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Pet Portraits

A Process

People keep asking me: "How do you do it?" Especially beginning artists are often floundering, struggling with how and where to begin. Colored pencil seems like an easy medium to use, but to achieve any kind of mastery, it can become exceedingly difficult and unforgiving. There is only so much erasing you can do before the board or paper no longer yields the pigments without damage, and blending and layering can easily result in "mud."

So, here I am going to present the basic process I use, although it will vary with each piece. Other artists work differently, but this is how my technique evolved over the years.

The subject: while I am working from a photo, this is one of my dogs, so it helps to have her sitting next to me as I work. In any project, a good reference photo or two will go a long way toward a successful piece of art.

Image size: 12" x 16". This is a common size for pet portraits and one that yields the desired results in a reasonable amount of time. I'll try to keep track of that time, too.

Medium: Prismacolor Colored Pencils

Note: the images of each stage are large to show better detail (30-50k). If you are on a slow connection, they will take a while to load. Colors are close, but not true; I can spend only so much time on correcting the scans, and we're talking about the overall process. I will list the colors I use in each step.


Stage 1

I start with a light pencil sketch on the board, with as few lines as possible. Depending on my reference photos, I sometimes spend considerable time working out the proportions on paper, then transferring the final version to the board. I use various types of illustration board or, as in this case, colored matboard (Crescent # 1024, a bluish gray). Bristol board is about the lightest I work on.

In this image, I've started to block in the dog's outline in two colors: Sepia and Goldenrod. The lower portion still shows the graphite pencil outline. I erase the pencil marks as I go along, because the graphite will dirty whatever colors I lay over it.


--> Stage 2 --> Stage 3 --> Stage 4 --> Stage 5

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23 June, 2004


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