• Kevin Roeckl

Chloe portrait in progress - start to finish

November 11


Starting a portrait of red Doberman Chloe leaping into the Trinity River. It is a birthday gift from Doug Paul to his wife Cherie.


You probably know my artwork is done primarily with Prismacolor pencils. Sometimes I use underpainting to put in large areas of color on a portrait. I do that with transparent watercolor (acrylic paint thinned with water), and then add all the details of the portrait on top of that with colored pencil.


I’ve chosen to work on “Felt Grey” Canson paper, a favorite Canson color of mine for portraits. Since the river is a large area of greens, I’m laying in green underpainting to save many hours of filling in with green pencils. In this pic, I’ve started with the dark green-blue of the distant forest trees, and the shadowed areas of water at the base of the rocks. Tomorrow I will mask off the figure of Chloe, and do a smooth wash with large brushes all the way across the paper from side to side with medium greens and gold-greens, to create the base color of the river. All the ripples and other details will be done over that with colored pencil.

Portrait of red Doberman in progress, in Kevin's studio, with reference photo on the monitor

On the monitor is my reference picture. It’s composed of several photos sent to me by Doug, combined together, along with some colors thrown on it with Photoshop to make up the missing pieces. That reference picture guides me while I'm working.

Chloe portrait in progress 2

I masked off the figure of Chloe to add the base color of the river with a smooth watercolor wash. That gives me a nice green base on which to work with colored pencils. It is a darker and cooler green on the left fading down to yellower and more transparent green in the lower right.


On the monitor I’ve “sampled” the greens in the river and created a little chart (overlapping the photo on the monitor) to guide me in mixing the right shades of green for the artwork. Since I am working on grey paper, and the watercolor wash is transparent, I have to compensate when mixing colors, for the fact that the grey paper color will show through them. It’s as though I am mixing a little grey paint in with every color I mix. The more transparent the wash, the more grey is “in” it (showing through it).


The translucent masking material is still covering Chloe. It is an adhesive plastic material that comes in rolls. I cut off a piece of it, stick it onto the paper and then cut out the shape of Chloe with a very sharp X-acto knife following my pencil lines underneath. I have to use precise pressure to cut through the masking material but not the paper. The masking material is still covering Chloe with some green paint adhering to it. When the wash dries, I then pull off the masking.

Portrait of red Doberman in progress, in Kevin's studio, with reference photo on the monitor

As you saw in the previous pic, the watercolor wash buckles the Canson paper. Canson Mi-Tientes is technically a pastel paper, not meant to take watercolor. After it dries I need to flatten it in order to return it to a totally flat surface for me to work on. Below is the whole artwork scanned, after it was flattened. Scanning it on a high-end scanner shows a lot more subtle colors than a phone snapshot under studio lights. This is with the masking material pulled off of Chloe.


After I made this jpg I started pulling out the different colors of pencils I’ll use to start on the forest trees in the upper left. I’ll dive into that tomorrow!

Portrait of red Doberman leaping into a river, in progress

Chloe portrait in progress 3

Now you can see why I did the underpainting. This is a close-up of the upper left corner of the painting, where there is a forested hillside in shadow with sunlight touching a few of the branches. The dark blue-green underpainting gives me a base color to work on…then I add the foliage over that with colored pencils. Light green dashes and scribbly strokes with different greens makes very nice leaves with colored pencil.

Close-up detail of the upper left corner of a portrait of red Doberman leaping into a river, in progress

The underpainting was done with acrylic thinned with water. My previous blog post shows that step. This shows the whole artwork, cropped as it will be when it’s finished. A nice little piece of shadowed hillside in the upper left.

Portrait of red Doberman leaping into a river, in progress

The grey paper has been left bare on the right and left, giving me a nice grey for the rocks. I’ll do a similar thing with colored pencils as I did with the tree foliage, putting in all the detail of the rocks with colored pencils over the grey base color of the paper. And I'll do the ripples on the water with colored pencils over the green underpainting.


An underpainting that turns the paper the right color where I need it, saves me a lot of coloring with colored pencils.

Chloe portrait in progress 4

Today I added details to the rock on the left side of the river, and started working my way across the right-side rocks and cliffs, working left to right.


In yesterday’s post I showed how I made the tree foliage with colored pencils on the dark blue-green underpainting. Today I did a similar thing with colored pencils, putting in all the detail of the rocks with colored pencils over the grey base color of the paper.

Portrait of a red Doberman leaping into a river, in progress

I love the way adding colored pencil details makes that portion of the scene go from flat, to 3-dimensional.


Chloe portrait in progress 5

I’ve finished the rocks and cliffs. That took me a couple days longer than I expected it would. As I worked my way along the waterline I also put in some of the reflections of the plants and rocks.


All of this is with colored pencil over the underpainting — a previous step I did which gives me large areas of green for the river, blue-green for the distant forest, and dark blue for the shadowed parts of the cliff. Doing that underpainting over the grey paper saves me a lot of work putting in those colors with colored pencils. The top of the painting will be cropped, so you are seeing the grey paper there which won’t be part of the finished portrait. Also you see the tops of the underpainting, with some of my test swatches with colored pencils on them along the top of the painting.

Portrait of a red Doberman leaping into a river, in progress

Chloe portrait in progress 6

I’m adding the amazing turquoise color the rivers have in Humboldt County, in northern California. Fishermen call that color "steelhead green” because it’s the color they see in the Fall when the steelhead (salmon) start running. The main reference photo I'm using for this artwork doesn’t show that turquoise color, because it was taken later in the summer when there is more algae in the water, giving it a warmer “fluorescent olive-green” color. So I’m using some of Doug’s other photos that capture the turquoise color better, as reference photos.


I've added the turquoise color to the river where it goes around the bend into the distance. The nearer part of the river will be summer green....the green that I've put there as an underpainting.

Portrait of a red Doberman leaping into a river, in progress

These are Doug's photos that capture the turquoise color of the water. I used to live in Humboldt County, so I'm very familiar with that striking color the rivers get there.

Reference photos of river color

At work in the studio....

The pencil colors I've been using so far, are on the right-hand sheet of paper. The turquoise greens I pulled out to use today are on the left. Reference photos are on the monitor: the main reference pic at the bottom, the turquoise-color shots above it.

Portrait of a red Doberman leaping into a river, in progress with reference photos on the monitor

Chloe portrait in progress 7

This is the ball-splash from an orange ball entering the water.


There are two very important elements in this portrait of Chloe leaping into a river. Chloe, of course….and the ball-splash from the ball hitting the water. I really concentrate on those two elements to make sure I get them right: detailed and accurate. I put a lot of effort into the subject in every portrait, of course, to capture the look and essence of that special individual. In this painting the details of the ball-splash are very important too. Those two things - the leaping Doberman and the ball-splash - “tell the story” of this artwork.

Chloe is a crazy redhead, a “pedal-to-the-metal” kind of dog,

so that tells the story of Chloe’s personality too.


Doug sent me two photos that captured the ball-splash at the precise instant it hit the water. I have both in front of me on the monitor for reference. The one on the left is from the main photo we’re using.

Ball-splash in a portrait of a red Doberman leaping into a river, in progress in Kevin's studio

Chloe portrait in progress 8

All the pencil colors I’m going to use for Chloe, a red Doberman.

Some of the brighter oranges will be for places where the bright sunlight is hitting her rust markings. The mushroom-greys are for shadowed parts of her brown coat. In the next pic you can see what I mean.

Prismacolor pencils for portrait of a red Doberman

I masked off the figure of Chloe so I could put in a smooth wash of green underpainting (watercolor over the grey paper) for the river, leaving the grey paper showing where Chloe will be.


I have filled in the details of the rocks on the grey paper with colored pencils, and now I am working on Chloe on grey. “Felt Grey” Canson paper takes every pencil color really well. That particular paper has been a favorite of mine all the years I’ve been working on Canson paper with Prismacolor pencils. It has little flecks and fibers in it, which you can see here in Chloe’s body in this close-up.

Detail of a portrait of a red Doberman leaping into a river, in progress

Chloe portrait in progress 9

The portrait with Chloe and the ball-splash finished. Now all I have to do is the surface of the river.

Portrait of a red Doberman leaping into a river, in progress

After seeing the latest updates, Doug wrote:

“Thanks for all the current pics and updates. I’m kinda at a loss for words… WOW! Beautiful! Fantastic! Outstanding! Perfect!

I was going to comment on how fine you did the shoreline, but I realized every bit is beyond compare.

I’m feeling a lot of joy, thinking I get to stare at this piece of Art the rest of my days.”

Chloe portrait in progress 10

In full swing with all my pencil colors out for pale-blue sky reflections on the river, the river-water colors and reflections of the cliff rocks and plants, and in the far right corner of my worktable the browns and oranges of Chloe. And all my tools of my work.


When I paused to take this picture I was putting in the golds and greens of the river below the blue-sky reflections on the left side of the artwork, working my way across toward the right. Some of it is the reflection of golds and greens of plants growing on the rocks…as I work my down towards the bottom of the painting, more and more of it will be the stones on the bottom of the river showing through the clear water.

Portrait of a red Doberman leaping into a river, in progress in Kevin's studio

Chloe portrait in progress 11

Working on the sky reflections in the lower right of the portrait.


The part I was working on when I took this shot is below and to the right of the sky-blue parts I’d completed. I don’t have a light blue pencil that is exactly the color I need, so I have to create those sky-reflection ripples by layering 4 different pencil colors. First I put in the basic shape of the ripple reflections with a very pale blue - it looks like white pencil in this pic. You can see where I’m outlining the shape of those sky-reflection ripples and then lightly filling them in. Thats the first pencil layer. Then I go over that lighter base with the lightest “sky-blue” pencil that Prismacolor makes, coloring harder and more solidly. That gets me pretty close to the color and tone (lightness/darkness) I want. Then I touch the surface of that lightly with two other blues that are slightly darker, one is a warm sky-blue (a touch of aqua), the other is a cool light blue (more of an “ice” blue). The first of those two gives it that nice sky-blue color (otherwise it would be too “white”), the cooler blue I use only in a few places to give shape to the ripples.

Portrait of a red Doberman leaping into a river, in progress in Kevin's studio

Photos taken with my phone in the studio don’t capture the subtlety of the colors. The best way to show the artwork is make a high-quality scan. I'll do that at the very end when it's finished.


Chloe portrait in progress 12

Took this pic at the end of my workday today.


My studio shots usually have most of the artwork covered up with white paper to protect it while I’m working. I got the edge of the “blue sky” reflections on the river finished today, all the way across, then I wanted to tape the artwork up on the wall and stand back to look at it, and see how the overall image looks. I added a few more little sky-blue blips along the edge to get that nice curve of the blue sky reflection coming down (near the ball splash) and across to the lower right. That really frames the figure of Chloe in the composition.


I have to add just a few more subtle gold and green scribbles on the river (between Chloe and the sky-blue curve) to create the ripple surface of the water…and then I have to finish all across the bottom of the artwork below the sky-blue curve. That will be sky reflection, broken up in a few places by ripples, but toward the bottom of the artwork it shows more of the rocks and pebbles on the bottom of the river visible through the water.

Portrait of a red Doberman leaping into a river, in progress in Kevin's studio

So this is what my studio looked like after I shut down the monitor, and took the artwork down off the wall, ready to work on it again tomorrow.

As you can see, it was a rainy, wintery day outside.


Chloe portrait finished!

Finished the portrait of Chloe today. This portrait is a birthday gift from Doug Paul to his wife Cherie. It shows their “crazy redhead” Chloe going after a ball on the south fork of the Trinity River in northern California, a treasured and beloved spot on the river where they love to spend time.


Portrait of red Doberman leaping after a ball in a scenic river, colored pencil over acrylic wash on grey Canson paper

Prismacolor pencil over acrylic wash on grey Canson Mi-Teintes paper

18 x 26 inches


Thanks to Doug's talent as a photographer for the great reference photo of Chloe that made such a fun and dynamic portrait.