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Love this dog! I was recently asked to try and paint Penelope. When I received a picture of her to use as a reference, all I could think was, “How am I going to get the freckled or brindled look to her?”.  The next thought was,” I have tried neutral tones before and struggled, here!” I had a horrible time trying to figure out other colors that went with them and still allowed the image to stand out. I was also asked to add a paw because Penelope often lays with her paws crossed but her owner was not able to get her to cross her paws when she took the reference photo. The longer paw in the left lower quadrant was in the photo. The right paw was added.

First issue was placement and the paw. I  scanned the reference photo and saved it to my computer and flipped it in photo shop and tried a drawing with both paws the same as the one in the lower left quadrant and that looked awful and really distorted as I learned I would need to take into consideration her ear on the added paw side as well as her cheek and jowls. Sooooo to make a longstory short I drew separate sequences of paws and crossed my own little dog’s paws (poor Lucy) to see how she might look in various crossed paw configurations. The above result was what I went with because it looked the most believable.

I decided that I might be able to achieve a freckled look to the dog’s face by using salt. I have used it successfully, before, in paintings.

That worked for the texture and speckled look, but I had to paint a little, drop salt, paint some more, drop salt and constantly keep my eye on what it was producing while still wet so I could make any corrections that might be necessary before it dried. As I worked, I began to notice a flat quality with the neutral colors I was using so I mixed in blues, rose and some medium greens and that gave them a rather bold look instead of the flat look I was getting. I worked the dog and the blanket together before starting the background. I learned from my highland cow experience that too much color for the background would bury this neutral image so I went with a light green and yellow look to keep her image prominent. I textured the blanket by re-wetting the folds ( after the initial layers of color had dried ) one at a time, and dabbing each wet fold with a textured paper towel. The last thing I did was go back into the dogs face and ears and reaccentuate the darks with van dyke brown and some winsor green.

I learned a lot from painting Penelope’s portrait and I thank her owner for offering me the opportunity to paint her!


  1. What a wonderful play on browns! Browns are tough! You did a fabulous job of conveying her expression; what a cutie !
    (I am also stunned by the explosion of colours in your forest !) These are fantastic !

    • Thank-you so much for backing my struggles with browns or neutrals. I think I want to try more paintings that are neutral dominant and try to get a better understanding of what I can do with other colors with them. I haven’t scrounged through my pile of books on color to see what I can come up with on this subject as yet, but intend to, so I can help others, too. Introducing salt can be freeing and somewhat frightening, but it can be played in a bit to achieve some interesting results, I think. I love your leaf painting:

  2. Leslie, this is a lovely painting of Penelope (what an adorable dog!). Most of my paintings (or attempts at paintings) are of my dogs. I wasn’t aware until reading your post here that neutrals were difficult – I thought it was just me being an amateur. My female dog is brown (solid brown) and it is quite the challenge to paint her. My male dog is black with tan markings. I’ve recently tried using non-traditional colors (ala Ron Burns) and that has been fun. But I’m going to take a few tips from your post here and try neutrals again. Great job on Penelope!

    • At least, they are difficult for me. I have read, somewhere that other colors need to be added to tube blacks in order to keep it from looking flat or “dead”. I did try a holstein cow using primary colors here:
      That worked well for me. I had to find three colors that worked well together and the amounts. It seemed to me the order that I used them in made a difference, also. Thank-you for the comment. No, it is not your skill level that makes the neutrals look like that. You could always try a painting of one of your dogs in vibrant colors! I forget the name of the artist that paints lovely multi-colored dogs, but know she’s become very marketable as I have seen her work on coffee mugs, cards, posters, etc. Thank-you for your continued visits, Laurie!

  3. The eyes capture our essence and in this painting I go directly to the eyes and experience a sense of life! The nose is wet enough to touch and the pattern in Penelope’s coat is beautiful. You captured the loyalty and presence of man’s, and woman’s best friend.

    • You finally inserted your website in your tag, Nancy. Yay! Thank-you for such a lovely comment on Penelope. I really worked hard on this one!

  4. Oh and today I FEEL just as Penelope looks. Hi Leslie. You do have a way with pet portraits. That’s a good bond.

    • Thank-you for this comment,Eva! Animals have to be my favorite subject to draw and paint. I have tried several times to do the wolf paws and have come up with nothing that even equals your poem that I like so much.I’ve missed you! It seems you are here and then off and running again.

      • O yes, been off and running all over the hometown of Harry NukeMan Truman. But that’s about DONE now and I am glad of it, Leslie! I’ve missed the fun of blogland much. This morning I had breakfast in a little hole in the wall called YJ’s in KC’s Crossroads District–it is a hangout for us ‘different drummer’ folks. Take note that the one friendly I thought might enjoy the place couldn’t handle it–lol–and while I was eating my bacon, and honeyed biscuit and fried potatoes I was thinking of blogland buds like yourself. No joke. You might like all the strange and wonderful things on 18th Street. LOL.

      • Well, I’m glad you thought of us. FINALLY! 🙂

  5. I think this is lovely Leslie! ! really like the softness of the different browns, making the dog look quite tactile, almost velvety! I have used salt on some of my paintings to get the grainy effect, but I mix with other medias.
    Penelope has real character in her face which you have communicated very well!

    • Thank-you, Lynda! I had not noticed that velvety look, but it does appear so in areas. See? This is why I share.I learn more.:) Did you ever start posting your work somewhere and I’ve missed the link?

  6. I love Penelope. What a beautiful dog. I just love her eyes. Thanks for talking about the salt technique again. I really must try that one of these days.

    • Thank-you, Carol. My sister said she liked the eyes in this one, also. My citra-solv is here! I don’t know when I’ll have time to try it, either!

  7. Awesome painting, Leslie! The eyes are great, and all the detail, especially the paws. I definitely would not have thought that you added one, it looks natural.

    • Wow. Thank-you, K! Since it was not there and I added it, I’m always going to envision it as an added paw. Your comment helps me to understand I might have captured it OK.

        • kswann
        • Posted June 14, 2010 at 10:54 pm
        • Permalink

        Well, dogs are good contortionists, so it’s believable to me. Part of what sells it too is how real the paws look, the toenails. You captured the light and the fur, everything, it’s really neat!

  8. Nice effect with the salt. I had heard of this before but have never tried it. Thanks for the comments on your process!

    • Thank-you, Sybil. Salt is a good technique when one has a subject that is conducive to it. When I use it, I give up an element of control, though.

  9. Lovely painting!

  10. Leslie, I don’t know about the composition but the painting is superb. The face is full of life and personality and the eyes are so expressive. Really wonderful.

    • Thank-you, Linda. I was hoping the different aspects of the portrait, itself, would carry the interest.

  11. Your super talented and very inspiring I love these two paintings especially the forest…it takes my mind away for a min there…great paintings 🙂

    • Thank-you so much for that comment, Alonso. You just made my day. 🙂

  12. Outstanding. The variations of brown and the speckled salt technique set this one apart. The dog’s stare is well captured. thanks, Leslie

    • Thanks, Adam! That stare must mean she is engaging someone’s attention. 🙂

  13. I love this dog, Leslie! The paw is totally believable!! The expression reminds me of (maybe in a NY accent) “So, whatcha lookin’ at anyways? Have you never seen a dog before?” She looks like she has generously granted you an audience, as you have interrupted a very important napping session. he he (I have lived with many dogs)

    I love the advice you gave Laurie. Forget the colors you see and invent your own! It’s always interesting to read all the give and take, in the comments. I can see why you learn more and I know we do.

    I love your beautiful pink forest, too!! Great post!!

    • Thank-you so much, Beth! I like to read the comment section on everyone’s posts, also. I have learned from them just as much as viewing and reading what artists share. This has been a remarkable resource of give and take.

  14. Hi Leslie,
    I think the painting of Penelope came out very nice indeed!
    I can see you throwing salt like the Sumo wrestlers to get the texture just right and you did get it! Well done!!
    I am impressed.
    And I am only joking about the Sumo wrestler.

    • Oh, I don’t mind being compared to Sumo wrestlers. What a nice comment. Thank-you, Jan. I like salt throwing! 🙂

  15. Trying to catch up on my friends blogs. This is adorable, love the eyes in that sad but content look. And what a gorgeous dog.
    I have to avoid the salt technic because of my high blood pressure you know. LOL

    • Hey Ryan. You don’t eat it! 🙂 Thank-you for the wonderful comment. How are the Christmas cards coming?

  16. Your painting of Penelope is masterful – both your use of color and the expression you caught. It’s not easy to keep the life in a painting done from a photo, but you’ve done it here!

    • Thanks, Anne. I always hope that the time I’ve spent drawing and painting in life sessions and of my own pets will help to inform me as the animals I do finished work from are actually not “posing” for me but the camera. I know what you mean about keeping life in a painting.I am working on one right now that may go the wrong way…..oh well, start over. 🙂

  17. Leslie, it was great to hear how you worked out the various details of this piece. It’s wonderful – you did a great job. I’m so impressed with your process.

  18. I think we all learned a lot.
    I like it when you write about your process .
    It gives me a better understanding of what i’m looking at.

    • Thank-you, Richard. I will try to include how I do what I do more often. Loved your poem via video today!

  19. Hey Leslie! I SOOOO enjoyed this post! First of all, that’s a WONDERFUL painting. What a super cool looking dog. Looks like a wonderful spirit to hang out with. Secondly, I was cracking up like cowrazy reading about You posing Lucy different ways to make sure You were adding a paw correctly. That’s brilliant! And thirdly…..I’M IN LOOOOOVE with that other painting of Yours….the magical trees and road. Divine. That picture blows my mind. Leaving with a big smile! Thank You and Cheers and Namaste. 🙂

    • Thank-you, Bliss, especially for relating that you cracked up about my making Lucy pose for me. She is such a “ham-bone” and acted disgusted that she had to do anything for me for another dog. 🙂 Thank-you, also for liking the trees.

        • blissbait
        • Posted June 17, 2010 at 11:37 pm
        • Permalink

        Okay….seeing the picture of Lucy gave me a great laugh…I REMEMBER that picture. I even told a friend of mine about her…about how You said that she sits like that, ‘posing’, quite often, even when You’re not painting her. Am I remembering correctly? Now I’m going back to read and see if I am….Thanks for the joy! Cheers and Namaste. 🙂

      • You are absolutely correct! She’s an a-number 1 hambone and get-your-attention kind of little dog!

  20. Browns can be difficult but I think you’ve done well here. And I love those eyes!

    I tend, when using brown, to use rather a lot of yellow and violet to make the colour rather than black, but that’s just me.

    • Thank-you so much! Purple and violets and yellows do make browns. I did make some color patches of the violet and the yellows I was using but liked the red/green ones of the colors I had chosen for my palette this time. I have used violets and yellows before, also. Good to note!

  21. I don’t know a doggone thing about the art of painting but the eyes just reach out and make you love her!

  22. Hi Leslie – you captured the adoring look that dogs give us (that can change into a hurt, guilt-trip look when we leave) – I love the eyes.

    • Thank-you, Stephen. Now I have to run over and see if you’ve posted! I hope. I hope.:)

  23. This one came out really nice! I love the 3D effect, the dog’s face seems to wanna jump out of the painting. Very nice work, Leslie!

  24. Leslie- you gave Penelope every characteristic her owner loves about her and the rest of us a glimpse into problem solving as a painter.
    Through your detailed explanation, you’ve shown that damn it, art is W-O-R-K.
    Salt! Who would have guessed. Being an oil painter, I’d have no idea but loved reading about the steps you took.
    I sure appreciate how you used your Photoshopping skills and your own dogs paw for reference.
    Wonderful post and painting.
    And yes, still in NY and seeing Carol tonight!

    • The idea of salt is crazy isn’t it? Watercolorists have used it forever it seems. I rather like it’s unpredictability as I think I mess around in my work a little much. Poor little Lucy could not understand my antics with her and thank heavens for photoshop at times like this!
      You all have a great time tonight. I’ll think of the laughter and the smiles you will all experience! Thanks for the visit, Bonnie, who is probably missing her animal friends at home. 🙂

  25. of all the animals, i love the most, the dogs. i am so happy seeing a painting about a dog. guess what i am reading? i am reading a story about dogs in “edgar sawtelle story” i am almost going to get finished with it. powerful image of a dog. i am smiling here a lot.

    • I have many portraits of dogs on this blog. They are my favorite thing to paint. Just use the search box below and type in dog. “Edgar Sawtelle” is a magnificent book and I read it when it was released. It has to be one of the best written stories ever told and one that I hold dear to my heart. I must have gone through two boxes of kleenexes, though! Thank-you for the comment and the visit dear poet! 🙂

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