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  • Writer's pictureKevin Roeckl

Baxter portrait in progress 1 - The underpainting

Updated: Sep 6, 2023

I'm starting a new portrait of Baxter, who is 12 years old. Some interesting facts about Baxter:

❤️ His dad Brian has a “Surgery Center“ in the garage to stitch up Baxter’s ravaged/mutilated stuffed toys.

❤️ When Brian wanted to adopt Baxter from a shelter, the woman who was his wife at the time didn’t want Baxter because in his adoption photo she thought he had a white bandage on his paw. “Something‘s wrong with him”, she declared.

❤️ Baxter’s favorite toy is a “Fruit Poops“ toy, a gift from family friends Scott Brunton and Duke Wolf who became famous for their dog-poop calendars “Monthly Doos” published for 10 years, with many spin-off products like chocolate "Doo Drops" and line of "Poop Squeaks" dog chew-toys.

Client's photo of dog on their phone

To start Baxter’s portrait I made an underpainting of tan for Baxter’s coat and muted purple for the blanket. Here are the steps:


The underpainting on Baxter. I studied many photos of Baxter to understand the basic color of his gold coat. Not too yellow, not too red, not too dark, not too bright and “brassy”. Then did this underpainting with watercolor to “tint” the Canson paper, giving me the right color to work on. All the detail of Baxter will be done with colored pencils over this base color.

Watercolor underpainting of dog on portrait of dog, in progress

I’m working on a beautiful Canson paper called “Moonstone”. It’s a pale grey paper with a hint of magenta to it, and a hint of beige, with little flecks and fibers in it. Here’s a closeup of the paper, with a few pencil lines across it.

Close-up of "Moonstone" Canson Mi-Teintes paper


After the tan paint dried, I masked off the figure of Baxter with adhesive masking film cut out with an x-acto knife. That protected the crisp edges of the figure so I could make broad sweeping strokes for the purple blanket. First I mixed up a muted purple watercolor. I started at the top with the watercolor thinned with water to make it fairly transparent (lighter) and worked downwards with paint not thinned as much (darker).

While the lighter paint was still wet, I stroked darker purple into it to suggest folds of the blanket. Watercolor artists call that “wet into wet” because the paint bleeds and spreads, giving it soft edges. You can see that effect to the left of Baxter’s rib-cage. Letting watercolor spread into wet paper like that can create unpredictable shapes. Like what the paint did near Baxter’s paws.

After the purple was dry, I peeled off the masking film protecting the figure of Baxter. Now I have nice base colors to work on to do the details of dog and blanket with colored pencil.

Watercolor underpainting on portrait of tan dog lying on a purple blanket, in progress

When the portrait is finished it will be cropped like this, you won’t see the sloppy edges of the purple underpainting.

Watercolor underpainting on portrait of tan dog lying on a purple blanket, in progress

There are only two colors on this portrait so far. Two colors of paint used for the underpainting: tan, and purple. It looks like more because of the darker and lighter shades of those two colors.

Even with only two colors you can already get a good sense of how the finished portrait will look.

I really like this gold and purple color combination.


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