Meet the very beautiful Molly-Dog. Molly lives in the next village to me and she has her own Facebook page! Her Dad is a photographer and he takes the most fabulous photos of her in various stunning settings so she is a superstar in the making!
As you may know I am a member of the Herefordshire Guild of Craftsmen and each year we attend a variety of shows and hold exhibitions. Due to dwindling stock I am attempting to build up a portfolio to take to this year’s shows so I put out a call on Facebook for labrador models which I could use as the subjects of these paintings. Luckily Molly’s Dad allowed me free reign of Molly’s page and this is the first (yes there are many more beautiful images I have my eye on for more Labrador portraits!)
Making labrador paintings in pastel
I wanted to create a story with this painting. Originally Molly was laid in her basket looking very wistful and immediately my mind saw her daydreaming of chasing ducks and so the story began. I wanted the focus to be on her, she has such a beautiful face it deserved to be the centre of attention so I needed a blurry window scene to keep her the focus. I was also pretty keen to add a cute value so she had to have a stuffed duck to help tell the story. Years ago I went with my Mum to a jumble sale and bought a huge bag full of soft toys (never liked dolls at all, cut all of poor Sindy doll’s hair off) and I remember a duck like this being in the hoard. I also remember that most of the toys I bought had been donated by my Mum so I got them all back! Funny how a memory can help with artwork!
As ever I used my favourite support, pastelmat and in anthracite. The finished piece will be size 16×12 inches so I cut a piece off slightly larger so I could tape it to my easel board leaving a handling edge so the pastel doesn’t get smudged. I buy my pastelmat in sheets from Great Art when they have a sale, currently I have a wardrobe which I use to store it in so I can grab a bargain at any time!
If you look closely you will see Molly’s reference image which, other than dear Molly, bears little relation to the finished painting! You will also see some panpastels, a couple of sticks and a variety of pastel pencils used just to get to this stage. I tend to paint with pastels like I cook, everything out of the cupboard and used!! The panpastels were used for the duck base, I just really wanted to use the orange pan, it was so rich and bright so my duck has an extra orange bill and feet! I found stabilo pastel pencils went over the panpastels the best, they sit on the top so well whereas my derwents seemed to scratch rather than glide over the top. You can also guess I did my usual method of starting with the eyes to ensure Molly could see what was happening all around her!
So now I really got to grips with Molly’s fabulous coat and fur. I wanted her to glow as she was sat in front of a window so I upped the highlights quite a bit. I also know she should have been more in shadow in some areas but I chose to leave these shaded areas less obvious to keep Molly as the centre of attention. You can see I started to work out the foreground here too. I had thought about adding a lead too but once my mind had decided she needed a check basket I thought it may be too much so took it out. The welly is one of my work wellies and they are definitely not as clean as I painted them! I think most of the Forest of Dean is on those wellies!!!
So I continued working on Molly, her face was really starting to take shape at this point but my main concern was to not make the shadows too dark and loose her features, I was constantly adding highlights and shadows then reworking until I reached the look I wanted. Considering most people think it’s just black fur, it’s surprising how may colours actually go into making black fur! I used black panpastel, sennelier black sticks as well as derwent, stabilo and faber castell black pastel pencils for the darkest of areas (although not a lot really in terms of coverage) then many, many greys, browns, blues and even some yellow for the highlights. As I said, I try to use everything!!!
As you can see my easel gets a little congested at times. Here is Molly’s labrador paintings getting to know Katy-Boo the dazzlingly white terrier as well as Honey who is just about to come alive (she is sketched out) so it’s all go at times. I do try to work on one at a time so I can keep up with which pastels I use but Katy-Boo was undergoing some highlights so my little brain managed to cope reasonably well!
So Molly now has a nose, she really did need to have a sniff (she told me!) and now I can focus on the foreground. I already had in my mind the type of basket I wanted so here we go……
I thought Molly would look good in check, it’s all the rage in dog circles and reminded me of the waistcoats the country folk like to wear so it had to be. I used panpastels as the base going from a lovely fawn colour to a dark umber for the shaded areas. I added the highlights next to show the folded and creased material using pastel pencils. Then the fun bit, all those lines for the check. I thought my eyes were going squiffy at one point but I got there in the end!
See more Labrador dog paintings
So once I had the welly in place here I am (yes it’s me!) just giving Molly a groom and once over with pastel pencils. I use this opportunity to tidy everything up, rework shadows and highlights, add more detail where needed and generally stand back to see if everything is looking good with my labrador paintings. I have to say I’m pretty pleased with being able to create more of a story from my imagination rather than sketching everything out countless times on scrap paper, perhaps ad hoc is the way to go, it’s also very scary as I would have been so mad at myself if it had gone wrong after putting in so many hours of work!
‘Daydream Believer’ 16×12 inches, labrador paintings in pastel.
Feel free to visit my gallery where you will find lots of completed dog portraits but if you like to see how they are made, visit my dog art blog posts where I show step by step updates from the beginning to end of each piece and don’t forget I offer worldwide pet portraits commissions.