The Dobermans

Oh, Dobermans. The best dogs ever. They are good-looking, goofy and sweet, and everybody’s afraid of them, so no one messes with you or your stuff! Perfection in a pet. These particular Dobermans were my Mom’s dogs (nay, my “siblings”) and I promised the portraits to her as a very belated birthday gift. But, they were tough…I only had very small, old family photos. And prints, nonetheless! Remember life before digital cameras, when pictures came on paper and not disk drives?

This is what I had to work with:


Karma’s not so bad, but Schatzie’s nose is cut off and Juba is a tiny, pitch black shadow of a dog. Ay yi yi – what did I get myself into?! But a promise is a promise, and this one was a promise to my Mom. There was no turning back. With some supplementary images and a scanner and some fiddling with the brightness and contrast of the images, I was able to work it out. Working with grainy dark photos, the painting ends up a little bit more impressionistic and painterly, whereas with a sharper photo I can include a lot more detail.

I start by creating a sketch on paper from the original photo, roughly the size I was to transpose onto canvas.


Next, I rough that out on the actual canvas and block in the base colours. These colours really just need to be a loose approximation of the overall tone I want to achieve. A lot of layers of colour will happen on top of these initial ones.

mstarkweather_karma1  mstarkweather_karma2

Now, these fields of colour need to be articulated with some highlights and shadows. This is a guideline for myself, so I know where I need to flesh out the form with layers of colour. I work with acrylic paint, usually on canvas. Acrylic can be tricky because it dries very quickly. In order to attain rich, deep tones, I build up many very thin layers of paint. It is time-consuming, but the end result is 100% worth it! In the first photo below, I have painted some highlights and shadows; in the second, I’ve started to build up the colour.

mstarkweather_karma3  mstarkweather_karma4

And, voila! A dog is re-born! Karma-lita-loo, I love you! To see the other two paintings in this series, please visit my Pet Gallery. Enjoy!


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