Watercolor Portrait Painting of a Man and His Dog

It's been a little while since I painted a watercolor portrait, so I was happy to get a commission to paint a gentleman and his dog.

I had several photos to choose from. The first was too small and I could not see the face clearly. An outdoor photo was a possibility as well. But a photo of the two in front of the fireplace won out. The image was good and I could work with it well.

The painting was not going to be large (only 6x9 inches), but I did a small study first even so.
Read on to see how I painted this portrait. Or you can skip the demo and  click here to see the finished portrait.

Whenever I tell my watercolor students that I do every large watercolor painting or commission twice, they act surprised. But I do! The first is a study - which is a smaller sample. A study gives me a chance to see what I want to do in the final painting and is especially helpful with portraits.

To the left is the study I did of the pair (the dog's name is Bubba - how cute!).

For a portrait study, I do not focus on getting a likeness in the face.  The important thing is to see if I like the composition.

What I found is that it would be too small at 6x9 to get a good likeness - I could hardly see to paint the eyes! So I decided to move the dog closer and zoom in for the final painting.
Here is how I painted this portrait:

I begin with a careful drawing on drawing paper then transfer it to my watercolor paper. The initial drawing is vitally important! If anything is out of place, no amount of painting will fix it. You cannot paint over watercolors the same way you do with oils or acrylics since watercolors are transparent. After the drawing is transferred, I do a wash of skin color mixed from red and yellow.

Now comes the really fun part - dropping reds, blues and yellows into the shadow areas while the skin color is still wet. Looks pretty colorful, doesn't it? It won't stay that way, but those initial colors will shine through the transparent watercolor later on giving the painting more interest and depth.

Next is the blue shirt - now you can see why I used those blues on his face - they reflect the color of his shirt.

We can't forget Bubba! I use the same colors to mix the black that I used so far in the painting. This keeps a common color theme throughout.

After painting the background, everything has an initial wash of color and it's time to shape the face more.

I deepen the shadow areas on the face and neck by adding more layers of color, letting them dry in between. By the time the portrait is finished, there will be many transparent layers of color. Next I add details:

OK the details are now painted - eyes, nose, ears and mouth. But I still have work to do to get the likeness. This is when the real painting begins!

I spend many, many hours softening shadows and highlights and adding more shadows where needed until I'm finally satisfied with the likeness to the person:

Have you had a portrait painted or do you paint them? Let me know your experience in the comments below.

I'm happy to take custom orders. Contact me for a custom painting of your pet, home, garden, grandkids, favorite vacation spot or whatever your heart desires.
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