This is going to be a gorgeous portrait of two labrador retrievers called Flo and Angus. One is a yellow lab and the other is a black lab. My client was looking for a special gift for her Mum after her trip away for her Birthday was cancelled due to Covid-19.

She sent me a lovely photograph to work from with the two dogs looking out to the right of the photograph. The lighting is gorgeous. Winter sun falling on the pair of them. It is going to make a lovely portrait.

The only thing we decided was the background in the reference photograph was a bit fussy. We wanted to keep it in as the lighting would look funny with a plain background, so it was decided we would make it a little out of focus to draw your eye away from that and on to the two dogs.

Double dog portrait reference photograph

Above is the reference photograph as it was and below you can see how I roughly blurred the background to demonstrate what I meant to my client.. 

Photograph of two labradors
The Background

The backgound for pet portraits are as important as the stars of the painting! I mentioned above that we discussed making the background of this particular piece out of focus so we could keep the labradors centre stage! I decided to give my pan pastels a go and see how they worked for this style. 

I have to say it was very much like painting with the tools. You collect the pigment with your sofft tool, which is similar to a paint brush and then apply it to the paper. It is reallly does make it feel like I can say pastel painting now. I know it has been mentioned before the difference between a pastel painting or paster drawing. You can read more about pastels here. It is a very intersting bit of information put together by the Pastel Society of America and worth a read.

I put together a timelapse of the background for you watch so you can see how it came together for this double dog portrait. I have used some pastel pencil on the background where I needed a more precise mark than the sofft tool would make. I am enjoying exploring all the potential panpastels have to offer and as I learn I will share with you too! I hope you enjoy the timelapse.

I started with filling in the dark backdrop before I added the bare branches of the trees. The background was a mix of burnt umber, raw umber and black. I used a larger sofft tool sponge for this.

When it came to the trees I used a smaller sponge and used the thin edge of it lay down the finer lines of the trees. It worked quite well and overall I am pleased with the effect, but I would like to get the a smoother lay down. I am still learning how to get the best out of the panpastels and as soon as I learn anything I will be sure to share.

I have used my finger in places to soften and blend the pastel, as you probably can see in the time lapse and I have also used some pastel pencils for some of the really fine lines that I couldn’t quite achieve with the sofft tool.

Starting on the Dogs

This dog portrait is going to be a tricky one as the lighting is beautiful, but not easy to recreate. It is a winters afternoon sun, but their are gorgeous golden colours bouncing off the dogs and lovely cool shades too. I really want to try and capture the feel of a chilly but bright winter afternoon.

For the yellow labrador I have used about 6 different ochres and yellows and ivorys to get the warm hues of her coat and the shadows I used cool greys and and burnt carmine. 

The cool greys are really vibrant against the yellows. It is a good lesson in colour theory and purples and blues are directly opposite the oranges and yellows on the colour wheel, making them complimentary colours. This is what makes them look so bright and they look wonderful together. I can’t really show you in the photo as my phone doesn’t really do it justice, but if I placed the cool grey next to a green or red, it wouldn’t look so bright and vibrant.

The black lab is even trickier to get the colours right. Normally when I paint black lab dog portraits the shadows are a cooler shade, but here due to the sunlight bouncing off him they are much more golden in colour. 

To create his the sheen on his gorgeous glossy coat in this instance, bearing in mind the above, I have so far used saffron from derwent, and golden ochre with a blend of brown earth over the top to soften them slightly. So I applied the ochre and saffron first and then the brown earth gently of the top. This blends and softens the pencil marks, without losing too much detail. If I didnt do this it would leave the pencil strokes to harsh and not fur like, it also served to give me the colour I wanted and blend into the black shadows on him. I don’t want the line between the hightlights and lowlights to hard as again it wouldn’t be representative of fur.

Here is a time lapse of the progress made on them today.

I have made some good progress on this portrait today. I haven’t compiled the time lapse video of todays work yet, but as soon as I get a chance I will do. The colours on Flo are much trickier to get right, but I feel I have masterd the colour combinations now. They haven’t changed much from the colours I mentioned earlier, but I have added a warm grey to the mix which is working really well for the not so bright highlights. 

I hope to get the portrait pretty much fonished tomorrow so I can scan in and send it to my client for approval. I am keeping all my fingers crossed that all the time lapses will come out so I can a have pet portrait filmeed from beginning to end again. It’s been a while!

Bringing Pet Portraits Together….

Is one of the most important things. Tying it all in and making the background works with the subject and visa versa! You can make, what is a beautiful portrait not work by the background looking disjointed or subject doesn’t look like it belongs with the background. Some of the hardest ones to tie in are the ones where I am adding in a background that wasnt part of the reference photograph. I have to make sure the lighting is correct and the perspective is right.

However with this commission it was fairly straightforward as the background came with the two dogs, so to speak! It helps that the shadow and lighting correspond, taking out a lot of the hardwork for me. I still have to make sure they don’t look like the sit on top of the background, or that it detracts from them. This is why I made the background softer, to create depth of field. I think it has worked quite nicely and both the subject and background compliment each other well. The yellows in the trees, fencing and grasses are reflect in both dog portraits bringing unity to the piece. There are alos cooler shades in parts of the background matching the cooler shadows on the yellow lab, Angus.

Overall I am really pleased with the winter light effect created in this portrait and it is definitely time to get a scan and see what I think with fresh eyes in 24 hours!

I have put all the time lapses together to make a little video for you. I can’t upload it to the site as the file is too large but follow the link if you would like to watch it!
Finshed Dog Portrait

So after a good nights sleep and a pair of super fresh eyes it was time to double check I was happy with Flo and Angus. An executive decision was quickly reached and I was ready to scan and send it over to my client.

She was delighted, so the rest of my day was spent packing up Bailey’s pet portrait and this gorgeous pair. 

Dog portraits of a black and yellow labrador

I am delighted with how the background has retained enough detail, but without detracting from the two gorgeous dogs who are of course, quite rightly, the centre of attention! 

Please feel free to browse previous dog portraits over in the gallery or drop me an email to find more about my pet portraits.

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