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  • Writer's pictureKevin Roeckl

Nadia portrait in progress - start to finish

January 20

Starting a new portrait, for Katherine Belzowski, of her Grand Champion, Top Twenty Doberman “Nadia”.

GCHS CH Belz Catch My Breath WAC

When she first contacted me in 2020,

Katherine sent this beautiful free-stacked photo of Nadia and said she wanted to commission a portrait of it. I added her to my portrait waiting list. A while later she sent the photo of family friend Julianna, a Junior Handler who handled Nadia to many wins, and asked me to also use that photo. Nadia is holding her dish, something she loves to do.

When it was finally Katherine’s turn

and I was starting to focus on a layout for the portrait, she sent Nadia’s Top Twenty photo from the 2020 Nationals, and wanted me to include that too. At first I thought Katherine just wanted the stacked Nadia from her photo. But she wants Nadia’s handler Hernan in the portrait too. “Hernan and Julianna were a very important part of Nadia’s show career”, she said. And of course we must include Nadia’s big purple and gold Top 20 ribbon somewhere in the portrait.

3 reference photos of Grand Champion, Top Twenty Doberman

I think Remmy’s portrait started a trend. Remmy's portrait had 6 depictions of Remmy (counting his reflection in the river), including 2 head studies.

Next came a portrait for Karen of her 3 Search-and Rescue dogs. That one also had 6 figures: 3 head studies of the 3 dogs, a full body of one dog, and Karen hugging another.

For Remmy’s layout, it was not hard to figure out to put 4 depictions in the four corners, with the important “Mona Lisa Remmy” in the center, and his beloved Credit River behind. Designing Karen’s layout was a bit more challenging: the best way to arrange 3 head studies and then choose from among Karen’s many SAR photos and fit them into a background scene of southern Oregon.

The layout for Nadia's portrait is even more challenging. The same dog 3 times (two stacked pictures of her) with two different humans, photos that aren’t related to eachother.

Reference photos of Doberman for portrait

How will I fit these together into a harmonious whole? And a Top 20 ribbon in there too.

Stay tuned!

Nadia's Top Twenty show photo is by Tom Weigand - The Winning Image.


Nadia portrait in progress 2

I solved the problem of how to put together Katherine’s three unrelated photos of Nadia.

Free-stacked Nadia in the upper left is finished. The other figures are drawn out with detailed outlines. Nadia’s Top 20 ribbon will be very large behind this figure. I did this figure in dark grey rather than a true black, to avoid having “three big black blobs” spaced out in the portrait. To do it in lighter “values” (lightness/darkness) I replaced all of the blacks with charcoal grey and made all the mid-tones a couple shades lighter than they would normally be. Her rust areas are more of a gold. It is still an accurate depiction of a black-and-tan Doberman, but it will create a more balanced composition to have this figure floating in front of the purple-and-yellow ribbon in softer colors. Both Hernan in his elegant white tuxedo and Julianna with her creamy skin and pastel dress and ribbon, will be pale groupings of soft colors. The weight of the two deep-black Nadias will anchor this diagonal row of lighter figures. And the bright Top Twenty ribbon with it’s long tails.

Colored pencil portrait of Grand Champion, Top Twenty Doberman, in progress

A balanced and beautiful composition is the foundation of any work of art.

This artwork is on “Flannel Grey” Canson paper.


Nadia portrait in progress 3

I described why this first figure was done in softer colors, not true black.

Since I made Nadia’s rust markings more of a gold (softer version of rust-brown) it might look like her rust markings are too yellow. It looked that way to me too.

Close-up of colored pencil portrait of Top Twenty Doberman, in progress

But I did that knowing that when I added the bright yellow ribbon behind her, that will make those markings look different.

See what I mean? By comparison to the bright yellow, all of a sudden her markings look more orange. This is one of those tricky things our eyes do. Artists have to learn to compensate for those “optical illusions” when they choose colors.

Close-up of portrait of Doberman with Top Twenty ribbon, in progress

The underpainting for the Top Twenty ribbon was done with acrylic paint. I had to use opaque paint --- not thinned with water as I often do with underpainting --- because the paint has to completely cover the grey paper to get a nice bright yellow and purple. Otherwise the grey showing through would have dulled those colors.

I masked off the edges of the ribbon tails to get that nice straight edge. I’d never be able to paint such a straight line freehand.


After the paint dried overnight, I put in the details of the ribbon with colored pencils over the underpainting. Note that I made the purple ribbon lighter behind her forelegs and chest, to make Nadia stand out more. Since this figure is actually dark grey, not black. A true-black figure would pop out against that mid-tone purple.

Close-up of portrait of Doberman with Top Twenty ribbon, in progress

This is the whole portrait as it looks now. Since Hernan in his white tuxedo and Julianna with her peaches-and-cream skin and pastel dress/ribbon will be soft colors, I had to keep the purple tails of the Top 20 ribbon fairly light. The actual ribbon is a darker purple in real life. I had to make the purple dark enough that it looks the way a purple-and-gold Top 20 ribbon is supposed to look, but not so dark that it competes with the two black Nadia’s that I’ll be adding - the main stacked figure, and Nadia holding her dish.

Portrait of Doberman with Top Twenty ribbon, in progress

A close-up of Nadia’s head. I think this came out really nice against the ribbon.

It’s really not very big. Her head is a little less than two inches long in the actual artwork.

Close-up of portrait of Doberman with Top Twenty ribbon


Nadia portrait in progress 4

Working on Hernan's face, Hernan is Nadia's handler.

Close-up of face of Handler in colored pencil portrait of Top Twenty Doberman, in progress

Working my way across Hernan's face and down the right side. This is another one of those faces where the features are not much bigger than my sharpest pencil point. The colored pencils I'm using are on a sheet of white paper above what I'm working on, and another sheet to rest my hand on to keep the work clean.

Close-up of face of Handler in colored pencil portrait of Top Twenty Doberman, in progress in the studio with pencils

Hernan’s face finished. And his talented Handler hand. Now starting on his white tuxedo.

Close-up of face of Handler in colored pencil portrait of Top Twenty Doberman, in progress

Many Doberman show enthusiasts who recognize Hernan left comments when I shared this pic on Facebook.

Daniel G. wrote:

"Oh my God. Kevin you are amazing. I have seen your artistry with capture of our Dobes. Now you present a face that incredibly captures Hernan."


Nadia portrait in progress 5

Hernan’s elegant white tuxedo finished.

Like the upper left Nadia figure, I’m making Hernan paler and lighter than normal. The black lapels of his tuxedo are grey, not true black. To our eye it looks like a black and white tuxedo. But stacked Nadia, done with deep rich colors and true black in the center of the portrait, will really pop out against the lighter figures.

Close-up of professional handler in colored pencil portrait of Top Twenty Doberman, in progress


Nadia portrait in progress 6

Working on stacked-Nadia’s face. Now you can start to see my strategy of keeping the other figures pale and lighter than normal, with their dark areas grey rather than true black. So stacked-Nadia, which will be done with true black, will really dominate the portrait.

Portrait of Grand Champion Top Twenty Doberman, in progress

A close-up of Nadia’s face to show the detail of the pencil-work.

Detail of colored pencil ortrait of Top Twenty Doberman, in progress


Nadia portrait in progress 7

There are a lot of shapes in a Doberman’s coat.

In this picture you can see my sketch lines on Nadia’s body. All those strange, abstract-looking shapes. What you’re actually seeing is her anatomy. An artist has to understand anatomy in order to portray it correctly. Otherwise they will interpret the shapes wrongly if they don’t understand what they are seeing. Instead of an elbow joint they may make something that looks like a tumor on her side. Instead of a ribcage they will create stripes on her coat.

Close-up of colored pencil portrait of Top Twenty Doberman, in progress

I’ve been studying animal anatomy since I was a kid.


I’m indicating the darker spaces between her ribs with black pencil so I can keep track of where I am on her body, as I gradually fill in the whole torso.

Close-up of colored pencil portrait of Top Twenty Doberman, in progress in the studio with pencils

On her belly there is an area enclosed by black, with a black “x” on it. That’s to remind me visually that I am going to fill that area in solid black. There are a lot of very, very dark greys (and some very dark browns and blues) that make up the shadowed areas of her coat, besides solid black.


All those abstract shapes make up the anatomy of a dog. I just have to know how to interpret those shapes I see in the reference photo. I have to see the abstract shapes of light and dark and know, “Those black stripes are ribs; her rib cage curves upwards. That’s her elbow joint. That’s her hip joint, where the big muscles of her thigh start. Where her thigh joins her belly is an indentation. Her tail flows out as an extension of her spine, not tacked on like an afterthought.”

Close-up of colored pencil portrait of Top Twenty Doberman, in progress

Now you can see why I kept the other figures lighter than normal (their darkest areas grey instead of black). Stacked Nadia, done with true black, really pops out.

Here's the photo I’m using for reference. It was hard picking out Nadia’s outlines against all that black clothing. So Katherine sent me other show photos that clearly show her silhouette, to help guide me.

Dog show photo by Tom Weigand, The Winning Image Dog Photography

Photo by Tom Weigand, The Winning Image Dog Photography.


Nadia portrait in progress 8

See that darker square behind Nadia’s front feet? Canson, the company that makes this beautiful art paper, started putting bar-code stickers on every sheet of paper, and it leaves a mark. 😡

This is all part of the life of an artist. (sigh...)

Canson paper has a “bumpy” side for pastel artists, and a smooth side. I use the smooth side….and that’s where they put their dang sticker. This is the only piece of “Flannel Grey” Canson paper I had. Before I started sketching Nadia’s portrait on it I measured to make sure that sticker mark would be in a spot that I could hide it with colored pencil. Most of it will be covered by the podium and Hernan’s pant leg. The part of it that is outside of that, I will have to touch it really lightly with a light-grey pencil in the closest shade I have to the paper color. Even it if it’s not perfect, it won’t be noticeable because your eye will go to the dark figure of Nadia, not the tiny bit of grey paper next to Hernan’s pant-leg.

Close-up of colored pencil portrait of Top Twenty Doberman, in progress

If that sticker mark had been in the middle of a blank area it would have prevented me from using this sheet of (expensive) paper.

I contacted Dick Blick Art Supplies, where I order my art paper and pencils. Apparently it’s not possible to get sheets of Canson paper that don’t have that sticker in that same place on every sheet. The Blick rep I spoke with said I’m not the only artist who contacted them and complained about this. Blick sells a huge volume, and they are going to complain to Canson. Hopefully Blick's weight behind all these unhappy artists it will get Canson’s attention.

Stacked-Nadia is finished. Here's the whole portrait as it looks now.

Now you can see why I kept the other figures pale and light (their darkest areas are grey instead of black). Stacked Nadia, which is the centerpiece of the portrait, really pops out. As she should.

Colored pencil portrait of Top Twenty Doberman, in progress in the studio with pencils

A figure can be made the focal point by placing them in the exact center (the button on Hernan’s tuxedo is the center in this piece), by making the lines of the composition point toward them, or by doing some kind of trick like I did here, to make them stand out as the centerpiece. Hernan’s trousers, which were black in real life, will be grey in this portrait, like his collar and tie. To our eye it still looks like he is wearing a black-and-white tuxedo. But in actuality, stacked Nadia is the only thing in the portrait that is done with true black.


Nadia portrait in progress 9

I finished Hernan’s tuxedo trousers and the top of the podium Nadia is standing on. Now I’m starting on Julianna.

First, her hair.

Close-up of Junior Handler in a portrait of Top Twenty Doberman, in progress


Nadia portrait in progress 10

Do you want to know how I get the colors so accurate doing human skin?

To get accurate skin tones I have to know exactly what colors I’m seeing in the reference photo. So I take “samples” from the reference photo in Photoshop.

This is a photo of Nadia’s handler, Julianna.

I’ve sampled her face in 25 places. The color swatches (little squares) are exactly on top of the areas where I sampled them.

Reference photo for portrait of a Doberman, modified with Photoshop

Then I put the swatches of those colors on the paper color I’m working on. (The squares outside her face, on the grey background.) I do that so I can see what the actual color is….rather than “it’s a face, so it must be ‘this‘ color“. Grey is neutral - it has no color, it’s composed of black and white. Seeing a color on grey, there are no adjoining colors to fool our eye into thinking it’s lighter or darker, or redder or duller — than the color it’s next to.

Reference photo for portrait of a Doberman, modified with Photoshop

Seeing them on grey gives me a very good idea of what colors are actually in Julianna’s face.

Then I pull out the pencil colors closest to those shades.

Prismacolor pencils in skin tones for a portrait

I’m pulling out more pencil colors as I work, as they’re needed....

Close-up of Junior Handler in a portrait of a Doberman, in progress in Kevin's studio with colored pencils

Then I just copy the colors I see in the reference photo — using those side-swatches to tell me what colors they “really” are — and putting them in the right places according to my sketch-lines of Julianna’s face.

This is today’s work, Julianna’s forehead including eyebrows. Her hair and ears were done yesterday. 16 colors were used to do Juliana’s forehead and eyebrows.

Close-up of Junior Handler in a portrait of Top Twenty Doberman, in progress

I would have liked to do more, but my yard-worker was here and I had to attend to what I needed her to do. Eyes in a portrait are so important and take so much concentration, I don’t like to start on them unless I know I will have an uninterrupted workday to work on them start to finish, no matter how long it takes.

Phone photos don’t capture the subtle colors. This pic is a high-quality scan made from the actual artwork.


Nadia portrait in progress 11

Building up the layers of color little by little.... Human skin is a very challenging thing to do with colored pencils.

Close-up of Junior Handler in a portrait of Top Twenty Doberman, in progress

Her face, neck, and shoulders finished. Julianna is holding one of her many Junior Handler ribbons. Nadia will be holding her dish, something she loves to do.

Close-up of Junior Handler in a portrait of Top Twenty Doberman, in progress in Kevin's studio with colored pencils


Nadia portrait in progress 12

Julianna and her Junior Handler ribbon are finished.

In the original photo Julianna was wearing a dress made from blue, black, and white abstract-patterned fabric. But that was too busy for this portrait, and too dark for the pale colors I wanted for the background figures. When you see the whole artwork you’ll see what I mean.

Close-up of young woman holding a Junior Handler ribbon in a portrait of Top Twenty Doberman, in progress


Nadia portrait in progress 13

Now you can see how there is a diagonal row of pale figures. Julianna was pastel colors already (except she had a darker dress which I changed to light blue) and I made Hernan and free-stacked Nadia lighter than normal also. You can now see what I call the “flow” of a composition: Stacked Nadia, with her rich colors and dense black, stands out as the important figure regardless of where she is placed. Your eye goes there first. The tall shape of the Top 20 ribbon ties the two stacked Nadias together. It’s long tails are like an arrow pointing up to free-stacked-Nadia. But her downward pointing head and the “bulls-eye” of the Top 20 rosette stops your eye from exiting out the top of the artwork.

Then those 3 heads in a descending row — upper Nadia, Hernan, and Julianna — carries your eye down a diagonal slope from upper left. But there is nothing to stop your eye from continuing out the right edge of the artwork. The final figure — Nadia holding her dish — will not be done in pale colors. She will be in deep rich colors and dense black like stacked-Nadia. That will stop your eye on that downward slide and hold it right there, with a figure that is just as important as stacked-Nadia. She is gazing intensely at you while doing something she loves to do: carrying her dish. That will show Nadia’s personality just as stacked-Nadia shows her beautiful structure.

Colored pencl portrait of Grand Champion, Top Twenty Doberman, in progress

I’ve placed the two most important figures, not in the center as you’d expect, but far to the right, and down in the bottom half…yet I’ve made them the most important features of the artwork. (While also including all the other things Katherine wanted in this portrait: two humans, two ribbons, and Nadia’s dish.) They are the most important figures because of the “flow” of the composition.

There are so many things for an artist to think about when designing a complex portrait like this. Do the colors go together? Do all the figures and objects work? But an artist who doesn’t think about the “flow” of a painting: how and where it carries your eye (your attention), is leaving out the most important factor of all.

This picture shows a diagram of the visual flow. It is actually a loop that continually carries your attention back to stacked-Nadia. The whole loop echoes the shape of her body.

Portrait with flow lines diagrammed in pink


Nadia portrait in progress 14

I’ve completed the final figure on Nadia’s portrait: Nadia holding her dish.

Close-up of colored pencl portrait of Top Twenty Doberman and Junior Handler, in progress

But the portrait is not finished yet.

I still need to put grass under free-stacked Nadia in the upper left, and I have to finish the podium that stacked-Nadia is standing on. It’s draped with purple crushed-velvet.


Nadia portrait in progress 15

Today I added green grass under upper-left-Nadia, and the velvet-covered podium under stacked-Nadia. I didn’t add those bases when I did each of those figures. I needed to first get all the figures completed, so I could see the artwork as a whole. To judge how to do those final pieces — lighter or darker, bright or muted, crisp edges or fading gradually? — so that they don’t take any attention away from the important figures.


Grass under upper-left Nadia finished. I used the same green pencils I used for the pink-and-green Junior Handler ribbon that Julianna is holding. I didn’t want to put this base under this figure on the left side until I saw which greens would be used in the ribbon over on the right side. So those greens look harmonious, they help tie the whole image together in a balanced way. (You’ll see the whole image below.)

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


Here I’m putting in some of the velvet’s texture, with 4 colors of pencils. Three lighter (a very pale grey that has a tinge of purple, a muted grey-purple which is the same value (lightness/darkness) as the grey paper, and a mauve that is more brownish than the others) and one dark “black cherry” pencil. I’m just scribbling them with rough, jiggly movements to get the random crushed-velvet texture.

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

The lettering was done by tracing an actual font lettering with cream pencil.


Here's the whole portrait so far. Very close to finished.

You can see how using the same greens on the left as Julianna’s ribbon on the right, helps “balance” an asymmetrical layout. Same greens, and about the same amount of green, on both sides. I did not want greens to pop out in this portrait. But they do help give color to what would otherwise be a mostly black/white/grey and beige/rust artwork.

Portrait of Grand Champion Top Twenty Doberman with professional handler and Junior Handler, in progress

Notice the scribbly texture I’ve given to the crushed velvet of the podium. But that part is not finished. The texture I’ve made is too blotchy, it pulls a bit of attention away from the figures (pulls your eye down and off the bottom edge). I need this wide rectangle at the very bottom of the artwork to be a solid color, and not so much blotchy-ness (too much texture). I’ll smooth that blotchy texture out and give the whole base a nice burgundy-purple by going over it with a wash of reddish-purple watercolor.

Next you’ll see how that pulls it together and makes it look like crushed velvet.


Nadia portrait in progress 16

Here’s how I did the crushed velvet that is draped on the podium. The last thing to do in this portrait.


Jerky, scribbley pencil strokes with 4 colors of pencil - 3 light and one dark - make the crushed-velvet texture.

Close-up of podium in portrait of Top Twenty Doberman, in progress

The contrast of light and dark on the podium is too much. It takes attention away from the figures. I did that on purpose though, knowing that the next step would tone down the contrast and pull the texture together into some rich, opulent-looking purple velvet.


Yep, just the effect I wanted. I went over the whole rectangle with a wash of reddish-purple watercolor. I mixed it slightly redder than the purple of the Top 20 ribbon. I don’t want them to be exactly the same shade of purple. I want the purple and gold Top 20 ribbon to stand out. I don’t want the podium, a dark rectangle at the very bottom of the composition, to jump out and grab attention. This is exactly the look I planned. It gives a solid “base” for stacked-Nadia, the central figure. Now she is anchored in the scene, not floating on all that grey, like the other two Nadias are.

Close-up of podium with watercolor wash, in portrait of Top Twenty Doberman, in progress

But the watercolor covered up the lettering of Nadia’s name too much. I’ll have to go over the letters again with beige pencil to make it stand out.

That’s the final thing that needs to be done with this portrait. I will let the watercolor dry overnight before I go over it pressing down hard with pencil.


Nadia portrait finished!

This portrait features Grand Champion, Top Twenty Doberman "Nadia",

GCHS CH Belz Catch My Breath WAC

with professional handler Hernan Matias Pacheco

and Junior Handler Julianna M.

Here’s what owner Katherine B. wrote about the special people in Nadia’s life:

“Julianna and Hernan and Allison, Hernan’s wife, were the special people behind Nadia. Julianna started her as her Junior Showmanship dog. Both Hernan and Julianna showed her to her Championship. Julianna was in the Top Twenty in Junior Showmanship for several years with Nadia. Then after she got her Championship, Julianna put most of her Grand Championship points on her. From there Julianna wanted to try for Owner Handler in 2018 (she was a co-owner of Nadia). We were number 1 Owner-Handler in Dobermans in 2018. Then we decided to show her in the Top Twenty and choose Hernan to show her, and Nadia was number 14 in 2020. These three people played a very important part in Nadia’s life and getting her to where she is.”

Colored pencil portait of Top Twenty Doberman with two handlers and her Top Twenty ribbon
Colored pencil and acrylic on "Flannel Grey" Canson Mi-Teintes paper. 20 x 26 inches.

Katherine B (Belz Dobermans) is Nadia's Breeder-Owner.

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