How to paint a Golden Retriever

This guide tells you how I painted Annie the Golden Retriever for my Godmother. She is a friendly energetic dog and very much loved. I finally got to see her today to hand over my masterpiece.

You will need:

  • Paint – Dog: Flesh tint, Burnt Umber, Raw Umber, White, Mars Black, Burgandy, Violet, Rich Gold
    Grass: Sap Green, Olive Green Burgandy, Violet, Lemon Yellow, Raw Umber etc.
  • A Canvas –  I use 30cmx40cm as standard
  • Playmat – I use a big old plastic table cloth
  • Paintbrushes – a large flat one and a variety of small round ones.
  • A pot of water
  • A palette – I use foil cases from quiches.
  • A photograph to copy – I have mine up on my laptop screen with gridlines drawn on
  • A pencil
  • A ruler.

Canvas Preparation

1. Mark up your canvas. For a 30 x 40 canvas it is easiest to do 5cm2 squares. If you grid out your photo on a screen, make sure that your scaled dimensions are the same. You will probably have to crop parts of your photo and expand it to fill the space. With this painting, I made the call that the edge of the paws could be missed out to make the rest of the dog fit onto the canvas.

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2. Draw the outline shape of your subject onto the canvas, following the corresponding squares on your screen. For a more detailed way of doing this, see here.

Painting Grass

If your background is grass, you can follow this guide for long grass, and this guide for short grass.

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Painting a Golden Retriever  

1. Paint areas of shadow on the face with a grey / Flesh Tint, Burgandy mix. The areas around the nose seem to be darker, whereas under the eyes is blonder.

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2. Use paler colours on areas of light (Flesh Tint, White, Raw Umber) and small sweeping brushstrokes with a little rounded brush to create fine hairs all over the face, concentrating on areas of light and shadow. Outline the nose in a near black, and use black to draw the gums. Use small dots of white to create hair follicles around the nose.

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3. Continue adding layers of hair and volume on the face, and rim the eye in black with a gentler grey surround.

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4. Start to paint the ear. Firstly paint a short colour wash in a mix of Raw Umber, Burgandy, Burnt Umber, with the ear becoming darker and more shadowy towards the bottom. Then when that is dry, create little curlier hairs in white, Flesh Tint and Raw Umber.

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5. Start to paint down towards the dog’s chest using your big flat paintbrush. Using Violet mixed with white creates really natural looking areas of shadow for a predominantly white chest.

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6. Lengthen areas of shadow (greys, Violet, Burgandy, Flesh Tint etc) up the dog’s back and towards her paws.

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7. Pay attention to the direction of the hairs and blanched out areas. Little curly patterns of hairs formed on the back of this photograph, so I used longer brushstrokes in a roundabout motion to capture this.

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8. Keep adding layer after layer to make the painting look really 3D and fluffy. Work over the shadow with lighter tones, using little sweeping brushstrokes.

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9. Continue the shadow down the legs using a grey based paint. Create lots of individual hairs with a watery white / Flesh Tint, going lighter and lighter towards the paws.

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10. Lengthen strands of grass to come over the dog’s body to join background and foreground together.

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11. The dog’s eye was a REAL challenge for me. I know it looks fairly done in the photos above but it just wasn’t quite right. I ended up painting over it entirely to try again. It put about five hours onto the end of my painting. I had to study other photographs of Annie to appreciate her nutty brown eye colour – which didn’t come across in the photo I was copying. Anyway, I am finally pleased with it.

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FINITO. I estimate this took me about 30-35 hours although I never keep proper tabs on these things.

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Please let me know what you think!

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How to paint a golden pheasant

I painted a golden pheasant to enter into the Wildlife Artist of the Year competition 2013. It is on a 70cm x 70cm canvas, and it used a lot of paint! But I am pleased with it, so thought I would share with you today how it was born.

 You will need:

  • A 70cm x 70cm canvas
  • Your photograph with gridlines drawn on, (this can be on your laptop screen)
  • Lots and lots of colours of acrylic paint (including GOLD, purple and yellow 🙂
  • A palette (I use empty foil dishes from quiches. My parents are quiche fans!)
  • Water
  • Masking tape
  • A variety of sizes of paintbrushes (large flat ones, a set of varying sizes of little rounded ones)
  • A playmat!
  1. Firstly I drew up my canvas, gridding on the main outlines of the bird and the many different sections of feathers to the corresponding square on my photograph.

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  2. Next I did a thin colour wash on each section. A bit like painting by numbers!
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  3. With the section of thin yellow feathers on his back, I firstly painted the section a darkish yellowy browny colour. I then used a little round brush and pale yellows and oranges to swipe little feathers onto the canvas. This part took ages as I really wanted it to match the photograph totally.
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  4. With the orange feathers with purple tips, I firstly painted it orange. I then sectioned off parts using masking tape as it all looked the same! This enabled me to paint the purple patterns onto the canvas in exactly the right place.

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  5. After I had finished this, I proceeded to go over and over this section with swipes of white, yellow, orange and gold to make the feathers look 3D. I used blue, purple and metalic blue on the tips, again using a little rounded brush.

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  6. With the blue feathers at the bottom, I used varying shades of blues and purple and white to create large feather shapes.
  7. With the pink feathers, I used the little rounded brush again, with a mix of purple, magenta and white feathers, constantly referring to the photograph to get areas of light and dark in the correct place

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  8. With the narrow blue feathers above the yellow section and below the orange section (I am losing track too!) I firstly painted it dark blue. Then I used metallic blue mixed with normal blue and a touch of white to create a 3D effect when I painted each feather shape.
  9. Next I concentrated on the face , using my littlest brush, and a range of browns and purples and my favourite colour, flesh tint! I used little curly brush strokes to make the face fluffy.
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  10. I painted the eye using white with a hint of green, to create a pale aqua. I made sure to put a little white gleam on the pupil.
  11. I used a fairly large round brush and thick yellow paint to create the mohawk, using long sweeping brushstrokes in varying shades of yellow. I then used white paint to create strands of hair caught by the light.
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  12. Finally, with the beak, I used browns and gold paint to create a shiny pointy beak.
  13. Its not my normal style, but I painted the background last! Im normally a firm believer in painting backgrounds first. However, I really couldnt decide what to do with it. I plumped with a base of sap green, using my hands to rub in lighter areas with white and yellow and darker areas with purple to create a soft focus.
    goldenpheasantjan13wm

Ta daaa – Hope you liked the guide and let me know what you think!
I will keep you posted on how I do in the competition!

How to paint grass in acrylic

Once you know how to do it, its easy.
The secret lies in the range of colours you use.

You will need:

  • a photograph to copy from
  • a large flat paintbrush
  • a small rounded paintbrush
  • water
  • a palette or makeshift palette (foil quiche case!)
  • a range of green acrylic paints
    Do not use greens in the emerald spectrum.
    No Hooker Green, no Phthalo Green.It will make the grass look artificial, or like it has spent too much time hanging round a nuclear power plant!

    February 2012

    Although this is one of my better paintings, I really regret the grass
    but I hadn’t yet learnt my golden rule.
    The result is that it looks slightly artificial.
    You live and learn…

    Instead, choose Sap Green, Olive Green and others in that spectrum.

  • a range of brown acrylic paints
    I love Burnt Sienna, Raw Sienna, Burnt Umber and my secret weapon Flesh Tint!Flesh Tint is great as it adds white tones and brown tones which blend naturally with green.I also like to use gold paint  to make the grass glint.
  • Burgandy / Deep Violet acrylic paint
    Purple blends really well with browns and greens to create areas of shadow. Next time you look shadows you will notice that they are never ever black.
  • Mars Black acrylic paint
    You can use this to mix with other paints, but try not to use it neat.
  • White acrylic paint
  • Masking tape
  1. Draw out your design on your canvas. It may be helpful to put a line of masking tape along edges to stop the colour bleeding into the wrong areas.
  2. Do a colour wash in Sap Green over the entire grass area, using a large flat paintbrush. This makes sure all areas have a layer of paint. Please paint the sides of the canvas, there is nothing less professional than leaving unpainted sides… see my previous rant!
  3. Use a small paintbrush and mix up various shades of brown and green in your palette.Be adventurous, using purples and blacks too to create lots of natural shades.
  4. Using a small repetitive motion, create lots of small strokes in varying shades across the area.
  5. Make the grass darker at the bottom of the painting – potentially to near-black, and lighter at the top with whites, greens and gold shades.

Do not worry about making it too perfect. I assume you will paint something in the foreground, which will no doubt spoil your grass background slightly.

You can neaten this up later, using the same colours and the same technique of small repetitive strokes with a small paintbrush.

But… don’t rush either. Give it attention, care and patience like you would the foreground, and you will be onto a winner.

Click here for my guide on how to paint long grass in acrylic.

Click here to find out how I finished this painting of a Greyhound!