The Nose Knows

Dog nose painting
Sniffer | 16 x 20″ | Oil on Canvas Board

Those of you with nosy dogs might want to call this “hey, whatcha eatin’?” Either way, the nose of a dog is without question one of the most amazing features of any creature on the planet. I’ve read a couple of books that extol the power of the almighty wet nose, which has been helpful in understanding how my furballs perceive and investigate the world around them. It also led my wife and I to play games with our pups that essentially exercise their noses, which turns out is very effective in wearing them out.

Dog nose reference photo

The perspective for this composition is from an unusual angle, namely underneath the head, but somehow looking up at the nose. It was a bit of self-inflicted mental torment because I kept pausing the work to make sure this is what a dog’s nose looks like when they go poking it up in the air. Every time I was sure the reference photo was somehow wrong, I would go check out my dog’s nose and sure enough, that’s what it looked like.

As a larger piece, I had some key decisions to make regarding how to render the fur and random hair structure under the mouth. I opted for size 4 and 6 brushes, mostly rounds and flats, to balance the realism of hair while not committing to individual strands throughout. The key with this kind of structure is to ensure disciplined layers that start dark and eventually work light. I also found it useful to do a fair amount of wet-on-wet to get a homogenous look / texture to the hair.

Studio view of dog nose painting

There was a lot of stepping back from this piece to get proper perspective. My plan (always have a plan!) was to view this painting from at least 10 feet, which would allow the observer to really get a sense of the whole snout and see the nose as the focal point. I know this will sound silly, but I kept likening it to an ice cream sundae with a bourbon cherry on top. To draw people to the nose, the texture was critical. This was largely accomplished through a variation of dark mixes, mind you no pure blacks, but warm blues, cool dark reds, and warm yellows to mute the saturation.

Lastly, from a technique perspective, I used a couple of really beat to shit brushes to create that classic dog nose texture. I did some scumbling I suppose, but most of what I was doing didn’t have a painting term – I was basically just smashing and tapping these old brushes loaded with paint all over the nose, creating various transitions in planes and values until it looked right.

I really enjoyed doing this piece and I’m ecstatic that my wife loves it, too. This particular piece is going on our walls once it’s dry, but it will not be the last time I paint a beloved dog sniffer.

Thanks for reading!

#artbern #berntx #crashboomzip #painting #art #abplanalp #austinartists #rescuedogs #bestfriends #dogsofinstagram #dogsofinsta #dogstagram #oilpainting #fineart #petsofinstagram #contemporaryart #fosteringsaveslives #dogsofig #adoptme #takemehome #austinpetsalive #mutts #muttsofinstagram #snouts #wetnoses

Puppy Butts!

Puppy Butts!  | 6” x 8” | Oil on Canvas Board

The inspiration for this piece needs no explanation – even my cat loving friends love a cute puppy butt! 

I used various photos and paintings as reference points for this furry pack, but the common element was first and foremost the lighting. The goal was to capture the time of day, walking along the beach as the sun was either rising or setting. The golden coats of the pups simply glow in this lighting as they explore the beach during a receding tide, with mom in the lead looking for, well, who knows what. 

My wife and I enjoy fostering dogs, especially mom’s and their puppies. That experience has taught me a few things about rescue pups. First, they know it and they show it – if you haven’t had this experience, you’re missing out. Second, nothing beats watching puppies explore the world as they try to play with everything and everyone they meet, including each other. Finally, puppy butts are just plain cute!

The paint colors were tricky to get just right because there is so much golden yellow throughout. The use of cool blacks (Ultramarine Blue and a little Burnt Sienna) for the paw pads and where the paws touch the beach help give definition and “pop”. Originally I wasn’t going to try to incorporate any reflections in the little pools of water along the beach, but having seen this work well in other paintings I decided to give it a go.  I’m glad I did because it really helps give depth and movement to the scene. 

Just as they encouraged and inspired me in this composition, I’d highly recommend fostering or adopting a rescue dog at some point. In my experience you can find any breed, age, and personality in your local or regional shelter or rescue group.

#dontbreedorbuy #rescuedogs #bestfriends #dogsofinstagram #dogsofinsta #dogstagram #oilpainting #fineart #petsofinstagram #contemporaryart #fosteringsaveslives #dogsofig #adoptme #takemehome #austinpetsalive #atx #berntx #crashboomzip #oilpainting #austinartists #abplanalp

Dangling Paws

Dangling Paws | 18” x 12” | Oil on Canvas Board

This piece is inspired by playtime with Wolfy, who loves fetch despite the challenge of galloping around with his huge paws!

Dangling Paws

There were a few new challenges with this piece, namely capturing the various golden browns of Wolfy’s shepherd-hound coat, as well as the texture of his paws. The key to the coloring was working in various reds and warm yellows, but it took a lot of experimentation to get the right likeness. The paws were more about the texture from using a painting knife instead of a brush, which made the surface of the paws look rough and realistic.

However, the hardest part was the dog bed. I got it in my head that the pattern of the bed would help give the sense of plush comfort that Wolfy’s 85 pounds was enjoying as he slept with his head and paws dangling off the edges. It turned out to be effective, but the next time the bed will have no artistic flair.

Thanks for reading!

Lyra – Spotty Dog Portrait

This one was a challenge for a few reasons. First, this adorable pup is a newly rescued dog one of my good friends adopted recently, so there’s the pressure of getting it right for a multitude of reasons. Secondly, Lyra’s stare is very intense in this portrait, so the need to capture that “what are you looking at?” essence is a new challenge for me. And lastly, Lyra has LOTS OF SPOTS!

Looking through the progression shots in the gallery below, it’s clear that there were a few challenges with the length of her snout. There’s nothing more frustrating than nailing a dog’s nose only to realize that it needs to be erased because you gave the pup a Pinocchio nose. Glad I did opt to erase, though, because it made all the difference in getting her likeness right. In fact, this composition reminded me that I frequently err on the side of Pinocchio noses, so I need to remind myself every time I start a portrait to keep it short!

Back to my friends who adopted Lyra…. she’s a lucky girl to have found such a great home! My friends live in a part of the country that lends itself to great outdoor adventures and plenty of room to run. While there were some lose leash walking and other training challenges early on, Lyra eventually figured out what was expected of her and what seemed like insurmountable issues became distant memories. It never ceases to amaze me how adaptable dogs are to the world, so willing to forgive and live in the now while embracing those who show them love and compassion.

Adopt, don’t buy!

Wolfgang Portrait

Graphite on Paper | 4” x 6” 

Wolfgang Portrait

Say hello to Wolfgang (Wolfy), who was willing to take a short break from his squirrel hunting to pose for this quick portrait. This is a smaller piece that isn’t quite as refined and complete as the previous Happy Lab portrait from last month, but the intent was to practice a couple of smaller drawings before taking on a more comprehensive composition.

This is actually the second effort at this portrait, the first having gotten off track just enough to warrant starting over. Despite carefully checking and verifying the dimensions and proportions along the way, somewhere along the process I inadvertently extended his snout, which threw everything off. It took me a little while to figure out what was going on, as the error was ultimately very small, but that seems to be the challenge with portraits – the slightest proportional error is magnified, but it sneaks up on you in a very insidious way. 

I also wasn’t very happy with the focal point of his left eye in the original effort, which I had redrawn at least twice prior to discovering the proportional issue with his snout, so I decided to restart the entire composition. Rather than flipping to another page in my drawing book, I used the opposite page so I could contrast and compare along the way. The immediacy of the failed effort staring me in the face proved very helpful as a reminder of where the key problem areas were initially.

Final on Left | Initial Fail on Right

In the end Wolfy’s draft portrait came to life pretty nicely – see progression gallery below. It’s very hard for me to incorporate the variations of his brown, gold, and black coat, but focusing on the key patterns instead of every detail captured the essence of his inquisitive look and cute face. 

Happy Lab Portrait

Graphite on Paper | 6” x 8” 

Happy Lab Portrait | Graphite on Paper

This Labrador’s smile and overall happy, expressive face quickly caught my attention. I have no idea who this dog is, but I know s/he’s never met a stranger. 

I thoroughly enjoyed the slow, methodical pace of working through this drawing. One of my focal areas this year is something I call “dogs in motion”, basically dog’s doing stuff (see Frisbee Dog), which remains my primary interest when it comes to dog related art. However, the challenge of doing a realistic dog portrait has always nagged at me, in large part because I could never figure it out. This composition is either a fluke, which is entirely possible, or something clicked in my art brain – my big, smushy, oft confused art brain. 

The technical keys to this drawing, at least for me, were as follows:

  • Proportions: Free-hand drawing, no tracing is mandatory for me… otherwise I won’t learn a damn thing. There’s something elusive about getting the snout of a dog just so. Eye spacing and size of the nose, which is a lot bigger than you think, were also key.
  • Eyes: Oh those precious stares! The expressive nature of a dog oftentimes exudes from their eyes, but I realized so much of that expression is from the hair around the eyes, too. 
  • Hair Strokes: The darker areas of the coat are a combination of different types of pencil hardness, but also more variations of stroke density, i.e. darker areas have more strokes, which is obvious now that I say it aloud. 

Hopefully the progression shots above are helpful to see the compositional approach. There’s a lot of bouncing around, but ultimately it’s about getting the eyes and nose nailed and then building out from those anchors. 

Thanks for reading!

Frisbee Dog!

Frisbee Dog | Graphite on Paper

One of my dogs, Zip, is obsessed with 2 things in life: food and anything thrown. I used to think her love was exclusive to tennis balls, but over the years I’ve learned that not unlike her willingness to eat anything thrown into her food bowl, she will retrieve anything thrown across her yard. The day she trained me to sling a frisbee was a fond day indeed… for both of us. It’s her insatiable drive (dare I say “lust”?) to retrieve that inspired this drawing of Frisbee Dog

No, this is not Zip, but the reference photo captures all the key elements of a dog in motion doing her thing. The face is particularly tricky, in large part because it’s obscured and squinty, which mutes distinguishing features like eyes and ears. But you gotta love the open mouth and all those frisbee hungry teeth! 

The gallery includes a reference photo and two versions of the drawing. Granted, the drawing is a rough study and not intended to be a refined composition, I thought it was interesting to see how different photo settings can change the look and feel of a piece of art. Using the same source photo of the final drawing, one is set to sharper detail while the other uses a soft setting to remove some of the detail of the pencil strokes. Bear in mind this drawing is done in my sketch book on thin, see-through pages; there’s not a lot of teeth in the paper, thus the relatively rough nature of the drawing. Also, the entire piece was done with only 3 pencils – 2B, HB, and H. 
I think this type of subject would make for a good painting.

I’ll try a few more drawings of frisbee dogs and then make the jump to the canvass. 

Squirrel Watch

Pivoting from painting to drawing last week and finally made the time to finish this one. Squirrel Watch is pretty self explanatory – Wolfgang, my 3 year old rescue mutt, sitting in the yard watching the tree tops for the infiltrators! 

One of my artistic goals this year is to improve my dog related art skills. I’m not a big fan of dog portraits, however, I thoroughly enjoy what I like to call “dogs doing stuff”, creating intrigue through motion and activity. Over the coming months I’ll work on various dog related pieces that capture the essence of dogs being dogs as they do their thing. 

Squirrel Watch | graphite on paper

Squirrel Watch was done over the course of a few weeks – I have no idea how long it took, but I wouldn’t be surprised if I spent 6 hours on this relatively small piece. There were a lot of mistakes along the way, but nothing an eraser and some patience couldn’t remedy. 

This isn’t a piece I would frame and hang, but I’m pleased with it from a progress perspective. It’s also riddled with lessons learned, so if you zoom in to see the details you can spot various styles and techniques.

Here’s what I learned and need to remember for future drawings:

  • It’s not necessary to draw hair detail throughout the subject. In this piece, the emphasis should have been on shading and shape foremost, whereas hair detail should be secondary. 
  • Draw hair details with a clear understanding of actual direction of the hair on the dog.
  • Work hair dark to light. 
  • Most of the hair detail can be accomplished using 2B, HB, and H pencils.
  • Show wrinkles in the coat by changing the density of hairs, i.e. closer together or further apart.
  • Dog paws are hard to draw, dammit! 
  • Blades of grass can be done by either individual strokes or by lifting out shading with a thin eraser. 


Say hello to PB&K the latest addition to the Dog Toys series, although it might be more appropriate to start a new sub-category called “Cheeky Still Life”.

The Kong was done with a painting knife to give it the subtle texture of a well worn, go-to Fido favorite. As any dog lover would attest, especially the big chewers, a peanut butter stuffed Kong is a great source of entertainment… and protein. Even the most hearty chewers have trouble putting a dent in one of these rubber wonders, but they do lose their sheen and get a roughed up look over time. By contrast, the (creamy) peanut butter and the remainder of the composition is all impasto-free brushwork.

Ultimately, the intent of the composition is to make every dog parent look, nod, and laugh at the reality of what we’re all willing to do for our lovable canine companions.

  • Oil on canvas paper, 8″x10″
  • Palette knife and an array of brushes (rounds and flats)
  • Key colors
    • Peanut Butter – Yellow Ochre, Naples Yellow
    • Kong – Ivory Black + Ultramarine Blue, Burnt Sienna + Ultramarine Blue

Dances With Squirrels

Dances With Squirrels (study)
6″x8″, Oil on canvass paper
This simple study piece is done, although I invested more time in the composition than originally planned. I rarely do a study as a painting (if you’re not familiar with the term “study” in this context, here’s a short summary on Wikipedia here), opting for a drawing instead (which I had already done previously, as noted in the Meteors and Squirrels post last week), but my goal was to practice the brushwork needed to capture a dog in motion from a short distance. I also wasn’t sure how well this composition would translate to the canvass. I learned a lot in this exercise. 

First, I was surprised that the dog (Wolfgang) portion of the painting wasn’t very difficult, probably due in part to the various practice sketches done previously. The trick was to apply the darker parts of his coat last, which might technically be incorrect, but it was easier to manipulate the black shapes on his coat if it was the last step.
There are a number of compositional changes that will need to be made for the “real” piece:
  • The fence was both boring, distracting, and worst of all had many of the same values and hues of the trees and the dog, which made it hard to work into the layout effectively. I think the fence will be removed going forward. 
  • The trees were tricky from a color perspective. In real life, they’re a weird gray black, basically a color graveyard, so making them interesting took time. The other problem, which I haven’t yet solved, is ensuring their coloring isn’t too similar to the Wolfgang’s black and golden brown coat. 
  • ​The coloring of the grasses are fine, but the shadows will need more attention in a formal composition. They’re a real highlight of the work because they give a more comprehensive feel of the height and breadth of the tree tops, which are out of the frame.
  • Last but not least, that pesky squirrel. I was so focused on how to paint the dog that I hadn’t given any thought to the squirrel. Have you tried to paint a squirrel? The good news is that my lack of practice painting rodents might have worked to the benefit of the composition because the squirrel is very hard to see against the light blue sky background, so the viewer has to follow the gaze of the dog to find the squirrel. And there’s our compositional intrigue!
I’m going to wait a few weeks before firing up an actual painting based on this study, but I think it’ll be an eye catching, tall, narrow canvass layout that should be fun to create.
Thanks for visiting! ​