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  • Writer's pictureKevin Roeckl

Reeve portrait in progress 1

Sheila Conant has been on my waiting list for a portrait of her red Border Collie “Reeve”. I’ve created 12 Border Collie portraits for Sheila over the past 23 years. Reeve is really husband David’s dog, so for this one we brought David into the creative process. The three of us have worked together to make the decisions.

You will be surprised how many decisions it takes to get to a layout for a simple head-study.


Reeve is a red Border Collie. Her coat is an interesting color to portray because it’s a deep chocolate in the shade, and very reddish in sunlight.


The first thing to do is always to round up the client’s favorite photos. Sheila and David decided on this as a clear favorite. They both agreed on that. "But the decisions for this portrait are up to David", Sheila said.

The problem with this photo is that it’s very over-exposed. Reeve’s coat looks tan and there is no detail in the white.


So the first thing I did was adjust the color with Photoshop.


David wanted a head-study of Reeve on a plain color, the look of a "traditional portrait”.

I sent this rough draft (made with Photoshop) to show that because Reeve was lying down with her neck-ruff bunched up, her neck looks much fluffier then it really is.

I asked for reference photos of her body without the neck bunched up, taken at the same angle.


Shelia rounded up several more photos. (And these show better detail in her white areas.)

After a couple more rough drafts we decided the #3 body worked best with the favorite head.


I combined the 2 photos…

Although David had said he wanted a head study, I always send the client additional options when I see other ideas I think they may like. Since the head and body looked so nice together, I sent a rough draft showing a full-body portrait. I had to create Reeve’s rump and tail since they are cut off in that photo.


This shows a rough idea of how a full-body portrait would look…

(Photoshop mock-up)


How a head study would look…

(Photoshop mock-up)


David said he wanted more of her body showing, so this is the layout we settled on.

But wait, there are more decisions!


I had been working with a neutral background color while we made the decisions about the layout. Now I send suggestions about background colors that work the best with Reeve. Canson paper comes in 50 colors, so it has to be one of those.

Reeve’s dark areas didn’t show against dark colors, and her white areas didn’t stand out against light colors. I sent examples of 10 mid-tone colors I felt looked best.

Sheila wrote: “Did you have to send TEN of them?“ 😆

David and Sheila chose “Icy Blue” in the center left.

And 11 x 14 inches for the size, similar to the other Roeckl portraits in their collection.

Now I get to work!

See 5 of Sheila's portraits in my DOGS Gallery on my website.


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