Ah, the joys of dog ownership.…Millie, our Springer Spaniel is our constant companion whether galloping around the vineyards or lounging in an old armchair in the studio.  She’s 3 years old and so long overdue for a proper ‘sitting’.  In this digital age it’s so easy to take lots of reference photos until you’re happy with the composition and expression. In this photo she has quite a formal expression but I liked the lighting and setting. The following tutorial will help show you the stages I took.

With animals, large or small, the key is to get the eyes right. Take your time as there is nothing more disconcerting than a slightly cross-eyed expression in the final painting. Once I was happy with the positioning of the eyes and nose, I wet the background and washed in a slightly abstract background using a 25mm flat brush with Burnt Umber and Payne’s Grey (Blue Shade). Once this was dry, I painted in the brown areas of her face and ears (very loosely) starting with lighter washes of Burnt Sienna and getting progressively stronger with the Umber and Grey tones. I kept the white areas of the muzzle – approximately. From then on, it’s fine brush work all the way as a contrast to the looser background.

By mixing your watercolours with Zinc white gouache they become opaque and you can slowly build up the fur effect by stroking the brush in the direction it grows. I used a No.6 and a No.2 brush. It’s a labour intensive technique but it’s worth it. I steadily added light strokes over dark and, where necessary, I blended them with a damp brush. Don’t use too much water! Bit by bit the painting comes to life working those light tones over the dark areas. Key to the whole picture is, of course, the eyes. Get those nice and sharp and you’re laughing… There’s a small mix of White gouache, Yellow Ochre and Cadmium Red in and around the eyes with a dark Grey/Brown in the centre. Once you’re happy with the overall feel, add some fine white lines for the whiskers. Now try and do it without photos – working with a live model. Good Luck!


The original photo on the left. I flipped it over ( I find it easier as a right-handed artist) and cropped in slightly for more of a portrait. I realised afterwards I should have reversed the markings on the muzzle as I went along.


From reference photo through to finished artwork.

Here’s a close-up of the finished painting to help with detailing.