How I create my horse, dog and cat portraits and paintings

My method of painting is pretty much freehand - I start by measuring out my main points of reference to get my basic proportions right, I don't trace, project, or grid as I know horses and dogs characteristics so very well after years of painting different breeds, colours and horses that perform different disciplines - dressage, showjumping, eventing and showing.  Knowing the anatomy really well helps get musculature and positioning of eyes and ears etc correct - but regularly stand back and observe proportions and positioning carefully against my subject (usually a photo but occasionally a life model) and look for blocks of shape and colour.


I start by sketching the subject onto the paper then usually  move on to straight on to the eyes. As you will know you can really see their souls through their eyes, horses eyes are so gentle and expressive and as we all know when they see us arrive in the yard waiting for their feed - eyes fixated on us and vocalising (and sometimes impatiently pawing at the floor or door!) and as we all know when our dogs sit and look so soulfully at us their eyes fixated on us when they want your attention, to play, or their dinner – or your dinner! 


Once I have done the eyes I start on the subject's head and shoulders (and body if a whole body painting). I am usually inspired by the background in the photograph of the horse or dog that you supply, Then I block in the basic colours and tones in much the same way as an oil underpainting, and gradually keep working over the whole portrait graduating up to the light tones. The final stages are the highlights, fine whiskers and hairs.

Bay Horse Portrait
Cat Painting
Wirehaired Hungarian Vizsla Portrait Painting

About Pastels and Pastel Paper

For many years I have painted in pastels. Pastels are a dry medium and made into powder form and either pressed into sticks or pans. I use Daler-Rowney stick pastels and Pan Pastels (TM). Pan pastels are professional quality, highly pigmented and lightfast.The sticks are applied directly onto the paper and blended with a finger , sponge, or Tortillion paper stump. The Pan Pastels are applied with applicators. I primarily Pan Pastels as I enjoy the hybrid of painting and drawing. It gives a very painterly feel as you use the applicator in the same way as you would a paint brush. You can mix the colours on the paper or pick up several colours on the applicator to blend together on the paper. 

Pastel paper comes in many different varieties. For years I painted on Fabriano Tiziano, a 160g, acid-free, high rag content, pH neutral archival, textured paper. I then discovered Canson Mi-Teintes which is a pulp-dyed paper, 60% cotton and is 'hot pressed' for it's honeycomb texture. I found this side a little too textured but the "smooth" side is just perfect for me. I have used this for many years. 

When I have completed a painting I use a pastel fixative very lightly. I then cover them with a sheet of archival glassine paper for protection.

Black Labrador Painting with Pan Pastels Tutorial 
The following is a tutorial of a Black Labrador painting which was published in the Society of All Artists bi-monthly magazine "Paint" - November 2021.

SAA Paint Magazine