Thursday 26 April 2012

Evolution of a Portrait

For the past several weeks I've been working on a coloured pencil portrait of an absolutely stunning dog - a big male Rottweiler. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to meet this dog prior to starting work, giving me a chance to experience his energy and dynamic personality first-hand. He's a smart, strong, athletic dog who I found to be quite charming and who is totally devoted to his person.

Lucky for me his person is also a very competent photographer so in addition to the photos I took when they visited, I was also supplied with a selection of great shots that gave me insight into the dog's younger years. For the portrait pose we selected a photo that was taken recently but it was the owner's wish that the dog, who is now getting on in years and looking a bit grey around the muzzle, be given a more youthful look. For that, I referred to the earier photographs.

I often intend to photograph a portrait in progress but it usually goes out of my head completely once I get engrossed in the project. However I'm pleased that I documented several stages of the process of creating this particular portrait. (I apologize that that  the quality of some of the photos is not great; the lighting I use at my drawing table is ideal for drawing but not for photography.)

Step 1 - Soft drawing in medium French Grey.

Step 2 - Mapping out the values and beginning to add colour
(I like to understand the anatomy of my subjects, hence the image of the skull)

Step 3 - The portrait begins to come to life

Step 4 - Further refinement

Step 5 - Almost there!

With helpful input from the dog's owner I'm now in the final stages of making some subtle adjustments, but here is the more-or-less finished portrait:

Step 6 - 99% complete!

Creating any portrait is, for me, like embarking on a long trip with a new acquaintance. There's a saying that "A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step" and in this context that single step is my first pencil stroke. As the journey progresses and I fill in the details, we get better and better acquainted, and by the time we reach our destination we've become firm friends. That's how I feel about this big guy!

I hope you've enjoyed sharing this particular journey with me.


  1. I love seeing how an artist creates her art. Thanks for your step by step explanation. Your analogy to a journey echoes what many of my writer friends tell me about the process of writing novels - getting to know their characters and becoming firm friends with them - and it is interesting to think of this in the context of visual arts as well.

  2. Wow. As the proud owner of one of your pet portraits, I always knew a lot of work went into it, but know I have a better idea of how much!


  3. This is absolutely amazing! and so are you...I am blessed and very grateful to have the opportunity to take your colored pencil workshops. I am just beginning to understand your insight into building a relationship, and for me a stronger bond, in working on a destination of become friends with my lil' furkid.

    Thank you!

  4. We are the very lucky owners of this beautiful portrait of my boy Jazz, who is my heart dog! Deborah completely captured his essence and spirit with this beautiful work of art. I was moved to tears when I first saw took my breath away, literally! Thank you and again Deborah. We will treasure our Jazz portrait forever.

    Hedy Rankin