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  • Writer's pictureKevin Roeckl

Cooper portrait in progress - start to finish

April 2


I'm starting another portrait of a Doberman with a special story. 

Maura Reilly asked if she could get on my wait list for a portrait of Cooper to surprise Diane Schurman. She said, “Diane is such a special person and I wanted to do something for her. I know she loves your work.” Sadly, while she was waiting for her turn, Cooper passed away. That made Cooper’s portrait even more meaningful. 


Maura told me some “facts” about Cooper’s first home (a young couple who didn’t have time for him) and how she re-homed him with the Schurmans. She wrote,

“Diane and Michael have always had a soft spot for "difficult" dogs. They have taken in breeds like great dane, bullmastiff, always helping those dogs that needed a bit more attention. Coop lucked out because they live out in the country on acreage. He got many daily trail walks through their property... Diane and Michael were exactly what Cooper needed!”


But I wanted to know more about who Cooper was. It’s important for me to understand the personality of the one I’m portraying. I prompted Maura for a few adjectives about him. So, to avoid giving away the surprise, she “tricked” Diane into writing about Cooper by saying that she needed a photo and some adjectives for a website! Diane took the bait and wrote a wonderful story about this special boy and what he meant to her and Michael. 


Here are a few photos of Cooper and below that are Diane's words.


Reference photos of a black-and-tan Doberman

"This is a full page story. I hope you can get some adjectives out of it. I tried to just do adjectives but I couldn't help myself. I love talking about Cooper. He was absolutely amazing. Cooper was a one in a million dog who was devoted to his family and loved and protected with his whole being. He could do everything. He was loyal and loving, protective, athletic and agile, intelligent and attentive, funny and fearless.

Nothing fazed him. He was an outstanding example of the Doberman breed.


He liked nothing better than walks around the property, running free, exploring and checking out the wildlife, which included skunks and porcupines. After his first spray from a skunk, he stood back out of spray distance. His first porcupine quilling was also his last.  


He could be relentless about chasing off interlopers like squirrels, deer, turkeys and rabbits. He even scanned the trees and pursued the crows until they passed our boundaries. Rodents were dispatched with a lightning fast grab and snap, but he also had a kind and gentle side. One day he gently brought me a live grouse and watched carefully as I set it free. Initially he chased off the female fox who visited regularly but after a while, he allowed her presence as long as she didn’t get too close to the house. She felt safe enough to dig several dens in the bank of the driveway.  


The stream was his favourite place all year long. He stood in it no matter how cold it was, drinking and exploring. The black mud of the wetlands was also a special place to roll around in.  


He got incredibly excited when we drove the golf cart. The first day he rode beside us but after that, he loved to run with it. He knew the golf cart would take him on a long journey all over the property, where he could visit all of his favourite places in the fields and forests.  


Cooper took his protection duties seriously. He spent hours looking out the front window scanning for danger, and when he was outside he never stopped watching. He was polite and respectful but never let his guard down.  


One day as we walked past a chainlink fence, a big dog threw himself against it in attack mode inches from us. Cooper’s response was instantaneously full on attack back. When I pulled him away, he became calm just as swiftly. He had done his job and it was time to move on. He was fine with that.  


He checked out strange people and our interactions with them. If we were fine, he was fine. Most delivery people loved him and he was happy to see them. But when a strange courier arrived to deliver a package, saw Cooper, threw it at him and ran, he barely made it to the van.


Friends and neighbours were welcomed with a wagging bum and big smile, which they returned with lots of pats and love. There was a big Cooper fan club.  


Toys with squeakers were his favourite and he could get those squeakers out in a minute. It became a fun challenge to find a toy that squeaked but was hard to destroy. At bedtime, he chewed his squeaky vigorously for a few minutes and then fell over fast asleep.  


Cooper adored lying against us and being petted, two things he couldn’t get enough of. He was our shadow who followed us everywhere, always with a toy in his mouth. He kept us to a strict schedule of walking with him every two hours, regardless of the weather or time of year. We have hundreds of treasured memories of him and his antics. He made us laugh and smile multiple times a day. He was an unbelievably beautiful dog in every way…an absolutely wonderful companion and friend.


 

Cooper is Can. Ch. Gatehouse Black Friday.  

Bred by Maura Reilly and Stephan Olschewski - Gatehouse Dobermans.


 

Cooper portrait in progress 2

I picked out some unusual paper colors to do Cooper’s portrait. I felt this portrait of energetic Cooper called for a bold background color. I asked Maura whether Diane was someone who would appreciate getting a bit adventurous with color. Many clients would prefer something more conservative. These are the 6 Canson paper colors I was considering....


Six different colors of Canson Mi-Teintes paper

It’s always a bit stressful doing a portrait meant as a surprise for someone without having their input. I was a little apprehensive about getting too wild with a background color….a color Diane might either love or hate.


It was a tough decision to make. To help me visualize, I made Photoshop simulations to see how Cooper would look on these 6 colors. (Plus a few others I rejected.) There were a couple I was tempted to use, they would have been fun, but I just didn’t dare without Diane's "go-ahead". In the end I felt the "Anise" (yellow-green) was the best. I presented the 6 Photoshop simulations to Maura and tried not to sway her toward Anise, but she too felt that was the best choice.


Here are the 6 Photoshop simulations I made to see how Cooper looked on these colors.



 

Cooper portrait in progress 3

In my last post I shared some of the unusual paper colors I was considering for Cooper’s portrait. It was fun to read your contrasting opinions about the color you liked best. It was a tough decision to make. There were a couple of colors I was tempted to use, they would have been fun. But in the end I felt this color, "Anise" was the best. I presented my top choices to Maura and tried not to sway her toward Anise, but she too felt that was the best choice.


Prismacolor pencil full-body portrait of black and tan Doberman running, in progress

Outlines drawn on the "Anise" paper, and I started with the ears, as I usually do.


 

Cooper portrait in progress 4

Cooper’s face beginning to emerge. This was definitely the right background color for Cooper. He is starting to pop out nicely.


Detail of colored pencil portrait of black and tan Doberman running, in progress


 

Cooper portrait in progress 5

Now that Cooper’s face is emerging, you can see why I wanted a background color that is a bit “wild”. 


Detail of colored pencil portrait of black and tan Doberman, in progress


Cooper’s face completed. 

It was a huge help to have Diane's words about Cooper. He reminds me of my Troy, a dog who grabbed life with both hands. I held Cooper’s personality and spirit in my consciousness while working on his face…and that really helped me capture his expression and joy. 


Colored pencil portrait of black and tan Doberman running, in progress

When I sent these in-progress pics to Maura, she replied:

“These are great! You are so talented! I can't wait for Diane to see the final version!”


 

Cooper portrait in progress 6

Cooper's blue collar added. I could have made the collar any color, but blue worked well with the colors in this portrait.


Colored pencil portrait of black and tan Doberman running, in progress

To make these “in-progress” jpgs I scan the actual artwork on a high-end scanner after I finish working on it each day. Usually some adjustment with Photoshop is needed in to make the colors accurate to how the art looks in real life. Usually I'm very confident that I've adjusted the jpgs to look accurate to the art (at least on my monitor, no promises about yours) but I’m really struggling to adjust the color on this one. If I adjust it so Cooper looks exactly like the actual artwork, that strange yellow-green background is really off. I adjusted it as closely as I can but I have no idea how it may look on anybody's device!

(But it does look really good in person. 🙂👍)


 

Cooper portrait in progress 7

I'm working my way down Cooper's body. This photo, taken in the studio while I was working, shows his body in progress with the pencil colors I'm using for his black and tan coat.


I have my working pencils (the ones I'm using during that session) on a piece of white paper above the part I'm working on, where I can see my array of pencil colors and grab the right one quickly. They are on a piece of white paper to keep the artwork clean. A scrap of the "Anise" Canson paper with some colored-pencil swatches on it is just barely visible in the upper right.


Colored pencil portrait of Doberman in progress, with colored pencils


This is the artwork and the swatches-scrap. The green swatches on that scrap show some of the colors I’ll be using for the grass in the background. Other swatches are colors I’ve used for Cooper’s black-and-rust coat, his mouth, and collar. 


I make those swatches when I start on an artwork so I can see how those particular pencil colors look on that paper color. Colored pencil is a "transparent" medium: the paper color shows through a little bit. So the same color pencil will look different on different colored papers. Having those swatches near the artwork while I'm working helps guide me on which pencil to pick up for any given stroke of color on the art.


Colored pencil portrait of black and tan Doberman running, in progress with color swatches

Cooper's body is finished. This shows the full piece of paper I’m working on. It will be cropped down later. You can see my crop marks on it. 


 

Cooper portrait in progress 8

I wanted to share a few of the photos I took while working in the studio over the course of Cooper’s portrait.

With some tools-of-the-trade...

and the studio setting I see every day…

1

My “working pencils” (the ones I'm using during that session) are on a piece of white paper above the part I'm working on, so I can see my array of pencil colors and grab the right one quickly. A scrap of the "Anise" Canson paper with colored-pencil swatches on it is nearby.


I make those swatches when I start an artwork so I can see how those particular pencil colors look on that paper color. Colored pencil is a "transparent" medium: the paper color shows through a little bit. So the same color pencil will look different on different colored papers. Having those swatches near the artwork while I'm working helps guide me on which pencil to pick up for any stroke of color I need on the art.


Colored pencil portrait of a Doberman running, in progress in Kevin's  studio with colored pencils and color swatches

The pencils are on a piece of white paper and my hand rests on white paper, to keep the artwork clean during the many days I’ll be working on Cooper’s portrait. 



2

This is not a large portrait. The pencils show size. I charge less for smaller portraits of course, but in some ways they are harder to do than larger ones. The pencil work has to be extremely precise, especially when the pencil points are bigger than the actual details. Moving the pencil point just a micro-millimeter to one side or another can change the expression of an eye. 


Close-up of the dog's head in a colored pencil portrait of a Doberman, in progress, with pencils

The brown pencil is about as sharp a pencil point as I can get. I could sharpen the grey pencil a little more. When working on fine detail like this, a have to sharpen the pencil after every 2 or 3 tiny strokes, to keep it this sharp.


Prismacolor pencils have very soft “lead”, so they don’t stay sharp when they’re being used, like a graphite pencil (a regular writing pencil). Artists who use colored pencil refer to Prismacolor’s quality as “creamy”. 



3

This is what my set-up looks like in the studio. 

  • Cooper’s photo on the monitor for reference, with a keyboard and mouse to zoom in and out as I need to. 

  • The pencils I’m using that day, and color swatches on a scrap of the same “Anise” Canson paper as the artwork. 

  • A drafting brush to brush away pencil dust, that belonged to my Dad when he was a young man taking drafting courses to become an Engineer.

  • Eyeglasses for close work. 

  • And of course my trusty pencil sharpener. I don’t know what I would do without it!


Kevin's art studio with artist's tools and a colored pencil portrait of a Doberman, in progress


4

The colors I was using for Cooper’s face….


Close-up of a colored pencil portrait of a Doberman, in progress with colored pencils


5

The color swatches that help guide me on which pencil to pick up, are usually above the artwork on the right or left, out of my way as I’m working. 


Colored pencil portrait of a Doberman, in progress with colored pencils and color swatches


6

This is what I came back to when I took a break to refill my water glass. I enter my studio through a doorway that brings me toward the work-table at this angle. 


When I step away from it, even for a few minutes, it's like getting a fresh view when I come back. It makes me feel happy to see the artwork coming together and that it's looking good. 


Colored pencil portrait of a Doberman, in progress in Kevin's studio with colored pencils and a pencil sharpener


7

This is the view from where I sit when I’m working.


Kevin's art studio with a colored pencil portrait of a Doberman in progress, with colored pencils and a reference photo on a monitor

 

Cooper portrait finished!

This portrait was a surprise gift from Maura Reilly to Diane and Michael Schurman.

On Facebook Diane wrote:


“You’ve made Michael and I so happy with this absolutely stunning portrait Kevin. These peeks behind the scenes are fascinating. Thank you for everything! And a HUGE thanks to the wonderful Maura Reilly of Gatehouse Dobermans for this completely unexpected and gratefully appreciated gift!  You are very special people!”


Colored pencil portrait of a Doberman running, in progress in Kevin's  studio with colored pencils and color swatches

Colored pencil on "Anise" Canson paper, 9.5 x 14.5 inches


COOPER

is Canadian Champion Gatehouse Black Friday.  

🐕 Bred by Maura Reilly and Stephan Olschewski - Gatehouse Dobermans.


ABOUT THE ART

Cooper's portrait is a “Full Body” portrait, one of my 5 portrait types. Often a Full Body portrait like this is done on a plain single-color background. One of my options is to add a “simple background scene” which is a brief suggestion of a scene, rather than “Fully Detailed Background”, another of my portrait types. For some portraits, all it needs is a sketchy suggestion to place the subject in a scene. Anything more than that would take away from the impact of the subject. Cooper’s portrait is one of those.


🎨  See my 5 portrait types HERE.


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