View Full Version : Welsh Springer- portrait demo

Deborah Secor
11-07-2008, 11:08 AM
In my recent classes I've been showing my students how to paint a dog. I'm not an expert on this, and would defer to all those here and over in the Animals and Wildlife forum for advice, but you teach what you can... So here's what I consider the basics on dog faces.

I started with a photo from our RIL (Reference Image Library) by Canis Lupess. She takes GREAT dog pix and I often use hers for these demos because they meet the criteria I need: daylight for excellent highlights and shadows, facing the animal directly at eye level, capturing personality and great details.

I recommend you NOT paint from a flash photo! Everything changes--only everything. The light on the coat is distorted, the shadows are over-dark, the highlights in the eyes are false...and the list goes on.

I start by finding the center line of the face, and then measure the line of the eyes, nostrils and bottom of the chin. These lines don't flex. Then I find the top of the head and the sides of the jaw (not the muzzle), plus the angle from the center of the left eye to the center of the left nostril, and the center of the right eye and right nostril. I find that even in the furriest of animals this angle can usually be found, so I use it as a constant reference.

Then I start with my Wallis paper toned, in this case a wiped out painting that left a nice green, which I enhanced, and after choosing the exact composition of the portrait I determine the size and correct proportions for my paper. That helps me with the measuring I do.

I begin with this:


In this shot, taken by one of my students, you can see the charcoal drawing with some evidence of how I used those lines. That's how I find the placement on the page. This isn't science, however, so it may change. That's okay with me!

Here's a pic of the first layer of color in place. It was taken at the end of my demo, so I only had about an hour into it at that point.


I worked about another hour and had this:
You can see how wonky his eyes are! I erased the eye on our left side and replaced it...and painted another two hours to achieve this, my for-now finished painting:


I'm fairly pleased with this. I may yet tweak details..maybe the inside of his right (our left) eye.

I usually paint animals that are much more expressive, but for a demo I like to show how to achieve realism. Once you can paint fairly realistically, you can just jump off and have a lot of fun. If you want to take a look at my fun and funky style of animals you can go to my animals web page (http://www.deborahchristensen.com/animal.html).

Happy to answer questions, and always open for your comments. :D


11-07-2008, 01:14 PM
Nice rendering in the eyes, and great color on the ears. Maybe I'll change my hair color to match. Seriously, I like seeing the process.You really dig in there with the darks, with color drifting over. I can see how it works.

11-07-2008, 01:18 PM
you certainly have brought his expression and likeness to light, deborah ... my only observations would be a slightly startled expression most likely caused by his left eye ... perhaps his eye lid could be thicker? ... and i believe that if you draw lines down according to the tilt of his head you'd see that his muzzle is a tad narrow ... just little things ... beautifully rendered in your lovely style, though !!! ... :)

Paula Ford
11-07-2008, 01:23 PM
Absolutely fantastic! Those colors are so gorgeous. Thank you Deborah!

Deborah Secor
11-07-2008, 01:38 PM
Yep, Sonni, it's all about starting with the darks for me. I like them to be juicy and heavy so I can pop color into and over them, then pull out the darks again when I need them. I'm transplanting red hair onto your avatar pic...it might work! :D

Violet, y'know, it's not science. :wink2: I need to piddle with his eyes, agreed. The muzzle is incidental (unless someone is paying me for a likeness to their dog--then I go the extra mile!) but I see what you mean.

Thank you, Paula. :D


Gail V
11-07-2008, 01:49 PM
Thank you for sharing your measuring technique - I have never attempted to paint an animal, but I find your description for helpful for when I do :-) Love the colors you used - great demo! Thanks

Susan Jenkins
11-07-2008, 01:53 PM
Deborah... You've motivated me to try and paint my dog. I love the expression you have captured here. And something else that is awesome about this demo.... is that it shows that everything doesn't have to be perfect at first and you work really loose and tighten up the details later.

As always... I love your use of color. Those magentas, blues, pinks and greens (around the mouth area).. are gorgeous! You have such a gift of "seeing" color.

Love it!

11-07-2008, 01:56 PM
Deborah love the demo thank you!

Deborah Secor
11-07-2008, 02:36 PM
Gail, I hope you try one sometime. The lines crossing the photo and going off the page help me find where on the paper I want the block of the head to go. Then I find the right tilt and keep the eyes, nose and chin in line, which makes starting a little easier. I used the angles between the eyes and nostrils to see how off that one eye was...though as I said, it's not science!

Susan, I really do have some kind of God-given gift of color, though maybe not what you mention exactly. When I was a kid my mom used to show me a pair of pants and tell me she wanted to find a shirt to match, and later in the store I could find that color (or very nearly so.) I love playing with different colors, though! Oh, and yes, working loose to detailed is the only way I can do it. I always tell my students, "Don't wash the windows before you wash the car--you just have to wash them again!" Same with details...(for me.)

You're welcome, Betsy.


11-07-2008, 04:50 PM
Wonderful, Deborah! You nailed the intent stare. Luuuuv them ears, gorgous colours. Thank you for showing how you build the forms of the hair, er, ears, with that deep deep dark! I really like this painterly way of rendering hairs. Great demo for us who do not have the virtue of patience to draw all of them.

And, I've just started on a wee pup (and I don't do animals), so your demo came in the perfect time for me! Thank you!


11-07-2008, 06:02 PM
What a beautiful picture. Very well done.

11-07-2008, 06:05 PM
Just looked at your website what a beautiful site it is too.

11-07-2008, 07:32 PM
Lovely demo and great explanation of your lines to get the correct preportions. Interesting use of color in the coat.

11-07-2008, 07:48 PM
This was lovely at every stage. I almost wish you hadn't taken that last step to "finished;" I liked the way the next-to-last step still showed your juicy strokes. It was great to watch you bring this to life--you've almost convinced me to attempt an animal!

11-08-2008, 02:14 AM
Thanks for sharing, Deborah! I love all the colors you used.


11-08-2008, 02:34 AM
Great demo Thanks! Your doggy is wonderful in every pic.. Love the colors & those eyes !

11-08-2008, 08:45 AM
LOVE IT!! The colors, strokes, eyes staring, all of it.
Like Kim, I also really like the version right before the finish but I love the finish, too! Can't have everything, I guess! :cat:

Deborah Secor
11-08-2008, 09:47 AM

I liked that earlier version, too, and often stop a little short of the amount of detail I took it to here, but sometimes the students want to see how you can do that. Gosh, compared to some of the hair-perfect paintings I see of animals done here I still think it looks a little rough and expressionistic! Glad you like it.


11-11-2008, 11:21 AM

OOOOO! Deborah!
What lovely play of light on the fur and the rich texture of the colors!
I love the eyes! The eyes of dogs just go right into the soul!:heart:

The use of the triangle and lines to get proportions is so helpful.
Thanks for sharing this and for the progress photos and comments.
I learn so much form you!

11-11-2008, 12:25 PM
This is way cool!
Thank you for posting this, Deborah. It helps me to learn when these are posted...

Deborah Secor
11-11-2008, 04:38 PM
Oh--you're more than welcome, Mike! :D


11-11-2008, 05:43 PM
Well, just to be different, my vote is for the finished one!! His face just pops off the page inviting my to give a pet. The colors are georgeous, Deborah!

Deborah Secor
11-11-2008, 07:27 PM
:) Thanks, Kim... I appreciate hearing that, too!


11-12-2008, 07:49 AM
I liked them both but think the finished one is my favorite. Thanks for posting. How about showing us how to do a cat? :)

11-12-2008, 08:37 AM
Deborah, Thank you so much for this Demo! Can we save it somewhere? I loved having all of the steps right there to watch in sequence and the colors you've used give it such life. That spaniel is ready to go WOOF!....Thanks! Donna R.

Deborah Secor
11-12-2008, 09:41 AM
I actually have a cat in progress...but I didn't photograph all the steps such as this. I treat them very much the same.



Donna, you can save the whole thread to your favorites, if you want to...


11-12-2008, 11:36 AM
Deborah...I didn't know I could save threads to my favorites! Thank You.... I did just that! at times I think I'm fairly "computer literate" and then there are times ;( Donna

Deborah Secor
11-12-2008, 11:43 AM
Always something new to learn in both art and on computers, huh, Donna? I know what you mean! :D


11-12-2008, 01:42 PM
Yep.... Life is a "learning experience" (if you're lucky!)

11-12-2008, 01:48 PM
Very nice!

Deborah Secor
11-13-2008, 10:19 AM
Thanks, Nicoclaus.

I took this off the board yesterday, after slightly tweaking the color inside the hood of each of the eyes. I agreed with Violet's evaluation after looking at it for a bit--he had a "slightly startled" look that wasn't just intensity. The changes are so minor as to be almost unseeable, so I didn't shoot another pic of it, however.

I was also reconsidering the slope of the dark part on the lower jaw, which shape I exaggerated, but I decided to leave it since it gives the painting character and this isn't a commission of a specific dog. I guess I just like that funny shape!

I've taken the cat to completion and I'm spending some time mulling over the details. I think I'll post that as a separate thread, however. I need feedback now!

Thanks again to you all for you kind words and help. :D