Today’s blog is about creating a matching group of dog portraits.  These gorgeous dogs were commissioned as a Christmas present and I met them in their local park to take photos for their portraits.  I wanted to create an individual picture of each, unique as each of them were, but using the backdrops to create continuity.
The yellow flowers became the running theme.  I often get asked about painting flowers and as I only tend to paint them as part of a background I haven’t done any in depth demos of them before.  I promise that next time I paint flowers I will take better progress pictures of them.
But for now, here is Bella, Ruby and Willow.

The 3 finished portraits together in my studio.


Bella 14″x14″ Pastel on velour.


Because the flower bed in the background
is quite dark the first thing I’ve done is to
block in that area.  I will then spray that with
hairspray which I use as fixative on lower layers
and this will allow me to work on top of that for
the foliage.
I DO NOT recommend using hairspray as fixative
or any fixative in fact unless you’re using velour
or another paper you’ve tried and tested with fixing.
This paper allows me to do this but always experiment
as fixing can have negative affects.


I’ve added in the subtle dark background colours
to hint at the soil and surrounding flowerbed on the left.
This has allowed me to start that left side of the dog
dragging very fine marks out over the background to
create the soft edges of the fur.


Working across left to right and downwards
I continue to layer up the fur.  I will need to
do the area of fur under to chin before painting the
muzzle and chin area as this needs to overlap.


I’ve left the foreground flowers until last as
they are in front of Bella.  To paint the Rudbeckia
flowers I firstly lay down the deep undercolours of
purples and reds on the petals.  Then I add the lighter
tones of yellows leaving the under tones shining
through as the creases of the flower.   A few lemony
yellow highlights show where the light hits the flower.


Ruby 14″x14″ Pastel on velour


It’s pretty much the same process for all three portraits.
I start by blocking in the darkest areas and fixing.


The flowers furtherest away in Ruby’s picture
have a slight blur to them as they did in my
photos.  This gives a real sense of depth and distance.
The velour paper allows me to put vibrant green
clearly on top of black.  This is not something you can
do on every paper and this allows me to use pastels
in this painterly way working from dark to light.


You can see here I select colours as I go and they
stay out on the desk in front of me.  This means
I have my whole palette worked out and just have
to lift as I need.


Here is a good example of why I leave the muzzle
area to last.  Now when I bring the chin hair down
over the chest, the hair below will peep through.


Willow 14″x14″ Pastel on velour


Darks blocked in


In Willow’s picture all the flowers are quite
distant so they’re not in focus.  I’ve made more
use of the grassy area in Willow’s as her light
colouring will stand out really well against
the dark greens.


Painting a white dog is so tricky.  I use blues
and fleshy tones as the shadow areas and then
use a variety of lights to highlight.  I try and save
pure white for the very final highlights.  A white dog
reflects the colours around them.


Willow had a very distinctive smile which I loved!  Most of her
eyes were hidden in under that lovely coat so I enhanced the photo
a little by letting more of her eyes shine through.


This is her pretty much done.  I find that if I fix at this point
it marginally darkens everything so I can go back and add
a top layer of highlights just giving the coat that bit
more depth.
Hope you’ve enjoyed these three scamps.  I love nothing more than seeing little faces like this emerge from my easel so if you’d like to commission a pet portrait please visit for more details or get in touch directly with me.