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  • Writer's pictureRebecca Andrus

From Photo to Artwork - "Shana" an Australian Cattle Dog

Updated: Sep 27, 2022

The question ”How did you draw that?” can be challenging to answer. But here is an attempt to explain what I do when I draw a Pet Portrait —

1. I select a photo that shows clear detail and accurate coloring.

Choosing the right photo is an important step, as the photo should reflect the true character of the pet. See my Photo Tips page.

dog photo used in drawing a portrait
Australian Cattle Dog

2. Then, using a copier / printer, enlarge the photo to the desired portrait image size – usually a 7” X 7” image works well.

3. I take this enlarged photocopy to my light table and place a drawing paper over the photo, securing it in place with small pieces of tape. Lightly in pencil, I trace the main lines and shapes within the subject, as well as outlining the light and dark areas, fur direction, and the features – eyes, mouth, nose, ears, whiskers, etc. if it’s a head study; and body, legs, tail if drawing a full body artwork.

Now I am ready to bring the paper to my drawing table!

NOTE: Colored pencils are kept sharp, and a kneaded eraser is kept pliable and clean.

4. I always start drawing the face and head area because it is more interesting to study, with all the intricate lines and markings. Layers of color, lines, and texture are drawn in. For example, I may start with the outline of an eye, then the nose tip and nostrils, then some fur lines, and maybe the basic outline of the ears.

5. Then I take a “break” from the vital features of the face, and draw in some fur in the throat and chest area. This “break” from drawing the facial features allows me to come back to the face and see what needs changing – perhaps darkening lines, adding other layers of color, or defining fur direction lines.

A typical Pet Portrait might take me about 8 hours to complete. I usually work a half hour at a time.

Repetitive Process: STUDY… then Shift Eyes to Draw

I study a small area of the photo, then quickly shift my eyes to the paper, focusing on the pencil tip and where and how I apply the lines and shades. I am basically translating what I see in the photo to the drawing paper – shifting my eyes constantly – study and draw, study and draw, etc. It’s much like someone looking at a sentence or string of numbers and then copying them onto a piece of paper, except I am using lines, color, and texture instead of letters and numbers.

6. When I think I am done with the artwork, I put it aside for a few days. Then come back to it, and usually do the finishing touches. I usually see an area that needs defining.

I pay attention to scars and unique markings, posture, veins, eye sparkle, nose tip shine, ear nicks, and bent whiskers too. I make sure I draw all these in, because these details on an animal are very important, and help make the drawing subject seem unique and real!

Here is an example of some steps I take in drawing:

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