How To Paint A Dog Portrait Step-By-Step In Oil

How to paint a dog portrait step-by-step

How to paint a dog portrait step-by-step in oil

I recently did a portrait of an adorable dog named Chewy and decided this was a great opportunity to show how to paint a dog portrait step-by-step in oil. Originally I did this with Snapguide but it looks like with some browsers that the images don’t always show up. Because of that, I decided to revise this post to show a shortened version of the step-by-step process. You’ll want to check out Snapguide too because I have videos loaded so you can follow along in more detail with each step.

How to paint a dog portrait step-by-step in oil

Click the image to go directly to the Snapguide tutorial

Before I start on the painting I get a print of the image I’m going to work from at the same size as the canvas I’ll be painting on. In this instance, my canvas was 8″x8″, so that is the size I made my reference photo which you can see in step 7.

How To Paint A Dog Portrait Step 1

The Sketch

Below is a closeup of the sketch I started for this painting. First, I toned the canvas with acrylic yellow ochre. I skipped doing a charcoal drawing and went straight to sketching with acrylic raw umber thinned down with water.

Paint a dog portrait step-by-step, step 1

Step 1 – Starting the under-painting

I used a proportional divider to help me measure key landmarks for the eyes and nose. A proportional divider is an excellent tool for beginning artists.

How To Paint A Dog Portrait Step 2

The Under-painting

Here I have the under-painting roughed in which helps me establish values. It’s not looking pretty, but it doesn’t need to at this point. I’m checking my drawing against the photo for differences and all looks good.

Paint a dog portrait step-by-step, step 2

Step 2 – Chewy under-painting with burnt umber in acrylic

The canvas looks much lighter in the image above compared to the previous image due to changes in lighting.

How To Paint A Dog Portrait Step 3

The Dark Areas And A Detour

It is in step 3 where I began using oil paint. You can paint oil over acrylics, but never the other way around. If you think of acrylic paint as “water” and oil paint as “oil”, oil floats on top of the water. If you put acrylic on top of oil, your painting will crack.

I usually block in the dark areas first. However, I have a problem when it comes to painting portraits. I get impatient and have to paint in the eyes ASAP.

Paint a dog portrait step-by-step, step 3

Step 3 – blocking in dark areas and roughing in the eyes

Eyes are magical to me in paintings and it makes me feel like the subject has joined me. Look at Chewy looking back at you in the photo above!

How To Paint A Dog Portrait Step 4

Continuing With The Dark Areas Of Fur

Now that I’ve gotten past my obsession to paint the eyes, I’ve continued on with blocking in the dark areas of fur around the face. Blocking in the dark areas helps to see the form and values correctly. This is a rule of thumb I follow most of the time. However, there are always exceptions to the rule. For now, we’ll just stick with “dark to light” to keep things simple.

Paint a dog portrait step-by-step, step 4

Step 4 – ooops, I couldn’t help myself. I finished the eyes.

As a side note – when painting eyes, be aware that the whites of the eyes could potentially have a lot of colors in them. They are also much greyer than you would expect, so start the whites toned down. You can always add highlights later.

How To Paint A Dog Portrait Step 5

Be Careful When Introducing White

In step 5 I get started with white, but I’m taking care to limit it as much as possible. Always go for the darker tones first and then build-up to the lighter tones. Getting too light too quickly is one of the biggest mistakes beginning artists make.

Paint a dog portrait step-by-step, step 5

Step 5 – Starting to introduce the medium tones of the fur

Once white gets on the canvas, it can potentially “fog up” all of your other colors if it gets mixed in. It’s hard to “defog” when white ends up everywhere.

How To Paint A Dog Portrait Step 6

Painting In Darker Background Areas

Before I got too carried away with painting in Chewy’s lighter fur, I realized I needed to get the leather sofa cushion painted so his white fur can go over the top of it.

Paint a dog portrait step-by-step, step 6

Step 6 – Painting in the dark background. How cute is this dog?

Ideally, I would have painted this while doing my dark colors, but I tend to jump around the canvas. I could really use a little discipline when it comes to my painting strategy!

How To Paint A Dog Portrait Step 7

Adding Medium Tones And Highlights In The Fur

Below you can see I’ve blocked in the dark and medium tones of the light-colored fur. After those values are established, I go back in with highlights. This is where the fur really starts to look realistic.

Paint a dog portrait step-by-step, step 7

Step 7 – Painting in the correct values of the light fur

In the photo above, you can see how I had my easel set up with the reference photo taped up right beside the painting. This allows me to use the sight-size method to check for differences and double-check measurements.

The photo should be on a sturdy surface to prevent distortion. Mine isn’t on a sturdy surface, so you can see my reference photo looks a little distorted compared to my painting. I also brightened up the eye on the right which I normally wouldn’t do, but it didn’t look right in the painting so I changed it.

Paint a dog portrait step-by-step, final painting

The finished painting. Chewy is adorable!

Another Finished Dog Portrait

Above is the finished painting of Chewy. I just love painting dogs! What was nice about painting this dog was that I could use a very limited palette. White, black, ultramarine blue and burnt umber were used for the majority of the painting. I also used a small amount of yellow ochre and cad red in his eyes.

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Snapguide how to paint a dog portrait step-by-step

Click on the image above to go to the step-by-step guide. Help me out and give it a like while you are there 🙂

It’s My First Step-By-Step Guide EVER!

I’ve done other step-by-step posts, one is about how to paint a Sphynx cat and another is how to paint a portrait digitally in ArtRage. But I’ve never created a step-by-step guide with video clips before on how to paint a dog, so this was quite a production for me. One day I’d like to make videos of my painting tutorials, but that day is not today. I have a lot to learn before I get there.

I go into much more detail about how to paint a dog portrait step-by-step in the Snapguide tutorial, so make sure to check it out. If you’re more of a cat person than a dog person, make sure to check out this how to paint a cat guide or this post on painting a cat in oil featuring Prescott the Maine Coon!

Thanks for stopping by the studio!


How to Paint a Dog Portrait by Shelley Hanna on Snapguide.