Meet Ludo, a very young wheaten terrier and Lottie, a lovely calm and gentle older labrador.
Aren’t they beautiful! Their custom pet portraits were commissioned as a surprise gift by my client after meeting me at the Three Counties Show where I was exhibiting with the Herefordshire Guild of Craftsmen.
About the dogs.
So Ludo is an 11 month old wheaten terrier, apparently he is very energetic and his reference photos, all with his eyes covered by that fabulous fringe reminded me of a teenager which I guess at 11 months old, he could very well be in terms of dog years!
Lottie is an older labrador who was a bit poorly during the making of this pet portrait but is now feeling a bit better, wishing you a speedy recovery Lottie!
The owner’s daughter was helping with the surprise and supplied the reference images. I did bat them back and forth a bit but as Lottie was a little under the weather at the vets, we used what was available, and now knowing Ludo is a teenager and Lottie is a very gentle lady, the poses actually suited them very well.
About the custom pet portraits.
I used sienna pink Pastelmat for this one, I really felt it would lift the ginger colouring to Ludo’s fur. He was a mixture of blondes, pinks, ginger and reds so it helped the tone out a lot. I used Faber castell sticks for the background using a combination of cream, peach, browns and a bit of yellow, quite a mixture! I then started on the right hand side of the paper, I do this as I’m left handed and it’s to prevent smudging. These days I use a mahl stick so I could really start work anywhere but old habits die hard! I had recently completed a black labrador x collie and thought the colours would be similar, however on closer inspection of Lottie’s reference photos, I found Lottie to have less grey highlights and more blue instead so I used a different range of colours. I used Derwent charcoal black for the main stay though but then lots of faber castell blues for the rest, their range has lots of them and I was spoilt for choice! Lottie’s reference image showed her eyes as being quite wide but lovely and shiny. I really enjoyed painting them as they made her look such a soft natured dog but it also gave me a focal point to work from.
I then set about working on Lottie’s gorgeous fur. I used the Derwent charcoal black stick to lay down a dark underlayer. I find this really helps the building up of layers as it seems to give the fine details something to grip onto. Sometimes I smooth this underlayer with my fingers to ensure the entire nap of the Pastelmat is filled. I then started to build up the more detailed layers with pastel pencils. I always run the strokes of the pencils in the same direction as the fur in the references, this will give the impression of fur as the layers are added on top of one another.
As you can see, Lottie’s fur is really starting to look real, it’s just a case of adding darker or lighter colours where required, if somewhere looks to pale, I add a layer of dark, if something looks too dark, I add more of the highlights. I simply repeat this process on the area I am working on until I reach the desired effect. Sometimes I can only be using a few colours but the amount of layers applied is huge! I redefine detail as I continue working in case anywhere loses it’s definition as I build up the layers.
Again, you can see here where I’ve used the stick to block in the darkest areas of Lottie’s chest fur. I really think it gives it the velvety look which is exactly right for Lottie. You can imagine what her fur must be like to touch in real life!
Using the same process of just adding layers, darker or lighter where required and modifying as I go along, it really does build up the chest area. The most important piece of advice I could give to any artist using pastels is to ensure the application is similar to the subject, so smooth down with fingers for a smooth shiny patch or use strokes in the direction of fur for pets etc. I would say it’s as important to show the surface texture as it is to get the colours correct.
Now I couldn’t wait to get stuck into Ludo’s fur, in fact I got so carried away I did leave it a while before I took his first work in progress shot! Look at that mop! I used lots of dewent sticks in peach, browns and pale creams to rough in his underlayers. I was great fun using these colours as they don’t normally venture out of their case on a pet portrait! Again it was simply a case of adding many layers to build up the fur. This time the fur was longer so I used longer pastel pencil strokes to achieve the same look. I had to go back to add more shadows between ‘locks’ of fur as I hadn’t initially made the shaded areas dark enough. It was just a case of adding darker shades of brown then using a paler colour to add the whisps back over the top to look 3d. I took quite a lot of time adding more highlights and shadows on Ludo’s fur as it wasn’t a range of colours I usually worked with so I had to find my magic recipe of shades to get it just right.
Once I had discovered the magic colour formula for ginger fur I was away! Ludo does have a few blonde highlights and very dark edges which you can see above which were quite nice to add. It made him look quite distinguished!
I was really in the groove at this point, and started to build up the layers on Ludo’s chest. I added highlights and shadows to define the way the fur lay and as I refined it, the fur started to look more 3d.
For some unknown reason I had a pair of noses missing at this point. Regular readers will know, I always have an area I seem to leave until last, it can be anything, an ear, a nose, a section on the chest. I have no idea how it happens at all. Must be because my brain is wired up oddly!
So here we are, my client asked for Ludo’s fur around his nose to be made a bit more gingery as the photo showed it a lot paler than it actually was plus Lottie’s bridge across the top of her nose was a tad to shiny so I simply dulled that down very technically by tapping it into the paper more with my finger!
Thankfully it seems I managed to capture these two gorgeous doggies as required and by the time you read this post, they should have arrived with my client in time for framing and presenting!