Painting a Springer Spaniel in Acrylic
creating a custom pet portrait in light-fast acrylic paint on canvas
By Ellie Burdett
The goal this week is to paint a pet portrait in acrylic paint on canvas, not an easy task if this is your first attempt at a fur baby, however totally achievable. There are tips and tricks to painting pets in acrylic for the beginner artist to complete this project.
This tutorial aims to take you through the steps needed to complete this project at home from choosing your reference photo to the processes I found useful on this project.
The very thought of painting a pet portrait can be quite daunting after you get over the original excitement, however taken in a step by step approach it helped me get from the idea stage to the completed project. I spent a lot of time trying and a few fluffed attempts before finding a formula that worked for me.
It is about trial and error and finding what works for you. the worst thing you can do is to not try or give up if at first your attempts are not as you perceived they would turn out. The thing to remember here is the more you paint – the more you will learn and lets face it acrylic painting is vey forgiving and it is easy to just paint over any bits your not happy with (tip: make sure the layer underneath is totally dry before you do this or the previous layer will lift)
“Tip: Always start with a good reference photo – this I have found is the difference between success and failure”
The Reference Photo:
Stating with a good reference photo is the key to success here. Things to look out for here are clarity within the photo. An image that shows the pet is just not enough, the photo needs to be up close and personal and show the direction of the fur. Another important feature of the reference photo for the painting is to ensure that there are no areas of shadow that may obscure any detail of the subject. Particularly as a new artist, you need to pay more attention to the reference material than your actual painting.
On the section below there are a few examples of good and bad photos – notice how some are in shadow on the face and the detail is difficult to pick out.
A quick note on permissions: always get the photo owners permission to post the photo and artwork online as I have done here.
Poor Reference Photo
Although at first glance a beautiful photo, it does not give the clarity required for the detailed work needed for an acrylic painting. There are areas around the side of the face merging into the ears where the detail is not clear.
Good Reference Photo
Although this photo appear less than attractive at first look with a bin in full sight, it is worth noting that the image has all the required detail and focus for painting. The background can be changed to enhance the subject.
Creating the back drop:
Choosing a background to your painting is the first job on the agenda…I found it very productive to work from back to foreground. Colour choice is also important and I have found it useful to ensure your background both matches and complements the pet you are intending to paint.
I personally like a little twist and creativity in the background adding my personal artistic style and atmosphere. I have found that just painting the pet, although great does not give a completed look to the artwork.
In my painting, I choose a cloudy grey scale background and I have added at the final stages some floating feathers to give some additional foreground focus and interest.
I started by painting the whole canvas deep grey then added the clouds by first hand painting the base of the clouds in grey, graduating to lighter grey towards the top. I then airbrushed around the clouds in black creatix paint with a final layer in white over the tops of the clouds.
If like me, you have no formal art training – it is worth having a quick internet search on “the rule of thirds” this helped me with the elements of painting composition and position.
Transferring the Sketch to the Canvas:
It is an absolute must to spend time on the sketch stage of your painting to ensure your drawing is as accurate as possible as when painted any errors in size or scale will be exaggerated.
Once happy with the sketch a quick and easy method to transfer to the canvas is by using transfer paper. You can find this at most art/craft stores and is readily available online. By using transfer paper, it eliminates the mistake and correction process on the canvas.
Layering the Paint to form the Pet Portrait:
As you can see from the photo above it is then a process of gradually adding layer of paint in the direction and pattern of the fur. A big lesson I learnt here was not to concentrate too much on the strands of fur at first and just get the general colours blocked in. Once the general colours are blocked in, you can get to grips with the fur detail.
When painting fur use shorter strokes for the short fur and longer strokes for the longer fur. Another tip for fur is to painting clumps rather than single hairs. When painting the clumps, I started with darker grey tones and graduated to lighter grey tones. I added the lighter grey tones and whites to only the tips of the clumps, this gives the illusion of depth.
When considering colours during the painting process, do not focus too much on colour choice…it is more important to get a variation in tonal value. Colour can be adjusted during the final stages with a very thin glaze (this can be either the paint thinned with water or a glazing medium).
An example of this can be noted as following completion of the pet portrait, I added some feathers to add an element of interest. The base colour was grey tone and the next colour was unbleached titanium white with final highlights in titanium white. Having painted the feathers I noted that I needed to pull some of the unbleached titanium white into the body of the dog to ensure that they blended into the portraits theme and did not stand out as a stand alone feature within the painting. This was achieved by glazing a wash over some of the fur.
Tip: Glazing can change the look and feel of a painting and enhance the colours. Glazing is a great way of adding depth to the painting. The light will refract though the layers beautifully.
- Artina Canvas
- Liquitex Basics Paints
- Creatix Paint
- Liqitex Glazing Medium
- Pro-arte brushes (Flat, filbert & no 1 rigger brush
I hope you have enjoyed this blog and thank you for taking the time to read through. If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to post or email.
Ellie Burdett – Self Taught Artist