Doug Condon

art blog and portfolio

A Surprise Painting

My Father’s birthday just passed and I decided to make him a painting as a gift.  He recently got a dog, a beautiful Red Labrador named Cayenne.  Needless to say my father loves his dog and I think I have been replaced.  Since he loves his dog so much and since my father is very difficult to buy for I thought that there would be nothing more that he would enjoy than a painting of his beloved pet.

I had done a commission of a dog portrait a few years ago so I had an idea of how I wanted to paint this one.  I wasn’t able to work on the painting right away as a family vacation interrupted the painting time.  So based on my past experience and a shorter time frame I decided to break out my trusty Winsor & Newton acrylics for this portrait.  I also decided that I would try to take a few photos as I worked and document my process a bit.  Here is the first shot:


During a visit up to my parents, my wife and I took a bunch of shots of the dog so I would have plenty of reference to pull from.  The first step for me then was to look through them all and see what would work best.  The picture above is from when I was working on the computer in Photoshop.  I liked the picture in the middle the best but it was very dark and hard to see some of the details.  I took the middle picture and lightened it up a lot and saved it as a separate file, shown on the left.  I like the color of the middle photo but I wanted to make sure to draw in the details correctly even if they would later be obscured in shadow.  The photo on the right was just one of many I would look at as inspiration and to take small details from.

Since I had the picture I wanted I was ready for the next step, sizing the board and printing out some reference;


Sometime a small painting, no matter how detailed, can get lost on a wall.  Since I wanted the painting to stand out, I decided to work at a decent size, 16″ by 20″.  I had a gessoed board ready so my next step was to print out some reference.  Above are the examples of the printouts I used.  On the left is a good color reference of the most important part, the face.  On the right is an at size composite of four printouts.  I could use the as size composite to pull a tracing from to transfer to the board.  It isn’t necessary to trace every detail, just the main shapes and features as a road map for the painting.


Here is what the tracing looked like before I transferred it on to the board.  I am a huge fan of the trace transfer method of transferring drawings.  Simply said you use the tracing paper like carbon paper.  Trace out an image, flip the paper and draw over your lines with a soft lead pencil, flip the tracing paper again and draw over your lines with the white board underneath.  What you get is a light transfer of the image.


The picture is there but it is very faint.  Some people may choose to paint with this light image but I didn’t.  I like it when parts of the drawing sometimes come through the paint so I wanted to darken things and solidify the drawing.  I also think of this time as practice for really learning about the shape and the features of the subject.  Even with a good tracing I could ruin the likeness really easily if I didn’t pay attention.  All of the drawing was getting me ready to paint.


Above is the completed drawing.  Using the printout, as well as looking closely on the computer, I felt like I had a good foundation to start the painting.  The first step would be to get some basic color on everything.


This is what it looked like after the first washed dried.  Some basic color for me to see how it would work and a bit of shadowing to establish dimension.  A lot of the shadowing was due to the black pigment of the drawing getting pulled and pushed around by the wet paint.  Once it dried along with the acrylic paint,  the pencil would be permanent and would not darken subsequent layers.


The process of adding layers was repeated over and over.  I focused more attention on the head since it was the most important part.  In the head I added more layers of colors and black.  I spent a lot of time on the eyes since they are the detail that I think makes a painting come alive.  The rest of the body was still pretty washy at this point but overall it was still coming along.


This picture shows the painting coming along further again.  The head has been painted in for the most part.  Details like the tongue are 3/4 finished but until I get the body done more they will stay that way.  I remember teachers telling me in the past that painting is a push and pull kind of activity.  When you work on one spot it affects everything around it.  Now that area X looks good it makes the area around it look weaker.  When you work on the surrounding area  and make it look better it eventually makes area X look weaker.  Then you switch back to area X and so on and so on.


This is the painting pretty close to the end.  In the beginning I work with the biggest brushes.  In the middle stages I work with the medium brushes.  When the end comes around I work with small brushes.  For details like whiskers it’s all about the small brushes for precise lines.


And here it is – the finished product.  When the painting was done it was time to apply a coat of GamVar varnish and frame it.  I love this style of frame from Dick Blick and I think it works really well with the painting.  My only regret with this one was that I didn’t finish in time for my Dad’s birthday.  I had to surprise him with the painting only half done and finish it over the rest of the week.


Edit:  I decided to add in a close up of the details of the eyes.  Here they are



  1. Wonderful work! You are very talented!

  2. Whoa. That painting looks great! I loved reading about your process. It’s always fun to see how others work.

  3. Wow…I would so love to learn from you….considering one of your mediums was watercolour…been having issues with that…and I loved the fact that you used the trace method

    • What a nice thing to say! Well I love to teach but unless you are in the NYC area its a bit tough. Watercolor is the most difficult painting medium as it can be totally unforgiving. The key is to not be afraid of making dozens of horrible paintings before you make one good one.
      I do recommend two watercolor books “Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Watercolor” and “Artful Watercolor- Learning to Use the Secrets of Light”. Both books cover all the bases of watercolor really well and can help with some good technical advice.

  4. Hey! Thanks for the like!

    I take it you teach painting in NYC? I’m just about to embark on my own artistic journey which I hope to turn into a career one day. Joining one of your classes might be a little difficult, since NYC is more or less 7000 clicks away.. But if you don’t mind, I’d really appreciate some creative advice via the nets from someone who might know what they’re talking about. No pressure though, but if you feel like commenting and giving advice some time, please don’t hesitate to do so!

    The reflection on that eye though… Wow!

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