When commissioned to do a group portrait of animals I like to be able to go and meet and photograph the dogs.  I used to do more of the ‘floating heads’ type of portrait which can work really well.  But I do like to try and put all the animals in a place that says as much about them as their faces.  The idea of them lounging together on a comfy sofa or hanging out in the garden appeals to me.  I like to see where the animals want to be in their house as opposed to me staging it.  If the light is good where the animals like to chill then we’re landed!

I’ve included in the blog my reference photos and the extremely rough layout I put together for my own reference in Photoshop.  There are usually elements of a couple of photos which can be used in the final composition.  As much as Lady the labrador tried, she couldn’t settle in one spot for very long.  So I ended up getting one great shot of her face by using a well timed squeak and used one of the body shots from another.  I had several to choose from with her lying down but sitting up added some height to the picture.


The finished painting 20″x16″ pastel on velour.


Four of the photographs I was working from although I did have
to reference some others for bits of the sofa and background.


My cut and paste photoshop image which lets me play about with
the proportions.  Not bothered about the state of it as it’s just to
give me something to go by.  I sketch from this image.  For this
piece I used a 2″ grid lightly visible on the sketching paper just to
speed me up in this stage. I then covered the back of this paper
in pastel and transferred it onto my velour.


On my desk easel.


The background is pretty loose.  I love the light in this room
with the big windows and patio doors.  Perfect for some side
lighting which can add nice contrast.


Working dark to light.  I’m using a black Faber Castel stick
for my very darkest areas.  Then lots of Unison soft pastels
for my other shades.  I love their softness although there are
several things you need to do to ensure the layers stick to
the velour.  Each under layer needs rubbed in so it really
stains the paper.  You can also apply thin layers of colour
like I did on the back wall.  Then by blending them lightly
together you get a greater depth than if you had used one
pastel this colour.


The back of the sofa with it’s gorgeous design really adds
interest to this I thought.  The aztec design will hopefully
make a striking backdrop to them although the colours
are neutral enough so it shouldn’t distract.


Using a Blue Violet from Unison for the cool highlights on the
back of Kropka the cat.
A bit more work done to the sofa


I love the range of Light shades Unison have.  For
light coloured or white animals it’s surprising how
many colours you need to realistically portray their
colour.  They reflect so much around them.




The next four images show the build up of fur
on the front of Lady.  I use both warm and cool
shades in the under layers.  It doesn’t have to be
neat but I do start to sketch in the fur direction
as there are a lot of swirls on her front.
Working down the left side which is in the light
I use a Grey 28 (I like it as it’s slightly warmer
than white)  to build up the brightest parts of
her coat.
For the shadow side I use BE1 which has a yellowy
tone to it and pale blue shades to add the coolness
to her coat.

I love the purple tinted greys for shadow tones.
The fur starts to take shape and I can neaten
individual hairs now that there are some layers down.
You’ll find it will move about for you a little when you get
a layer or two down.
Starting with the darks I’ve sketched in Dudley’s
face.  I use pastel pencils (Faber Castel Pitt pencils)
for the small detail around the eyes but mostly it’s
the bigger pastels I make the fur marks with.


Sometimes in a black area I want to accentuate
a really dark place.  I can use a stick or pencil and
make marks from right to left on the velour
and it seems to give it that extra illusion of depth.
It’s subtle but it’s another layer of dark that velour
holds because of it’s fibres and the way they
react to light.


I’ve used the black stick to sketch in all his dappled bits.  Just
by following the pattern it gives a sense of his form underneath.


Like with Lady, there are many colours in his coat.
I try to use the same palette throughout a painting.
I have about 5 highlight shades and 5 shadow shades
that get used on everything.



Almost there!

Hope you’ve enjoyed the progress of these three.  It was so much fun to work on!

If you’d like to chat about having a portrait painted drop me a line at info@EmmaColbertArt.com or visit www.EmmaColbertArt.com for more info.