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Tips on Painting a Dog Portrait

Updated on April 15, 2013

Immortalize Your Dog

If you are like most people, your dog is a treasured member of the family. It’s only natural that you want to paint a portrait of your beloved pet that not only catches its likeness, but its personality and character as well.

Painting a portrait of your dog doesn’t have to be a daunting process; all you need is a modicum of talent and a few quality art supplies.

Work from a Photograph

It is almost impossible to get a dog to sit still long enough for you to make an adequate sketch. The easiest way to paint a dog’s portrait is to work from a quality photograph; you must be able to see details, and you must be able to refer to those details time and time again.

Use a good camera, one with a high megapixel count. The higher the pixels, the more detail in the photograph. Take the picture at eye level with your dog. If the dog won’t sit on a piece of furniture, then get down on the floor and position yourself so that you are taking the photograph straight on at eye level with the dog.

Take at least six snapshots; three from a distance and three close up. The eyes most often reveal personality, so focus on your dog’s eyes. This is difficult if you own a breed that has fur obscuring its eyes, but a close up photo should still be able to give a suggestion of the dog’s character and personality.


Practice Makes Perfect

If you have trepidation about putting paint to canvas, consider following in the footsteps of the masters. Find an art book that has dog portraits from master artists, such as Rembrandt and Manet. Study the portraits.Note how the artist used light and shadow.Try to copy one or more dog portraits that were painted by a master.

You’ll soon get a feel for the techniques that the artist used. In order to focus on the painting’s details without feeling intimidated, turn the picture upside down and copy it from that vantage point. You’ll be better able to concentrate on the details without worrying about the end result.

Speed Painting - Dog Fur

First Things First

Whether you choose to paint with acrylics, oil or watercolors, you must first make a detailed sketch of the dog on a good quality canvas. For the best final quality of the painting, use a stretched linen canvas.

Position the photograph of your dog on an easel or on a wall at the same height as your eyes; make sure you can comfortably see the picture without squinting. A sketch is meant to capture the essence, don’t dwell too much on details as those will get filled in later. Your sketch needs to depict the proper proportions and the main features of the dog’s face. Use a soft pencil and feathery light strokes; it will be easier to erase if you aren’t satisfied. When you have finished your sketch, paint the background of the canvas.

Most dog portraits focus on the dog only; there are no extraneous details, such as furniture. Choose a neutral color for the background. Use thin layers of paint, and let each layer dry thoroughly before applying the next coat. If you are using oils, you will probably have to wait several days for each layer to dry; it’s important that you exercise patience in this regard.

Select Your Medium

Although centuries-old dog portraits were most often painted with oils, you can use acrylics or watercolors. No matter which medium you choose, it’s important to build up the paint values slowly. Apply thin coats and allow each coat to dry completely before beginning the next layer. Succeeding, thin paint layers will create the illusion you want, and if you aren’t happy with each outcome, you can easily make adjustments. The process and concept of layering applies no matter which medium you work with.

Don’t Skimp on Quality

All the talent in the world cannot compensate for inferior art materials. Use the very best quality brushes and paints that you can afford. The results on the canvas will vary according to the type of bristle and the shape of the bristle brush you use. A stiff brush will leave marks on your painting; soft brushes are best for smoother strokes and for blending colors.

Use natural hog’s hair brushes with oils. The bristles need to be stiff in order to work properly with the thick oil paint. You can use softer, synthetic brushes with acrylics and watercolors. Remember, the best dog portraits in the world were painted with quality materials.

If you ever want to imortalize your pet, I would be happy to paint your dog. I am an artist specializing in dog portraits based in Dallas, Texas.

Dog Portrait Speed Painting


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      aya 3 years ago your portrait.. looks really real specially the eyes, so i wish I can paint my dog just like that..I'm also paint and draw but not talented and good as you.