How to create a pet portrait in pastels – Dog


Step 1 – Outlines

Step 1

Step 1

Most importantly, I don’t believe there are is a right or wrong ways to create artwork. Sure, there are some really handy techniques and it’s fun to learn but just relax. Have confidence and watch your skills develop. If you have a passion for drawing your work will continuously improve with practice. Never give up, if you think it looks awful, give it time. Sometimes an image will evolve and not seem that bad at all. Failing that, throw it away, wait a couple of days and start again! This can be very therapeutic.

OK, lets get going. This is how I tend to work with pastels…

– First, I spend some time studying the photograph (sorry but only a genius with the penmanship of lightening and a dog stuck in suspended animation can draw from life), look at the shapes. Not just the outlines but the shadows, tones, textures etc. Trust your instincts and draw them out as if replicating contour lines. I always end up with something that looks a bit like ‘painting by numbers’.

Step 2 – Test Area

Step 2

I like to begin by completing a selected area. This allows me to get a feel for the chosen media. If the end product, in this case the right ear, doesn’t look or feel right, I might start again using something else. Different types of fur (or subject movement) might mean the subject will better suit water colour, acrylic or oils.

When working to a deadline and have a client waiting, this technique also simply saves me time and materials.

If I’m happy with the choice of media, I may use a single base colour to add extra depth. Blended all over or just in the areas where there is a concentration of one colour, can enhance tonal mood. This is slightly more apparent when painting on canvas. I will go into more detail of this in my ‘Canvas painting of Dog’ blog.

As you can see regarding ‘Ricco’, I didn’t bother. Like I said, with me, there’s no rhyme or reason. I no longer worry about what I should be doing, I just go with the flow. No point getting up tight, where’s the fun in that?

Step 3 – The messy bit – Blending

Step 3

Pastels can only really be mixed on paper. One way is by hatching, the other by using your finger. I use all sorts of bits and bobs for blending, from the side of my hand and cloths for large areas to ear buds and blending pencils for the more detailed spots. If using your finger/hand, it’s important to keep washing. This will avoid smearing dirty marks across your page and lighter area of the image. Look closely at the photo, you can see that I’ve smudged the right side of the dog’s face. Irritating but it was easily removed with a bit of putty rubber.

I use pastel pencils and block pastels for my drawings.Pencils are great for fine detail such as fur and eyes and the blocks are good for large areas or for dusting. This is when you scrape a fine powder from the pastel crayon/block onto your flat page and then press into it using a palette knife or dry brush. To create the dust, I find that the edge of a craft knife works best.

There are lots of others techniques used with pastels that have wonderful names such as; feathering, frottage, impasto, pouncing, scraping out, scumbing, sfumato, sgraffito and stippling. These will all be revealed in my up coming blog…

Step 4 – Highlights, Contrast and Details

Step 4

A fine white pastel pencil will lift the features and enhance the detail. This is when the fur can be given its gloss and the eyes their moistness. A black pencil will strengthen contrast and lift the image off the page. Be careful at this stage. Be gentle and add tiny strokes at a time. Be too daring with large defined marks and you could end up ruining all your hard work.

This is when the portrait will seem to come alive.

Step 5 – Cleaning Up

Step 5
Cleaning Up

When you’re happy that you’ve finished ( I never am), take your time to clean the area around the image with a hard or putty rubber. Be very careful not to wipe your hand across the image!This particular image was tricky as the client required a predominately black dog on a white background. It took a while but I did eventually end up with a nice clean background.

Next and most importantly, protect your finished piece by spraying it with a fixative. Again, try not to scrimp on a cheap brand. From experience, it simply wont do the job and is money wasted. At the moment I’m using a brand called Ghiant Fix Basic, which wasn’t too expensive and seems to be doing the job.

Beware, I had to spray Ricco eight times before the black stopped coming away so don’t rely on just one application. Also, remember to allow the drawing to dry between applications.

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