The first step in creating a portrait of a pet is to obtain a reference photo which captures the animal’s personality. I took around twenty five photos of this lovely black lab, Dallas. The owner thought this one really captured his inquisitive expression. The other photos were useful to check his features from different angles, to ensure accuracy.
The next step is to complete a preliminary sketch on paper, concentrating on accuracy of proportions, and the delineation of areas of deep shadow and highlights. The sketch is then transferred onto pastelmat, a specialist surface designed for pastel.
I can then start blocking in the background, and the deepest shadows. In this case the owner wanted a plain grey background, but I sometimes put in a naturalistic background when creating a portrait.
The highlights in this portrait had a lot of blue in them. Pastel is very vibrant, and laying down layers of vivid colour, which I can then overlay with more subtle colour, provides depth and richness to the final portrait.
Once the areas of deep shadow and highlights have been blocked in, I can start to add more subtle nuances of colour and value, and begin to suggest detail.
I’ve left the eyes until near the end, as they contain the most vividly contrasting colours. I like to put a lot of emphasis on the eyes, as they are an expressive focal point. In this portrait, I have brought out the right eye from the shadows, somewhat, to emphasise the inquisitive look in Dallas’s gaze.
The final stage of the portrait is to add the finer details. Depending on the type of pastel used, very fine lines can be achieved, ideal for portraying detail such as whiskers. Pastel also blends beautifully, to create the impression of soft fur.