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  • Writer's pictureKevin Roeckl

Shasta portrait in progress 6 - What color is a tongue?

Today I'm adding Shasta’s tongue. 

What color is a dog's tongue? Pink, you might say.

Is it really?

There are some colors in a dog’s tongue you might not expect.

This is how the portrait looked when I stopped working yesterday. Ready to start on Shasta's tongue today.

Colored pencil portrait of an Australian Shepherd, in progress

What color is a dog's tongue? Pink, you say? To find out, I “sampled” areas of the tongue in the reference photo with Photoshop. Then I put those swatches on the same grey as the paper I’m working on. Now I can see what color pencils I’ll need for the highlights, mid-tones, and shadow areas of Shasta’s tongue. 

Reference photo of an Australian Shepherd, with colors sampled in Photoshop

Are you surprised at some of those colors? Hardly any of them are what I would call “pink”. 


I sampled the tongue colors with Photoshop. If you have a print of your reference photo you can do the same thing by laying a piece of white paper over your reference photo with a little hole cut in it. Place that hole over different places on the tongue and see what color is actually showing in the hole. The white paper isolates it from other colors that could "fool" your eye. You can even try matching a pencil color to it by scribbling on the white paper next to the hole. This is a way of identifying the true color your eye is seeing. Then finding out what pencil color is closest to it. 



In the studio, starting work on Shasta’s tongue. The strip of grey paper is one of my master-swatch strips, this one showing all the pinks, peaches, mauves, and purple pencils that I have. I’m looking at my swatches and picking out the pencil colors I’ll need.

Colored pencil portrait of an Australian Shepherd, in progress in the studio with colored pencils and color swatches

I have just put in the edges of the tongue. First I outline the shape…it’s light and dark edges. Then I will work from light at the tip of the tongue, to dark inside her mouth.

For Shasta’s tongue, I needed to layer multiple pencil colors to get those subtle shades of mauve and muted pink-brown that are in her tongue. There was no one pencil that matched all my sampled swatches.

Tongue finished.

Detail of a colored pencil portrait of an Australian Shepherd, in progress

Prismacolor pencil on "Felt Grey" Canson paper.

"Shasta", commissioned by Diane B. as a gift for her son and his fiancé.


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