My latest dog portrait, is of a beautiful Border Collie called Marmo. He is a tri colour and I have a lovely reference photo to work from for his pet portrait. It was decided to change the background as he is sitting in front of a door. Not the most attractive of background for pet porrtaits!

After putting together a selection of possibilities for my client we decided to opt for the snowy background. The original photo was taken on a snowy day so it seemed apt to keep the theme. The other options offered to my client were of Marmo sitting in front of some fells in the Lake District. being that Border Collies are working dogs and you will naturally find many herding sheep up in the fells. It is amazing to watch them work. Such intelligent dogs.

Reference for pastel dog portrait of a border collie called Marmo. Snowy background with blue sky

This is the composition we settled on, I am truly looking forward to painting the snow. I haven’t painted much snow before, certainly with my pet portraits. Joe was a recent dog portrait I completed with snow on his muzzle and ears, and some tiger cubs as a wildlife piece.

Below is an example of the fell background. I will work with you to create a scenic background you want for your pet painting. From beaches, to fields and woodland, I am happy to work to your brief.

Reference photograph for a dog portrait in pastels. Border collie in front of fells
Starting Painting Marmo’s Portrait

Marmo was sketched out on my usual pastelmat, my preferred paper for my pastel pet portraits. I chose the grey as I thought it would be a better base for the snow. It is a warm grey, but still better than the brown. Ultimately both would have been fine.

Here is Marmo’s sketch, and I am all ready to start with the pastel tomorrow. Time to get dusty, the best part! (Turns out I forgot to take a photo of just the sketch so you have one with the sky in!)

Dog Portrait of Marmo, outline sketch

I have started with the sky. A bright blue sky with just a bit of cloud. I love the winter sky it is much more beautiful than the summer one. Summer skies get too hazy I think.

The photo below shows the first layer of pastel going down on Marmo’s face. He is a tri border collie and because he has pale patches with dark flecks on fur running through, where there is the pale layer I put the mid colour down first. So not the lightest or darkest and as the portrait progresses you can see I have then added the darker fur down and some even lighter fur. This creates the idea of depth to his fur and the reason I didn’t go for the darkest colour is it is harder to layer light fur over the dark. It can be done, which is the beauty of pastels, but it is truckier. Hence the reason it is done this way.

I am hoping around a bit more with Marmo’s portrait. So rather than blocking in the whole pet portrait I am going further in sections, going to another and the back. Each section I work on is still built up using my regular process of blocking in the shadows and highlights, picking out the shapes, starting to block them in and build up the layers. Just in sections rather than the pet portrait as a whole.

The background is also being worked on in stages. I think it is because it is such a large painting it might explain why I am doing it this way. 

Pet portrait of Marmo the border collie, progress photograph

Close Ups

Here are a few close up photos of Marmo’s dog portrait. The first one is of the out of focus snow and foliage in the left hand corner of the portrait. For the out of focus background I use soft pastels, they blend easier to create the bokeh look and they cover the area quicker than pencils too. Over all I think the two different types of pastels work really well in combination like this. I also would use the soft pastels for the plain background I do. You can view more in my dog pet portraits gallery.

Close up of the foliage and snow in the background of Marmo's dog portrait

Finishing Marmo’s Pet Portrait

The rest of yesterday was spent working down Marmo’s chest and back until all of him was blocked in. Woking of a portrait this size with pastel pencils can be quite time consuming because there is a lot of expanse for a small pastel lead. I really want to experiment using just soft pastels for my larger work. I haven’t yet braved it! I follow an artist who does magnifecent work with just soft pastels. Emma Colbat. Amazing artist she is.

Once that was done it was a case of filling all the final details, whisps of fur that come out of his ears and downs the sides. Some of the excess soft pastel has to be brushed of gently with a bristle brush and reblended, just so there is enough tooth to take the pencil pastel I will be using for his fur. These details are waht bring Marmo forward and push the background back. It is attention to these tiny details when painting pet portraits that can make a difference to a dog that looks like it belongs with the background or is just plonked on top of it.

The very final and most important details for Marmo’s painting (after his whiskers of course!) were the fleck of snow. Especially the particularly cute one on his nose! This makes him fit even more with the background as if he has been charging around and gor snow on him, or has he just finished a walk and it has just started snowing. It’s up to you, but it helps build a story around his pet painting which adds a wonderful extra dimension to it!

Finished Pastel Portrait of Marmo.

After all tthat I guess it’s about time for the big reveal!

Marmo, Border Collie Portrait in Pastels. 18×22 inches.

Marmo, tri border collie. Finished dog portrait in pastels with snow and blue ski behind him