How to paint a Cairn Terrier

This guide tells you how I set about painting a little golden terrier for a lady at my work. A repeat customer, previous owner of a lovely lemur. It was a present to her in laws for Christmas.

With this painting, we decided together to keep the background plain, to keep the costs and painting time down. You can see here that this backfired disastrously as it took twice as long to do. No, I don’t know how either!

You will need:

  • paint: I used System 3 acrylic paint in the following colours:

Mars Black, Titanium White, Flesh Tint, Burnt Sienna, Raw Umber, Burnt Umber,
Velvet Purple, Cadminium Red, Burnt Sienna, Rich Gold, Magenta, etc.

  • A variety of paintbrushes
  • Masking tape
  • Water
  • Play mat
  • Easel
  • photograph or photographs of your subject
  • a canvas
    rosie photo

1. Grid up and draw out your canvas. You can read a detailed post how to do this here.
Basically, it used to involve a ruler, a photograph, a pencil and a canvas and a bit of maths.

Recently, my printer has become broken and I have become lazy, so I draw up a rather sneaky grid on my computer (an exact scale of my 30cm x 40cm canvas) and then crop and shrink my photograph to fit it on the screen.

Why did I never think of it before?!


It does always help to have a print out though, or else your laptop will start to look a bit like mine. (Covered in paint and quite broken…)

1. Paint in the background using a large flat brush. So far I have done posts on how to do leaves and grass. This background was plain, so I mixed up some damson paint (magenta, a bit of black and a bit of violet) and painted the entire background in one matte colour.

Don’t worry too much if the background goes into your dog- that’s why you put it on first!

To paint the dog, I used my brand new posh paintbrushes that I got for my birthday, and WOW they made a difference. Such a pleasure to use them, and they made really lovely fine strokes that looked just like fine hairs. Maybe this painting was only good because of these lovely paintbushes. Who knows…

1. Start with the tail. I did the dark area of shadow first in burnt umber and black, before using raw umber, flesh tint, white etc to weave in some lighter shades.


2. Create a wash in raw sienna over the dogs back, then extend your little brushstrokes round using a series of little sweeping brushstrokes in burnt umber, burnt sienna and raw sienna and flesh tint, gradually using lighter shades towards the dog’s main body.


3. This type of terrier’s back has a speckle of several different colours through it- grey, golden shades and cream shades. Start by painting a wash in grey over the back, before using your little rounded paintbrush to blend and weave other colours in.


4. The tummy was softer and longer fur, so use longer motions, still using your small round brush in shades of brown and creams to achieve this look

6. The ears had the shortest hair, more like velvety fur. Use only tiny brush strokes in slightly more golden, darker colours to create this.

7. The paws also have quite short hair, so a very small brush should be used with small repetitive movements to achieve this look. Keep referring back to your photograph, zooming in on the screen to make sure that you have got the shape of the paws right, and the number of pads etc. An owner will always know if it’s not quite right!


7. The face had a large variety of different colours. The hair is long again on the face, and droops downwards, so be sure to show this using downwards motions with your brush.

Around the ears, there were complex areas of shadow in the folds, and the hair goes in a variety of directions. Pay particular attention to your photograph to get this bit spot on.

The dog also had a cute fluffy pale beard, so use flesh tint, raw sienna and white to create this.


8. The eyebrows were paler than the rest of the face, and long and droopy. Use long sweeping brushstrokes to frame the eye, then sweep them outwards like whiskers.


9. The dog had big dark eyes that looked down and were hidden by eyebrow. Firstly I painted in dark grey eyes, with neat black to rim them. I then picked out glints of white, around the bottom of the eyeballs. I then used my artistic licence to add glints of white on the round of the eyeball to give the impression that the dog was looking directly at you.


10. Paint the nose big and grey, then frame the bottom in black paint and a little inverted u for each nostril. The dog’s fur extended into the nose at the top, so I used my little round paintbrush to put in some hairs and some glints of white.


11. Add long pale droopy hairs and whiskers around the mouth, nose and ears, using your littlest paintbrush and watered down paint to get really smooth lines.

12. Finally draw the dogs shadow, using a very  thin wash of a dark brown or black, with no white shades in it. This will make the dog look 3D and stand out from the canvas.


An interview with… Mary Herbert, Animal Artist

So this week, I interviewed Mary Herbert,
a UK-based artist who does exactly what I hope to do,
create realistic animal portraits for a living.

One of Mary’s commissioned portraits

She had a few great tips for me and others as new artists starting out.

Mary Herbert
Mary is an artist, tutor and photographer who is based in Wales.
She trained as an artist at university and has been a portrait artist for over 20 years.
She specialises in using pastel to create her art – a medium I have yet to succeed with. 

Hi Mary, Thank you for answering some of my questions.
I guess what I really wanted to know was the practicals!

Sorry for the brevity of my replies, I’m afraid it’s a rather frantic time of year for me right now!

How many paintings do you do monthly to get by?

It varies hugely depending on what commissions I have, how complex they are, whether I have exhibitions and what size work I’m doing.

Mary specialises in horse portraits

How else do you generate an income?

Charge a professional fee, be professional, be consistent, work hard, have high standards.

My income comes from selling paintings and prints, tutoring art and occasional article writing.

How do you advertise your painting?

Most of my work comes via word of mouth.  To reach new audiences I enter exhibitions, work with publishers who promote my name, hold stands at events, use websites, youtube and facebook.

How did you make the transition from whatever you did before to being an artist?

I have always worked as an artist, I’ve combined it with various full and part time jobs over the years but have painted full time for the past five.

Any tips of the trade to new artists?

Avoid offering your work very cheap or free, as I’ve seen many new artists do.  Not only does it undermine the whole ‘industry’, a customer base of bargain hunters is never going to support you on a living wage.

The art market is extremely poor at the moment.  Use this time to develop your skills and your portfolio so you’re ready if/when it recovers.  Build a network of useful contacts, find a mentor.  Avoid offering your work very cheap or free, as I’ve seen many new artists do.  Not only does it undermine the whole ‘industry’, a customer base of bargain hunters is never going to support you on a living wage.

When setting your rates remember the (non-painting) marketing and running of your business will take up around a quarter of your time, up to half of it with a new venture.  Charge a professional fee, be professional, be consistent, work hard, have high standards.

The quality is really inspiring me to keep practising.

Thank you!

Find Mary’s website at: