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  • Writer's pictureKevin Roeckl

Shasta portrait in progress 1 - The foundation

I'm starting a portrait of Shasta, an Australian Shepherd. It’s a gift from Diane Barnes to her son Takeshi. Takeshi’s girlfriend Cheryl (now his fiancé) has been part of Shasta's life for many years too. Cheryl wrote,

“Shasta is now 10 years old, and I came into her life when she was 3 when I started dating Takeshi. They share one of the closest bonds I have ever seen between a pet and their owner.”

The decision was made to do a full-body portrait of Shasta in a Fully Detailed Background scene. If you've watched my portraits develop you know there is quite a decision-making process in designing the layout, before I ever put pencil to paper. This album shows that process.


The first step is choosing which reference photo(s) to use for a portrait. Sometimes a client has a favorite and the decision is clear from the start. Other times they are not sure, and my job is to guide them in narrowing it down. Diane, Takeshi (Tk), and Cheryl sent 58 photos of Shasta. There were only a handful of full-body shots. Sometimes I can combine the body from one photo with a better head shot from a different photo. I sent this pic, showing what I consider the best head choices for a portrait. Ultimately these decisions are Tk’s, since Shasta is his dog, and the gift is to him. Cheryl gave helpful input and suggestions. 

The top row are the five I consider the best for a portrait. The bottom row are photos of Shasta looking cute and sweet. I wanted to give Tk the option if that was the look he loved the most. He chose number 2, an excellent choice.

Client's reference photos for a portrait of an Australian Shepherd


What made the choice even better is head 2 was from one of the few full-body photos of Shasta, and probably the best full-body photo! So this is the photo of Shasta I’m starting with. Now on to the background….

Client's photo of an Australian Shepherd


Tk and Cheryl didn’t know what kind of scene they wanted. Some of their photos showed Shasta in different parts of the U.S. I suggested a mountain background with a lake. This is my crude layout to show them how it might look, using the existing grassy foreground in Shasta’s photo. I asked if they had a favorite mountain that was meaningful to them.

Layout for portrait of Australian Shepherd with a mountain background, made with Photoshop

Cheryl suggested Mount Douglas on Vancouver Island, where Tk lived, a place they had hiked with Shasta many times. I found photos of Mt Doug, but it was not a very interesting background scene. Takeshi decided he would rather have a scene in the forests of Vancouver Island where he had hiked for years with his beloved dog. 


I needed to add Shasta’s feet before placing her on a hiking path. This shows how I can add pieces using different photos. It’s tricky and doesn’t always work. I took Shasta’s feet from the photo on the right, after sizing it to match the other photo, and ended up with the figure in the center.

Client's photos of an Australian Shepherd modified with Photoshop


Next I searched for reference photos of “Vancouver Island forest”. I found dozens, pulled out a few to use as a starting point, and tried Shasta in each of them. None looked very good. 

3 potential layouts for portrait of Australian Shepherd in a forest, made with Photoshop

I was still hunting for the right scene.


Luckily, I live on the coast of Oregon and our coastal forest is very similar to that of Vancouver Island on the west coast of Canada. Similar climate, similar species. I’ve taken hundreds of photos while hiking in coastal forest. I created two examples of Shasta in forest scenes that I constructed from my own photos. 

This is Scene 1 - Forest bridge

Layout for portrait of Australian Shepherd in a forest, made with Photoshop


Scene 2 - Forest path

This is actually redwood forest, which doesn’t grow north of Oregon. So I would have to make a lot of changes to the trunks of the trees and their foliage.

Layout for portrait of Australian Shepherd in a forest, made with Photoshop

Tk chose to go with the Forest Bridge scene.


To give you an idea how much design-work is needed even with a good background photo, this is the original photo I started with. With Shasta plopped down on the bridge just to see how she would work in the scene. (That’s my Good Boy Troy at the far end of the bridge in my photo.)

It’s a nice scene but Shasta is too small. For a portrait I want the subject to fill most of the composition. But if I just crop it around Shasta I will lose the forest and the hiking path. And the railings are ugly. There’s a lot more work to perfect this scene. I have to make a lot of modifications by taking the photo apart into pieces with Photoshop, and moving them around and resizing them.

First crude layout for portrait of Australian Shepherd in a forest, made with Photoshop


This is the final layout, approved by the client.

Final layout for portrait of Australian Shepherd in a forest, made with Photoshop

Next I choose my paper and get in the studio and get to work with colored pencils. 


Shasta's portrait will be a Fully Detailed Background portrait, one of my 5 portrait types. Each portrait type has a different price range. You can read about my types of portraits, see a gallery of examples, and their prices HERE.



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