How A Portrait is Painted

My portraits are painted with artists’ oil paints because they are so superior to any other medium. Their pigments, richness, texture, toughness and permanence are unsurpassed. An oil painting, unlike pastels, watercolour or photography, will last indefinitely. A portrait in oil paint begins with several good quality photographs, taken either by me or provided by the client. For this painting my subject is Dax Vom Jasban, BH, SchH 1, CDX, CGC, a gorgeous, deep red sable male German shepherd dog of working lines.
An initial half size preliminary drawing is created and is emailed as a jpg digital file to the client for approval.  Dax A
Once the preliminary is approved by the client, the drawing is enlarged and transferred in graphite (a soft pencil) to canvas.  Dax B
The drawing is then brushed in with raw umber oil paint, which is darker and cooler than burnt umber, and diluted with mineral spirits. The brands of oil paint I use are Winsor & Newton, Michael Harding and Old Holland.  Dax C
The eyes, nose and mouth are completed to establish the expression, using burnt sienna, yellow ochre pale, ultramarine blue, ivory black, burnt umber and titanium white. I use linseed oil as the medium for finishing work.  Dax D
Now I brush in the base colours of the coat, diluted with spirits, using burnt sienna, yellow ochre pale, raw umber, titanium white and ultramarine blue. The combination of blue and sienna creates a rich, warm black.  Dax E
The base colour of the background is brushed in, also diluted with spirits. In this case, a green base sets off the beautiful red tones in Dax’s coat. Underpainting like this washes colour into the weave of the canvas, preventing white “glitter spots” from showing through the heavier finishing coats of paint. At this point, the underpainting is complete.  Dax F
Now it’s time to finish the background, setting values of light and dark around the figure to give the painting dimension. Pigments used are sap green, veridian green, burnt sienna, yellow ochre pale and titanium white, diluted with linseed oil. I don’t worry about overlapping over the edges of the fur a bit, as details of the coat will be finished later.  Dax G
The darker base colours of the coat are brushed in, using burnt sienna, burnt umber and raw umber. Usually at this stage the dog looks almost all tan, but since Dax’s undertones are almost mahogany, I elected to go much darker. A finer brush is used to start defining the hair around the ears, and a fan brush is used to blend the thick, soft hair of the ruff.  Dax H
The lighter tones are added, using titanium white, yellow ochre pale and raw sienna. This is how Dax would look without the heavy black tipping that is typical of a good, dark sable. The patterns of the coat colour and the main masses of fur are now pretty much defined.  Dax I
Dax is a very fine, deep red and black sable, and it’s time to overlay the black on his coat. French ultramarine blue and burnt sienna are used for a warm black, a touch of ivory black deepens the shadows, and raw umber is used for lighter black tones. A fine brush is used to define the facial features, while a larger filbert brush is used to give a softer look to the larger masses of fur. I’ve taken the value (darkness) a bit lower than Dax’s true appearance, so I can bring out highlights later. I’ve already added paler tones around the collar, brushing white and pale ochre into a still wet canvas to create the impression of softness. I have also added pink flesh tones to his ears, with a mixture of burnt sienna, titanium white and pale cadmium red.  Dax J
Here I’ve added some final detailing to the coat, refining the edges of Dax’s silhouette, bringing up the lighter tones, and developing the fur a little further. It’s a bit of a back and forth process, adding darks and lights, until it looks right and the three dimensional quality is achieved.  Dax K
The final touches are added, including highlights of reflected light on the coat, and more detailing around the eyes and muzzle. After signing, the only thing left to do is apply the varnish. Varnish protects the painting and gives a satin finish that brings out the colour even more. Unfortunately, it’s not possible to scan a varnished painting (and difficult to photograph one), as each weave of the canvas will throw a point of reflected light into the lens, creating a veil of white glitter spots.  Dax L
The low resolution images of the internet simply cannot convey the subtlety of colour and depth of values and brushwork of an original oil painting. Most artwork done for commercial reproduction or art printing is produced in acrylics or guache, or some other flat, less demanding medium. Oils are not suited for mechanical reproduction. They are meant to be seen and appreciated in person.