sometimes—but not that often! 😉 )

    Long story short, Adam teaches his students a different way to “see” color, values, edges. He prefers to have his students work from life (rather than photos) when possible. What he taught completely reformed how I painted.

    After attending his classes, I immediately started to sell a whole lot more paintings. It’s not an exaggeration to say that this changed my art life.

    Even when I use photos as reference, my paintings look better than they did before. That training I got in Adam’s class helps me know how to better adapt and work around the shortcomings of photos.


    Adam’s teaching involved a lot of working from life and being more completely aware of the limitations inherent in photos. The best way to learn this is to work from life a lot more.

    And that’s why I’m an evangelist for freehand drawing. Because those who can draw freehand are not stuck with only using photo references. And not being wholly dependent on photo references is where it’s AT, baby, it’s where it’s AT.

    “Matthias” 8×10″ oil on canvas panel. Painted from life at Adam’s studio. I hadn’t really started taking lessons yet but was starting to show some improvement under his influence.


    I like this blog post from the Oil Painters of America site and often refer to it when this subject comes up. But will people read it during the heated debates? I fear not.

    So, to summarize:

    • There are benefits to painting more from life and less from photos. In order to paint from life, you need to be able to draw well. (I’ve already covered some of this.)
    • The paintings of those who always copy photos often have white highlights, black shadows. That’s the color information photos give us but in real life, there’s far more nuance and beauty in shadows and highlights. Photos miss a lot of this beauty.
    • Those who copy photos a lot tend to depict all edges as sharp because that’s how a camera captures the edges. This is not how the human eye “sees” edges so paintings with all hard edges may not look as natural.
    • Artists who only copy photos often have no difference in the color temperature of the lights and shadows. This is not how color temperatures work in real life.

    The author of the blog post says they can often instantly tell who paints from photos all the time and who doesn’t. That is a very revealing statement. It means that those who are too dependent on photos have a “look” to their paintings that can be spotted right away—and that is not necessarily a good thing.


    It “matters.” Schools, teachers, and ateliers who insist that their students draw freehand are NOT making them work needlessly just for the sake of working. There’s a genuine benefit there.

    If you don’t want to add more freehand drawing to your skillset? I get it; you’re not alone. Maybe you were taught years ago to use tools and you figure, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. You don’t want to be nagged or made to feel guilty. I understand.

    But I’m an evangelist because I worry that you might regret missing out later. And that’s why I wrote this whole post. (Hope it wasn’t too annoying! 😉 )


    Please remember that you don’t need a class to work from life! Just draw or paint anything you see around you. It’s all good. (However, a heads-up. If you use mostly photo references—even if you always draw freehand—you might go through an “adjustment period” as you get used to working from life. Don’t be discouraged. You’ll get through it!)

  • Brian (painted at age 19)

    “Brian,” 16×20″ oil on stretched canvas

    I painted this oil portrait (which is NOT a good likeness!) of my brother-in-law Brian when I was age 19. I remember I was studying under Shirlee Prescott at the time and she advised me on the colors. I used a black-and-white photo (taken by my sister) as a reference.

    John Singer Sargeant said, “A portrait is a painting with something wrong with the mouth.” And that applies here! His mouth and chin aren’t quite “there” yet. But, since it wasn’t that embarrassingly bad as a portrait (of someone), I put it up on one of my other websites many years ago and didn’t think much about it for a very long time.

    Until today. Brian died suddenly from natural causes a few days ago and the news has just broken on social media. Everyone who knew him is in shock, adding memories, sharing thoughts, and I didn’t know what I could contribute. Then I thought of this. This painting. This is my contribution. I just wish it were a better painting. But it still is a painting. Oil on canvas.

    Paintings have a “permanence” to them that is unique. That’s why people commission artists to do portraits. A likeness of a person takes on more weight when it’s transformed into paint on canvas, filtered through an artist’s eyes.

    Portrait paintings invite attention and a chance for discussion. Paintings often will get “spread” farther online than a simple snapshot will. People will discuss the painting on its artistic merits and sometimes start thinking of the subject of the painting too… and that’s why paintings are a special kind of memorial. If the painting is particularly good, the painting gets seen by more people—who will then see the painting of the person, the subject of the painting.

    When you lose a loved one, one of the things you want most is for them to be remembered. They are gone from this earth, but it’s so comforting for something of them to be left behind in a tangible form. A painting can be one of those things.

    You are here today because you like art and somehow found my art website. I am here today because of Brian. I want to share some things about him for a moment.

    Brian has been a wonderful father and husband. He dealt with our crazy family shenanigans with long-suffering endurance. He was the father of two remarkable sons. He has two amazing daughters-in-law (who adored him—and you know you’ve succeeded as a parent when your in-laws love you!). He has two beautiful granddaughters, and he also leaves behind a sister and a niece.

    He was a flight test engineer who had a life-long passion for planes. He built his own small aircraft and of course was a pilot. This passion spread to my sister, who also learned how to fly.

    Recently they got their dream house in a “residential airpark,” a community for plane geeks, uh, fellow flying enthusiasts. It had this HUGE hangar for his planes and he spent a lot of time tweaking things there. It was a dream come true for a plane geek flying enthusiast like Brian. But it was to be short-lived—they only enjoyed a few years at that house. I feel that injustice acutely. But at the same time, I’m just so grateful that he got to enjoy it at all.

    You leave a big void in our lives, Brian. I know you are flying with your own father now (who was an Air Force pilot). God bless you.

    Brian doing what he loved most—tweaking on something plane-related in his own personal hangar!
    Brian at a family Thanksgiving.


    One of my awesome nieces-in-law sent me a cell phone pic of another piece I did of Brian. Drawn when I was the same age (19), with the same problems with chin and mouth. (Mostly the chin.) But hey, it’s a good lesson: You do get better with time and practice!

  • I guess it’s time

    …for a website update.

    Like many of you, I’m stuck at home, waiting out this scary pandemic. Fortunately, I’ve got adequate supplies (including cat food!) at home, so I am settled in without much panic at the moment. Therefore, what else is there to do but update my blog? Right?

    I’ve done some painting since this blog was last updated. Here are two oils (randomly selected):

    Band of Light – oil on panel, 6×6 inches
    Foolish Passion – 6×8″ oil on canvas panel

    A lot has gone on since my last update. Some scary, some big, but a lot of good.

    But to quote Tim Conway Jr (who I listen to a lot when I paint), “Who cares!” Who cares about all my personal travails at the moment? This is an art blog so let’s talk about art.

    I’m planning on revamping this site a bit so there should be more posts coming soon. What better time to do it but now?

    Yeah, like a lot of artists, I’ll be painting a lot…since I’m at home anyway, it’s a perfect time.

    I hope everyone else is doing well right now. Stay safe, stay home, study a lot, and if you are an artist, paint a lot!

    Be back soon.

  • After over a year… (IMAGE DUMP!)

    The guilt over neglecting this blog has finally become too much! I’m trying to catch up with so many things in the past year. After a lengthy period of sharing caregiving duties with a sister for our mom (who had dementia) the “new normal” is requiring some adjustment. Furthermore, there were other things that have happened in the last year, things that kept me from painting (or updating this blog) as much as I’d like.

    I can’t say that everything is now perfect and normal, but when is it ever? All I can say is that things are gently pushing upward. For that I am grateful.

    Anyway, I have done many paintings in the last year. I’ll post many of them in future posts, but just want to share a select few here:

    Backlit Tiger – 8×8″ oil on canvas panel.

    I’m going through a “tiger phase.” This is just one tiger example. I’m not done yet! I’ve got many more tigers (and other big cats) to paint! If painting tigers is wrong, I don’t want to be right! (more…)

  • Content Tabby

    Content Tabby, 5×5″ oil on panel.

    This is a blissful-looking kitty! I found the expression irresistible and wanted to capture it in a painting. I loved how many different colors were in the cat’s fur—some green, blue, and orange flecks and reflections are found all over.  (more…)

  • Two new cat head paintings, long and rambling updates

    It’s been a very long time since I’ve posted to this blog, and there’s a good reason for that (which I’ll get to later in this post). Forgive me as this will be long and rambling!


    First, I want to share two of my latest cat head paintings:

    Black and White and Fluffy (#2) 5×7″ oil on oil primed panel. I used a reference photo by a photographer on the “Paint My Photo” community.


    Perky Young Orange Kitty, 6×8″ on canvas panel.