Three of a kind


I have just begun my latest pet portrait project for three Labradors I know and love (they’re my Mum’s!!!) The title reflects that there’s one of each colour: Seven is the golden and the oldest lady, Buffy is the black (but rapidly whitening!) and Mocha is the brown and youngest. Painting dogs is not only a case of capturing their appearance but hopefully their character too - and these three have buckets of it!


Seven may be the matriarch but she’s easy-going and doesn’t have a bad-tempered bone in her body and, being of the ‘dwarf’ variety, is always everyone’s favourite. Buffy is as gobby as they come, is petrified of loud noises and isn’t a lover of strangers (except she adores all kids bizarrely!) but with people she’s happy with, she’s the softest of the lot. Mocha is basically a lunatic, just turned three and has far too much energy for her own good and enjoys making Buffy’s life miserable – but, saying that, when Buffy was attacked by a visiting mastiff Mocha was the first one there having a go back!

The first step is to get some decent reference photos which I think is extremely important, even if I know the dogs I’m painting. A good photo will show all the detail needed to produce a life-like portrait. Often the best ones are taken inside with a flash rather than outside in the sun which can throw heavy shadows and thus lose half the desired detail. So, with photos chosen it’s time to draw them out – Seven sitting in her usual ‘Lady Muck’ position with one leg resting up on the sofa arm, Buffy with her ears pricked and Mocha with her head tilted (she’s actually staring at her ball!) The first washes of colour are added in layers and then I start to build up the detail on the face first for two reasons – this is the focal point that makes or breaks any portrait, animal or human; and it also lets me connect with the subject. Seven is painted in first and I’m pleased with the work as it progresses.

An image of 3 dogs

The background needs colour to stop Seven from ‘disappearing’, so a limited palette comprising the dogs’ colours was used to soften the overall effect as stark white just wouldn’t work on this portrait. Buffy is blocked in some more and Mocha’s brown is added in a couple of places to make sure the tones are working.

An image of 3 dogs

Buffy has now been worked-up properly, her black fur was a real challenge to portray its’ sheen correctly. It seemed every time I saw her, her muzzle had whitened some more or more white hairs had sprouted on her face! Mocha’s face is blocked in and the highlights and shadows are roughly etched out.

An image of 3 dogs

The work now switches its focus to Mocha and I’ve decided that brown is the worst colour a dog can be - especially one that’s as shiny as Mocha is!! But I battle on and finally get the tonal values I was looking for. It’s amazing how much change in colour there is when you study any dog closely enough. I decide to fade the detail out through her lower legs so as not to take too much attention away from the faces. Seven’s body is also detailed by defining her hair and getting the fur laying in the right direction.

An image of 3 dogs

So, the painting is about 99% done, so now it’s time for the fun bits: highlighting the whiskers, eyebrows, strengthening the eyes, adjusting the background colour as it was looking a bit lopsided and of course, adding a few more white bits to Buffy! It’s been a pleasure to be able to paint dogs I know so well as it’s not usually the case and I think it actually made this portrait tougher in a way as I do know them and their personalities and quirks, all of which – I hope – I have captured in the painting.
On a little side-note....I was going to personalize this portrait further by getting an imprint of each dog's pawprints in the bottom corner. As I have now found out, getting a labrador (even a sluggish one like Seven!) to put their foot into a saucer of paint and then onto a canvas in a specific place is, basically, a non-starter! Oh well, seemed like a good idea at the time - although Sev wouldn't agree with me!!

An image of 3 dogs

It’s now ready for the frame and hopefully a pleased Mum - Happy 60th Ma!!