Skip navigation

Reno is a black shepherd of a friend of my daughter.  I was asked to see what I could do with graphite and Reno’s image. I have to say that the photos I received drew me right in to wanting to try this project.  The above image was my first attempt. I used Stonehenge 250 GSM vellum finish paper and 2B thru 6B graphite pencils. I began the drawing with contour line and some light cross contours trying to build up his form. For the intial line I used the 2B pencil pressing down a little on those lines I wanted to be evident in the final drawing. Next I built up his coat with textured strokes trying to mimic his coat. I built the darker areas up with cross hatching and some cross contours across the bridge of his nose. I used 3,4 and 6 B pencils to do this. I next used a kneaded eraser to smudge out some of the detail in his coat in the bottom right hand corner. I built the background by scratching in loose abstract marks with the side of a dull 3B pencil. I then took my 4B pencil and scraped over a piece of rough sandpaper allowing the pwdered graphite to collect on a sheet of note paper. I took a non-lotioned kleenex and picked up the graphite powder I made and began to rub it into the background. I left the background light around his nose and head and darkened the remainder with several layers of the 3B powder. This process also took the edge off the random marks I’d made earlier but still allowed them to show through.I did not smudge the portrait and had to be careful to not rest my hand on his head throughout laying in the background.

I had always admired drawings I had seen on gessoed paper, so I decided to try one with Reno, above.  I used a bristle brush to apply acrylic white gesso to a piece of Aquarius II watercolor paper, making sure I applied the gesso in abstract strokes running different directions. This leaves the artist with a textured surface to work on. I then drew Reno again using contour and cross contour line. The graphite looked darker on this surface right away so I began with a 2H. I then began crosshatching the forms of the darks in gradually working up to a B pencil and finishing with a 3B. The texture of the gesso supplied the textural qualities you see in this drawing. I had to be careful to not rest any portion of my drawing hand on the work as it immediately smudged. I did no rubbing to produce this image. I thoroughly enjoyed working on a gessoed surface and will use this as a support for drawing again in the future.

I sprayed both drawings with Matte Fixative to prevent smudging with handling.

Thank-you, Chrissie, for introducing me to Reno!


  1. Love your Reno portraits, Leslie! Your methods here are so different from my graphite approach. I loved reading details about how you achieved your results. I also enlarged the images so that I could see the marks you were describing. You did wonderful, especially the eyes. The expression is so true – this attention and concentration to please that shepards so often have.

    Here is a suggestion for you: I usually cover my drawing with a sheet of mylar film (a sheet of regular printer paper will work just as well) and rest my drawing hand on it without touching, smudging or disturbing the layers of graphite underneath. Works like magic. You have to remember to reposition the protective sheet as you move to other areas of the image or when rotating your the drawing. After a while it became a habit for me and I do it automatically.

    • Thank-you, Alex! I love to see everyone’s different styles, also. Thank-you for your suggestion. I also use mylar or an old photograph, shiny side down and could do that on the stonehenge drawing paper. When I did that on the gessoed surface it smeared it. The gesso is hard so there is no fiber to grab that graphite is what I’m guessing. That is why I fixed it immediately upon completing it.

  2. oo,oo,oo, these are just beautiful. Reno is a gorgeous dog and you did him justice. Thanks for explaining how you drew each one.

  3. Thank-you, Carol! Reno was so expressive and I agree with you. He is gorgeous. In the first one, I even thought of the start to that old show I watched when I was young. Remember “Rin-Tin-Tin”?

  4. Wow! Beautiful work. You have a thorough and detailed style without looking tight or contrived. Really life-like.

  5. Regal Reno. That’s what I see. Before I read, I thought he was an elegant wolf….which is close to my heart. He is a beautiful creature. Your amazing art…..amazes me!!!

    strokes bold and gentle
    telling many tales….no words
    pull us to your world

    What a gift You possess. Thank You for sharing so freely! Cheers and Namaste. 🙂

  6. Leslie these are just amazing pictures, you’ve done such a wonderful job. What a gorgeous subject too.

    • Hi Chloe. Thank-you for your comment. I kept thinking of you since I viewed your recent work in progress and hoped it was about finished.

  7. Wow! Leslie…just WOW! This is fantastic! I love that you can see the crosshatching and I think the Gesso surface was a masterstroke! This is an equisite piece of work – and it clearly shows that you enjoyed doing it! More please! 🙂

    • Thank-you, Lynda! You made my day. I love to draw and really don’t spend as much time as I’d like with it. Will try to do more.

  8. What excellent drawings! Thanks for explaining your technique. The shading and crosshatching brings out the texture of Reno. Nice eyes in both too. Thanks, Leslie 🙂

    • Thank-you, Adam. I always worry a little when I try to draw someone’s pet. I guess it is about reproducing what is there, but I always wonder if I’ve put some life in them. I imagine it is the same when you write and you do it so well.

  9. It is so sweet,Reno! 🙂
    I like your drawing a lot,dear Leslie!
    Specially in black and white 😉

    Have a great week-end,dear friend!! 🙂

  10. Leslie, you did a wonderful job on Reno!! I am partial to the frontal version, because his expression steals your heart!! I had a black German Shepard when I was a kid and he was a great dog! These are really beautiful! 🙂

    • Thanks, Beth. I kept going between the two of them, also. I kind of thought there was something dignified or regal like Bliss said in the first one. What is it in the second one? The second one is almost like understanding or wisdom.

  11. These are beautiful, as usual. I like the gruffness but also the sweetness of them. Thanks, Leslie!

  12. this makes me want to see more of your drawings

  13. Thank you so much Leslie. They are gorgeous. You really got his expressions. I definitely see him when I look at these pictures. You got his eyes perfectly. Thank you again. I love them and can’t wait to hang them up. If you ever want to do cats let me know.

    • You are welcome, Chrissy. Phew! I’m glad they look like him. Sure. 🙂 I’ll try cats! I have not done many of them so that will really make me stretch.

  14. Wow beautiful drawings…I tried drawing dogs its challenging well for me. Great post…keep em coming 🙂

    • Thank-you, Alonso! Your giraffe was super! I think you could draw a dog.

  15. What beautiful portraits of this regal dog, Leslie. I am partial to the second one, as it shows his expression so well.

    Your explanations of how you create these are impeccable. If I were an artist, and understood the various papers and methods, I could try it out. One day, I will get the nerve. I’ll be sure to let you know!

    LOL, I just realized, we posted dog portraits yesterday. On the same wave length!

    • Thank-you for this comment, Kate. Several people have mentioned the second one. It does have something to do with the expression so they say.
      We are canine rich! 🙂

  16. Your drawing of this shepherd named Reno is wonderful! Somehow, in both versions of the drawing, you have made Reno look to me both quite anxious, in that great doggie sort of way, and also very softly caring at the same time. I don’t know how you do it, but your work is always as enigmatic as it is enchantingly executed. Thanks for sending out on your web site a picture that will thrill shepherd lovers everywhere.

    • Hi Jill! Thank-you for this wonderful comment as well as visiting. You just made my day! 🙂

  17. This is beautiful Leslie. I don’t know what to say, I just keep looking. How did you do that? They look so real, Reno looks so soft and nice. I really like his eyes in the second one, they look so kind.

    • Thank-you, Camilla. I think the highlights in the eyes of the second one were softer and made for that look. As for knowing how I did this. That is a good question. I think I rely a ton on getting that initial contour line down so the perspective is proportionately correct. Then I sort of gesture in the shape and try to bulk up the form with a light pencil. This part of the drawing looks mummy wrapped like the ones I have under cross contours on my creative drawing page. After that, I take a darker pencil and begin working in the midtones and darks over that mummy wrapped look, trying to follow the reference. Last, I re-do anything that doesn’t look quite right. I usually don’t do this type of finished drawings. Most of mine are more quick just to get the idea of a form. This is may be my third attempt at something this finished. I don’t know a lot of graphite techniques.

  18. Drawing animals intimidates me. These are great, Leslie!!!

    • Thank-you, Bree! Sometimes, I have to turn things upside down or sideways to get my mind off of having to be perfect. I have had to do that with landscapes as I search for their abstract shapes.

  19. these are brilliant Leslie. Thank you for sharing your technique so thoroughly. The thing I love the most about them is the way you have brought out the dog’s personality. You can see how loyal and steadfast he is.
    I agree with everyone here – more drawings please 🙂


    i placed you in the list,
    Hope that you nominate some good friends of yours…
    Happy Tuesday!
    your post is cool!

  21. Very nice graphite drawing. Reno look gorgeous in both paintings. I still need to digest the technicality espect of this drawing, i’m not good at graphite. Think i will get lots of tips from your explanation. Thanks again Leslie.

  22. i stare at these drawings and miss having a dog. such soulful reach in the eyes and regal bearing overall. love your work, leslie…

  23. i cannot believe that this was your “first attempt” – it’s so complex and perfect!

  24. I love looking at all your art work, and your graphite stands out just as much as any thing else you do. They’re beautiful.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: