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  • Writer's pictureKevin Roeckl

Lacy portrait in progress - start to finish

October 18

Started a new portrait of Lacy for Betty K. Here are 8 possible rough-draft layouts. Which is your favorite?

Lacy loved the water & hiking, so Betty wants Lacy portrayed in a river scene. Betty wrote:

“We live in Tennessee near the Smoky Mountains. We use to go hiking all the time. I have LOTS of pictures of her. I’m sending some of my favorites.”

Using the client’s photos, I start by creating very rough layouts with Photoshop. Just to show them how their portrait might look. Their feedback helps me understand the look and feel that is meaningful to them.

Combining the best shots of Lacy with different background photos, I created 8 layouts for Betty to look at. #1 and #2 are examples of a head study with a scene behind it....



Using this river photo I’d have to invent more of the scene at the top and sides.

I created 6 different full-body poses with different river backgrounds….


Betty sent lots of river photos that were great scenes with Lacy playing in them, but very busy with rocks and trees. For a portrait I restricted my choices to scenes where there was simple open space in the middle where Lacy would stand out as the main feature.


This scene was built from a composite of three different photos.

I told Betty I could make Lacy standing in water. These crude layouts are just to show the basic concept and find out what the client likes.



Betty had said she would consider a “collage” with both a head-study and full-body of Lacy.

That adds to the cost of course, being that it’s actually two portraits.


Same layout as #6 but I made this to show an example of how to save money on a double portrait. The background scene being done as a single-color drawing reduces the cost.


This is also a double portrait, with the head study done as a single-color, and the scene in full color.

⭐️ Of these 8 layouts which would you choose?


Lacy portrait in progress 2

Betty chose layout 8. Next I suggested some ways to make the scene more beautiful, like adding green summer leaves on the trees, cleaning up the muddy shore, and enhance the rays of light.

But there was more to the journey….

As we focused on how to fine-tune the scene, Betty went through her photos again and found several more shots of a river scene with beautiful colors and the Smoky Mountains in the distance that she loved. So I brought the head and full-body from layout #8 into that scene. There were several photos of the Smoky Mountain river scene. This is one….

This is another….

The sunset colors and the clouds are really beautiful.

I didn’t like that dark island behind Lacy’s head though. Too much stuff clumped in the upper right corner.

So I “flopped” the background photo the opposite way, putting the island in the upper left instead. This balances the composition nicely and really makes Lacy’s smiling face stand out against the beautiful sky. Betty agreed, this was our layout.

But keep going, there’s more....

Once Betty decided on the layout she wanted to use, I fine-tuned it.

I was able to make Lacy’s head study larger. And center the full-body more. Although the full-body was just a silhouette in Betty’s photo, I was able to bring out the contrast of her rust markings, using Photoshop. I had to stretch the contrast to the max, and it doesn’t show her correct color. In the actual artwork she’ll be a red Dobe. I also adjusted the colors in the background scene to really bring out the beautiful sunset colors.

Now I have my working layout to create the artwork. This is what I will have on my monitor in my art studio to use as reference while I'm working. I will “copy” what I see in this Photoshop layout, but I’ll make it more artistic and beautiful as I go along.


Lacy portrait in progress 3

Now that layout decisions have been made, I decided what color Canson paper I’m going to work on, and pulled the sheet of Canson out of my flat-file storage. Monday I’ll start working in the studio! Choosing the Canson color was a tough decision.

The most important decision I have to make is deciding which of the 50 colors of Canson paper I should work on. That decision will influence the entire artwork.

This is my Photoshop layout approved by the client.

🤔 Should I work on blue paper….and then have to color a lot of peaches, oranges, and mauves? How will orange and mauve pencil work on blue? On light blue? Grey blue?

🤔 Should I work on pale peach paper, and then have to color a lot of darks: blues, olive green, browns? How well will I be able to cover that light paper with darker pencil?

Photoshop layout of a Doberman portrait, with color swatches

I “sampled” the colors needed in the artwork with Photoshop. Putting swatches of them against grey reveals the color more accurately.

I am looking at these and trying to figure out a ground: the proper color to underlie them all. For some artworks it’s obvious, an easy decision. But the colors in this one make it tricky. My art materials are transparent (the paper color will show through). Which color of paper will work best as the base color?

And it has to be one of the colors Canson paper comes in….

I had to think through my strategy for the whole piece. How I will layer transparent materials — watercolor and colored pencils - over colored paper. Each layer, including the paper, will show through subsequent layers.

This is the Canson sample book: 50 colors. I've pulled out some of my top choices so I can compare them to eachother. At first I was thinking of an ivory or cream — one of the colors in the center in this photo. But I’ve decided on “Pearl” (the arrow in the pic), a warm grey or “mushroom” grey. It’s the color of Lacy’s cheek in the head study on my layout.

Sample book of Canson Mi-Teintes paper colors


Lacy portrait in progress 4

I’ve finished the underpainting on Lacy’s portrait. The next 5 pictures shows the steps....


I’m putting in a watercolor underpainting for the background scene. That “tints” the paper, giving me the base colors I want to work on with colored pencils. Putting that basic color down first, in the correct areas, saves me a lot of coloring. 😉

This portrait will be a sunset river scene, a favorite place where Betty and Lacy liked to hike. The outlines of Lacy and the scene have been drawn on the paper with grey pencil. In this picture I'm adding a wash of yellow, peach, and pink for the sunset clouds and their reflection in the river. On white paper a wash of yellow, orange, and red would make pastel colors, but that same wash will darken grey paper. They'd be muddy orange and greyish-mauve --- too dark. So I had to mix white with the colors to get the right value (lightness/darkness) on grey paper.

Putting watercolor wash on grey paper for a Doberman portrait, in Kevin's studio


In this photo I’m adding the muted greens of the distant shore. On my monitor is the reference layout I created from Betty’s photos with Photoshop, with swatches of the colors I’m mixing up now for the underpainting. I believe I managed to capture those beautiful sunset colors.

Putting watercolor wash on grey paper for a Doberman portrait, in Kevin's studio


Blue sky added. It was a bit tricky because transparent watercolor doesn’t want to cover grey with a lighter color. Had to do 3 coats. I want the sky to be very smooth and luminous.

About the masking:

Lacy’s full-body figure is covered with adhesive masking film, cut out with an x-acto knife, because I want to make sweeping brushstrokes with blue watercolor for the ripples around her, and I don’t want blue on Lacy’s body. I didn’t mask off Lacy’s head study, because I DO want the brushstrokes across that area. Her head will be “transparent” on the scene. Usually you see me mask off figures to preserve the paper color when I make an underpainting, but in this case, I want the underpainting showing through her face. I thinned the watercolor more where it goes across Lacy’s head to give the effect of it being transparent.

Putting watercolor wash on grey paper for a Doberman portrait, in progress


I've completed the underpainting.

This gives me my base colors to work on with colored pencil: the right underlying colors in the right places to make the colored pencil the most vibrant it can be.

And the sky is done….without needing to do a whole heck of a lot of colored pencil scribbling. (And it would never look this smooth). Early in my career, before I invented this technique, that’s how I had to do skies. I hated doing them, and I hated the results!

Completed underpainting on grey paper for a Doberman portrait, in progress


One more step....

This is how buckled the paper gets from all the watercolor. (This is the back side of the paper.) Canson paper is a pastel paper, it’s not made to take water. I have a proprietary method for flattening the paper. That’s the next step before I can continue working on it. It’s really hard to make smooth, crisp, clean pencil strokes on this bumpy paper.

Canson Mi-Teintes paper, badly buckled from using water on it.


Lacy portrait in progress 5

After the underpainting was done and all the ripples pressed out of the paper, I'm now working with colored pencil for the rest of the portrait.

This before-and-after picture shows what a difference colored pencil makes. All the details of the island and distant shoreline were added with colored pencils over the underpainting.

Before and after picture of adding colored pencil over watercolor underpainting

This is how the portrait looks now. I always love the way colored pencil brings a flat underpainting to life.

Colored pencil "double portrait of a red Doberman, in progress


Lacy portrait in progress 6

The clouds are finished. They are a very important part of this piece. An important part of what makes the colors and the scene.

Detail of clouds in a colored pencil portrait of a red Doberman, in progress

A close-up detail. Colored pencil is not the best medium to do clouds, but they come out tolerably well with some hard work and concentration. And the right under-colors. In this case pearl-grey paper with a light wash of gold, peach, and pink. That was my base color on which to work with colored pencil.

Detail of clouds done with colored pencils.

This is how the whole portrait looks now with the sky and Smoky Mountains finished.

Colored pencil double portrait of a red Doberman in a river scene, in progress


Lacy portrait in progress 7

Now I’m starting on Lacy’s head in the beautiful sky.

This shows part of the whole portrait, which is a double portrait with Lacy standing in a river, plus her head superimposed on the scene….as though her spirit now lives in the sky and the water and the clouds.

Closeup of Doberman head in a colored pencil double-portrait of a red Doberman, in progress

This will be interesting.

I don’t think I’ve ever done a transparent head in a scene before.


Lacy portrait in progress 8

It was a little trickier than I thought to do the “single-color” head study. I planned it as being in shades of grey, for which I’d use 5 different shades of grey pencils. But it’s transparent over the scene, so the color “grey” over the sky is actually quite different than the “grey” over the sunset clouds, because of the colors that show through (that’s what makes it looks “transparent” on the scene). Lacy’s ears were done with blue-greys and up toward the tip of the ear actually blue pencils. Her upper face, because of the pink and orange clouds, are actually mauve (pink-grey)s and brown (orange-grey)s. When I realized that her upper head would be in browns, I planned to do her eyes in their realistic color. And her coat in that area is actually pretty close to a red Doberman too. I also had to do blue-greys for the mountains behind her cheek, and will have to do greenish-tinted greys for the hills. That made a lot more work than I had planned, but I am really pleased with how it’s turning out.

Closeup of Doberman head in a colored pencil portrait of a red Doberman, in progress

When I sent that picture to Betty she responded:

Oh wow!

Now I can see it’s Lacy!!! Her eyes are perfect! 

Thanks Kevin!!

This is how the whole artwork looks as I continue work on Lacy's muzzle and mouth...

Colored pencil double portrait of a red Doberman in a river scene, in progress

Prismacolor pencil over watercolor underpainting on pearl grey Canson paper.


Lacy portrait in progress 9

Lacy’s head is finished.

Betty described Lacy as happy all the time. Loved people, animals, everything. She was very calm. She was a dog who noticed everything.

As I’m working on a dog’s face I think about their personality, and try to capture that in their eyes. After seeing this in-progress picture Betty commented:

Wow!!!!! That’s so beautiful.  I love how her head turned out. It’s even better than I expected!!!❤️❤️

Closeup of Doberman head in a colored pencil double portrait of a red Doberman, in progress

Next I’ll start working on the river, making the ripples that reflect the sunset sky.


Lacy portrait in progress 10

I’ve added ripples on the upper part of the water…the reflection of the island and clouds.

Closeup of background scene in a double portrait of a Doberman, in progress

Next I'l be starting on the second Lacy....

Colored pencil double portrait of a red Doberman in a river scene, in progress


Lacy portrait in progress 11

I'm working on the “second Lacy".

Closeup of the standing figure in a double portrait of a Doberman, in progress

The actual paper color is showing through on the body of this standing figure. I’m doing the details of the figure with Prismacolor pencils. I love it when the details of a figure start to bring it to life and make it pop out of the background:

Colored pencil double portrait of a red Doberman in a river scene, in progress


Lacy portrait in progress 12

These pics show the second depiction of Lacy coming together in four stages.

(Click the arrow on the right to see the progression)

Lacy in the water is starting to pop!

These are the pencil colors I’m using for Lacy's figure:

The standing figure in a double portrait of a Doberman, in progress in Kevin's studio with colored pencils

This is how the whole artwork looks now with "second Lacy" finished. I love it when the details of a figure bring it to life and make it pop out of the background like this.

Colored pencil double portrait of a red Doberman in a river scene, in progress

I emailed this pic to Betty and she replied:

“WOW! It looks awesome!! ❤️❤️ I knew I'd be happy with it but I like it even more than I thought I would!”


Lacy portrait in progress 13

I finished the neck of Lacy’s head study, fading downward into the river. I had to put the ripples around and “behind” it before I could do that. So it looks like it’s transparent over the river scene.

Now I’m adding the details on the ripples around standing-Lacy with colored pencil over the underpainting. Instead of just the flat color of the underpainting (like you see near the bottom of the artwork), the detail will bring the ripples to life, like water that is shiny and sparkling. When I add Lacy’s reflection in the water that will really make it realistic.

So many elements go into play to make a scene look just right!

A portion of a double portrait of a Doberman in a river scene, in progress


Lacy portrait in progress 14

Now you can see the surprise hidden in Lacy‘s reflection!

Betty requested that a dragonfly be included somewhere in the artwork. (see second pic for a close-up )

Closeup of the standing Doberman figure, and a dragonfly silhouette hidden in her reflection in a river, in a portrait of a Doberman, in progress

I'm continuing to add colored pencil strokes to make ripples, over the watercolor underpainting you saw in previous posts. I love the way ripples break up the reflections of the golden sunset clouds and the blue evening sky above them into these beautiful colors — golds/peaches/pinks…and aqua blues/purple-blues — that interweave with eachother because of the movement of the water. Throughout my whole career I’ve loved capturing reflections in water, and have specialized in that. I love the way the water movement breaks up everything it’s reflecting into graceful abstract shapes.

Closeup datail of colored pencil strokes forming water ripples, dragonfly silhouette hidden in the portrait of a Doberman


Lacy portrait in progress 15

Have spent several days working on the rocks and pebbles at the bottom of Lacy's portrait. And adding the water lapping at the edge of the shore. In the middle of that process…

Working my way across from the left to the right.

Bottom half of a portrait of a Doberman, in progress

 The rest of the shore (on the right side) and that last little bit of water above it, is the underpainting - blue for water, chestnut brown for shore - and I'm adding the details with colored pencil over that base color.


Lacy portrait in progress 16

Getting down to the wire on Lacy's portrait. Working on the last rocks on the shoreline. (Lower right corner of the artwork.) I’ve already put in my signature, I’m just working the sand and rocks in around it (“behind” it). This is the last piece of the scene that needs to be completed. 

Detail of the river scene in a portrait of a Doberman, with Kevin's signature, in progress

I also added a small heart rock on the shoreline. To the right of the dragonfly...just where the river meets the shore. Maybe a heart where water and land meet symbolizes the meeting of canine and human ❤️❤️.

Detail of the river scene in a portrait of a Doberman, in progress


Lacy portrait finished!

Lacy lived in Tennessee with Betty near the Smoky Mountains, where they hiked together often. Lacy loved the water & hiking. Here’s what Betty told me about her:

She was happy all the time. Loved people, animals, everything. She noticed everything. Very calm. She was friends with everyone, both people & animals. “Everyone loved Lacy!!”, Betty said. 

Double portrait of a red Doberman in a river scene with sunset clouds, by Kevin Roeckl

Here are a few close-ups to show the details in this complex piece.

Lacy lived to almost 11, she was the oldest Doberman Betty has had.

“Lacy” (Mikadobe’s Maroon Bell) Sept 2010 - June 2021. 

Lacy’s smiling face is transparent in the scene, as though her spirit now lives in the sky and the clouds, the Smoky Mountains and the rivers which she loved.

Detail of the Doberman head study in a double portrait of a red Doberman

Detail of the Doberman standing in a river in a double portrait of a red Doberman

Detail of the background scene in a portrait of a red Doberman

Prismacolor pencil over watercolor underpainting, on Pearl Canson Mi-Teintes paper.

20 x 26 inches

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