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  • Writer's pictureKevin Roeckl

Reeve portrait in progress - start to finish

Updated: May 20, 2023

March 25

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 27 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!


Reeve portrait in progress 2

Red Border Collie “Reeve” begins to emerge from the blue paper. Her beautiful red coat will really pop on this color.

Colored pencil head-study portrait of a red Border Collie, in progress

It took me a while to try out what colors of pencils would work the best to capture the reds in Reeve's coat, because of the way the orange and rust pencil colors act on this paper color. I tried them out by making swatches of the colors on a scrap of the same paper.

Colored pencil head-study portrait of a red Border Collie, in progress with Prismacolor pencils

The Canson name for this paper color is “Icy Blue“. But I always think of it as “Periwinkle”. That color name actually came from a box of Crayola crayons, from way back in my childhood! Funny the way things like that will stick with you for life. This color will always be “periwinkle” to me.

I love all colors, but if I had to say a favorite color it would be this - periwinkle. Halfway between purple and blue. (Two of my other most favorite colors.)


Reeve portrait in progress 3

Reeve is a red Border Collie with gold eyes. I have to get that eye color just right. Sheila and David guided me on adjusting the color from what I saw in their photographs. Photos taken in different lighting can make colors look completely different.

The left half of her face and first eye finished....

Colored pencil head-study portrait of a red Border Collie, in progress


Reeve portrait in progress 4

Both eyes finished.

Colored pencil head-study portrait of a red Border Collie, in progress

Colored pencil on blue Canson paper, 11 x 14 inches.


Reeve portrait in progress 5

In the last pic I shared, Reeve’s eyes and upper half of her head were finished. She is a red Border Collie. Here’s what Sheila wrote:

“Reeve was a very dark red when she came to us at 7 months. As red BCs get older they tend to fade. All the sun we get here in Hawaii hastens the fade. However, our mutual affection goes the opposite direction.”

In Sheila’s photos spanning 12 years I see Reeve’s deep chocolate coat when she was young, and her much lighter red-buff coat as a senior. Sheila and David wanted me to capture Reeve’s dark coat, and agreed when I said that I wanted to really bring out the red.

In my previous “in progress” pic, the light on Reeve’s forehead, on that particular shade of blue, made her look like I was portraying a Golden Retriever. I hadn’t done any of her white parts yet. David was concerned that I was portraying her too light. But I said, “Wait until the whole portrait is finished, then if necessary I’ll adjust it”.

Today I did her white muzzle. Putting in the white parts next to the brown makes her coat look darker. By comparison to the blue paper, her coat looks light…by comparison to white, her coat looks dark. Funny the way our eyes work.

Colored pencil head-study portrait of a red Border Collie, in progress

Prismacolor pencil on blue Canson paper, 11 x 14 inches.


Reeve portrait in progress 6

Her smile really brought Reeve’s expression to life.

Working on the smile…

Colored pencil head-study portrait of a red Border Collie, in progress

Her pink tongue adds a nice spot of color in the portrait.

Colored pencil head-study portrait of a red Border Collie, in progress

This is how the portrait looks now.

The rest of the body will go fast, because it doesn't require the same precision and detail as facial features.


Reeve portrait in progress 7

Final steps....

Tape it up on the wall of my studio and stand back to see if anything needs to be adjusted.

When I’m working on it, I’m very close to the artwork. This gives me a chance to see the artwork as a whole, the way the client will see it on their wall. If anything jumps out at me, I take it back to my work table and fix that. Tape it up on the wall, stand back, make adjustments, tape it up again… Until I’m completely satisfied that it’s a finished work of art I will be proud to show to my client.

Colored pencil head-study portrait of a red Border Collie, in progress

It’s held up by drafting tape, a special kind of tape that doesn’t damage paper when it’s pulled off.


The last thing I do to artwork is sign it. I used to be very superstitious about my signature.

I had a superstition that it would be bad luck to do anything else to the artwork after I signed it. (Every artist knows how easy it is to overwork a painting and ruin it.) Since I wouldn’t touch an artwork again after my signature was on it, I made sure every last little touchup was finished before I signed.

Sometimes it’s not convenient to do that. If my signature has to show up against a busy, complicated background, it makes more sense to work it into the artwork as I go. So now I don’t worry about whether or not my signature is the Very Last thing.

Colored pencil head-study portrait of a red Border Collie being signed in the art studio  with pencil


Reeve portrait in progress 8

Reeve portrait....finished?

I always send the client a large, high-resolution jpg of the finished portrait so they can zoom in and check details, for final approval before I mount and varnish. Sometimes the client requests small adjustments like lighten up a little under the chin, or some small detail that bothers them.

This time it was something major. David had been saying that Reeve’s forehead looked “too blonde”, when I sent in-progress pics. When he saw this finished pic, he and Sheila both said the same. They showed it to a close family friend who spends a lot of time with Reeve. He said,

“I know this dog really well.

This is too ORANGE."

Colored pencil head-study portrait of a red Border Collie, finished

They were thrilled with how perfectly I captured Reeve’s expression and facial features. But David was heartbroken that I didn’t capture Reeve’s beautiful deep red. It wasn’t “her”. I reassured him, “Don’t worry, I’ll get it.” I guarantee 100% satisfaction.

So it’s back to the studio to adjust Reeve’s color. Darker and redder.


Reeve portrait in progress 9

Colored pencil is an unforgiving medium.

I will only get one shot at this.

With colored pencil you can’t just cover over it like with oil paint. The pencil was already built up pretty thickly, to cover the blue paper. So I am close to the limit of how much pencil Reeve's face will hold.

First I scanned the portrait (on the left), then I made Reeve’s face darker and redder with Photoshop (on the right). I sent the Photoshopped version to David for feedback. I want to make sure I understand what he’s describing. Yes, this was correct. Now I have to replicate that by changing the actual portrait.

Colored pencil head-study portrait of a red Border Collie, before and after color adjustment


On a scrap of the same blue Canson paper, I replicated the left side of Reeve’s forehead three times, using the same pencil colors I used originally. This will be my test run.

scrap of blue paper with 3 colored pencil simulations


Then I tried layering different colors over the 3 simulated foreheads, to see which would work the best. Colored pencils are a transparent medium, meaning the color underneath will show through. Depending on how hard and solidly you color it. But it will always show through to a certain amount. So I was choosing, not just red-browns, which would only give us an orangey red brown, But actually going into the purpleish end of the red spectrum. To offset the oranges and orange reds.

That’s why I was doing a trial run. Because I have never done this exact thing before. I know enough about colors, and how pencils behave, to have a good idea what should happen. But you never know for sure. I have put too much work into Reeve’s portrait to take a chance. I wanted to prove on my test piece that purple reds, layered over orange, would do what I expected.

scrap of blue paper with 3 colored pencil simulations and color swatches

I think I will use the colors on the middle one. Notice I am using an actual lavender, I have gone so far to the purple end of the red spectrum that it’s a purple pink.

People who understand the color wheel will understand this: I am trying to shift the reds (red-browns) in Reeve’s portrait around the color wheel a little way: from the orange-reds to the purplish-reds. Because the previous colors (orangey) will show through a little, I have to go too far into the purples to compensate for that.

Artist's color wheel


Reeve portrait finished!

The portrait of Reeve is finally finished.

You may remember what I thought was the finished portrait, her people said looked too orange. In my last post I showed you what I was doing to make her coat more chestnut. It took quite a bit of fine-tuning with the help of the client.

I’m always amazed at the ability of clients to tell me what needs to be adjusted. Clients don’t have an “artist’s eye” and I don’t expect they’ll be able to tell me how it needs to be changed. But one thing they know very well is what their beloved dog looks like.

This picture shows 3 scans of the actual artwork, done at different points in time. On the left is the original “finished” artwork that was too orange. David wanted me to fix the color and darken it. In the center is the result. David said it was still not as dark as Reeve’s actual coat. I cautioned him that if I darkened the light areas — like her forehead and bridge of her nose — too much, we would start to lose the definition of her facial features. I proceeded very carefully and when David saw the one on the right (the portrait as it is now) he wrote, “WOW! She's GORGEOUS!!!!!"

Three scans of a head-study portrait of a red Border Collie, in progress

Here is the final finished portrait. Below that is what Sheila and David wrote about sweet Reeve.

Sheila is a long-time Border Collie breeder.

Colored pencil head-study portrait of a red Border Collie

From Sheila:

Reeve, who is 12 now, is the sweetest and happiest Border Collie we've ever had. She's friendly but not pushy (unless you encourage her, in which case she'll climb right into your lap), obedient, patient, and polite. She loves any kind of attention, and loves to fetch but always gives way if another dog wants the object. She's also a beautiful dog, lovely head, correct, sound structure, abundant coat with pretty markings.

I got Reeve from a breeder who was conscientious about sound health and temperament because I wanted a bitch I could breed to similarly sound and beautiful male. I do wish I had been able to breed her to one of the two handsome Rook-Wren sons. I tried, but was not successful. I'm sure she would have had lovely puppies. I wanted a red dog because David loves red, and I wanted her to be his dog. They are devoted to each other.

Now that I've said all this, it makes me appreciate even more how lucky we are to have her.

David added:

Reevie is indeed as sweet as she can be. Loving doggie that she is, she’s also great at licking kiss-face (which Sheila doesn’t really appreciate, but which is JUST FINE (up to a point 🙂 ) with me. In all the years she’s been with us I don’t recall her ever doing something “bad.” She likes to bark a bit in the morning to remind us about going for a walk . . . Late afternoons when I drive up and around to the garage coming home from work, she has a very bright and eager “Welcome Home, Pop!” series of barks, which are notably different from her morning “go for a walk” barks.


I’ve created 12 Border Collie portraits for Sheila over the past 27 years. You can see several of Sheila's other BC portraits in my DOGS Gallery on my website.

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