Peggy with Vic Bearcroft

17th November 2017 Estimated reading time: 5 mins

Let me introduce you to Peggy – my girlfriend’s parents’ dog – a whippet cross, who they found abandoned one Christmas Day, with a badly damaged front leg. Unfortunately the leg could not be saved, but Peggy began her new life – first in Yorkshire and then in Normandy, where she lived out her final years. She may have only had three legs, but she could certainly run on those long, wide Normandy beaches!

1 To begin, create a preparatory sketch, using a charcoal pencil. You can use a graphite pencil, but make sure it is very soft, a 9B, or you might indent the velour paper. Try to use as many straight lines as possible in your sketch; this will help you to get the correct angles, as well as making your finished drawing or painting much stronger than if you try to concentrate on all the smooth curves as you see them.

2 This is probably the most important stage of all – the tonal sketch. The tonal sketch literally establishes the tones for your painting, darkening or lightening your colours when you overlay them. Now you can begin to curve some of your straighter lines from the preparatory sketch, especially the features, such as ears, eyes, nose and mouth, with a corner of the hard black pastel.
At the sketching stage, I like to round off a sharp corner if the pastel is new, so that it isn’t too fine – you only need a sharper mark for fine details later on. The second part of the tonal sketch uses the flat side of the black pastel. Don’t be afraid to break the pastel in half to make it more manageable. With this flat side, ‘brush’ in some flat tones – one dark, one medium – which will begin to give your subject some shape and depth.

3 Next we are going to add some basic colours over our tonal sketch – this is called ‘blocking out’. Try to use two or three basic, sometimes vivid colours. Good strong colours at this stage will give your painting real depth and shine. For Peggy’s portrait I am using Prussian Blue, Sanguine and Yellow Ochre soft pastels, again broken in half using the side of the pastels like one inch brushes. First, using the Prussian Blue, lay down a not too heavy layer overmost of the portrait, except the very White areas, the eyes, chin and neck just below the chin. Put a little of the Blue into the reflection in the eyes too. Rub the pastel in really well to secure the pigment into the paper.
Next, do the same with the Sanguine pastel around the tops of the ears, the eyes and hints around the cheeks and nose.
Colour is important at this stage so as not to make the dark areas look too flat. Finally, use the Yellow Ochre around the chin and neck to add some warmth to the painting. Don’t forget to rub all the pastel into the paper; if you do this, you will not need to ‘fix’ the final painting.

4 Take the Ivory hard pastel, again rounding off a sharp corner, and sketch in a few details – a little fur texture in the highlighted parts of the ears, around the eyes, the softer highlights in the lower part of the eye, and around the lips and chin. Remember, this is a sketch of a short-haired dog, so we don’t need a lot of sharply-defined fur texture. Then add some soft ivory highlights in the lower part of the nose – these are ‘reflected highlights’ so should not be too strong.

5 Now we can add some finer details using a sharper corner of the hard Black pastel. At this stage we can also strengthen the tonal values of the very dark areas. Begin around the ears, adding a slightly furry edge and deepening the shadows under the ear flaps. Do the same around the cheeks and neck, adding only hints of fur texture. Next darken the nostrils, but don’t define them too much or they will stand out strongly; this can often lead to a ‘piggy nose’ appearance. Make a slightly sharper line around the edge of the nose to bring it forward from the rest of Peggy’s muzzle. Finally give the eyes more definition. As the eyes are the most important part of the painting, they should be a little stronger in detail and tone than anywhere else.

6 Now for the final highlights. The White highlights should always be left until the end to keep them pure and strong. Use a rounded corner and rounded 1/4 inch edge of the hard White pastel to begin with. The White flash and White muzzle fur can be added with the edge of the pastel, again separating it slightly from the dark nose. Don’t put too much White into the right side of the face, as this is more in shadow.
Add soft White highlights into the upper left part of the nose, avoid putting in lots of sharp white spots, or Peggy will look like she has White measels. Put soft White highlights into the fur around the mouth, chin and neck – again concentrating on the left hand side. Finally with a sharp corner, add in the bright reflections in the eye to give the portrait its final sparkle.

I hope you have enjoyed this demonstration and that you will try it for yourself?
I really look forward to seeing your results. Why not try the same material and techniques on your own dog portraits too?

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