10 Steps to a Pet Portrait

Fancying something different and being in the mood for pet stuff I decided to do a small portrait of my dog Flynn. He is a 20 month old Welsh Springer Spaniel. I was put on the dog trail by my recent post on Gerrit Dou’s beautiful Sleeping Dog (so love that picture!) and an article I wrote on dogs in 17th century Dutch genre paintings for the American dog magazine The Bark (fall issue, do check it out!). So dogs rule at the moment and Flynn deserved his place in the limelight.

I photographed the progress of this painting so I could share my painting process with you. I hope this is informative, but do let me know if you have any questions on any of the steps I take!

Painting Steps


I decided to use a smooth panel from Belle Arti and although I wanted something smaller, this is the only small panel I had in the cupboard, so 12×10″/30x25cm it was. I usually try to have a variety of supports in stock, so I can always have a choice when I want to start something new. Sometimes I have something particular in mind and order a canvas especially for it. This time, I chose from what I had.

I had taken some photos of my dog earlier and after doing some editing on the computer, decided on which picture to work from. I used some burnt umber to position the dog on the panel. I used an old synthetic fairly stiff brush to scrub on the paint thinly. Old, as I don’t need exactness at this stage and splaying brush hairs don’t bother me. Stiff, because I am scrubbing quite hard and am not friendly to my brush so I can’t use a delicate soft brush.

This stage helps me figure out where to position my composition, where the light and darks are, and make sure it will all fit.


To get a better sense of where I am going I start scrubbing in the background. I will have a dark background and need to get rid of the white support as soon as I can as it will not give me a good idea of the overall final look.


More work on the background, but now working with the colours I intend to use. Lots of sepia tones on my palette: ochres and burnt umbers. I am still using my old synthetic brush and no medium at all.


I darken the background with more burnt umber and other darks and start blocking in the rough shapes of the dog. At this stage it is still very easy to move areas if they are wrong. So I keep on looking carefully to see if everything is in the right place.


I plopped an eye in although I am not sure it is in the right position, but at least it gives me something to work with. I started using a smaller brush to start hatching in the rear leg of the dog.  I still use no medium and the paint thickness varies from fairly fluid (straight from the tube) to streaky thick (dried up from the day before) but I try to use these differences in thickness for textural effects (and because I don’t want to waste the paint).

I don’t clean my brush in solvent but wipe it on some kitchen towelling. That does mean that I get a ‘muddy brush’ sometimes, but I don’t mind that at all. The white on the dog’s head, for example, looks rather grey at this stage. That is the result of a muddy brush. I don’t mind it as it is just a first layer of paint, telling me what it will become later. I am not after perfectly clean shapes,  as this is not a cartoon…. 😉


I add more details, still with the synthetic round no. 2 brush (Winsor & Newton University UK link, US link). A paw gets some toes, the nose gets some speckles. These bits are by no means finished yet, but I am trying to put them in the right position, ready for refinement or adjustment later.


This process of placement goes on with the ears and the fur on the chest. I am roughly putting in some lights and darks and I continue filling in the background with a variety of yummy colours. I use a smaller brush now and then (Pro Art Acrylix UK link,  US link).


I add more details to all the areas, especially the front paw, and slowly built up the paint layers by adjusting, adding, layering, and refining areas. I am happy with the leg but need to work on the ear and chest fur a bit more as it still looks too much like spaghetti.


The final painting.  Portrait of a Spaniel, oil on panel, 12×10″/30x25cm. Available for sale.


Framed and on the wall:

Sophie Ploeg Spaniel oil paiinting
Spaniel, oil on panel, framed

If you are interested in having a portrait of your pet, do get in touch!

Add this painting to your art collection – more info here

PS: the lovely table easel I used is Jackson’s Table Easel. I use them for my workshops as well and they are great.

suggested books (aff. links):

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