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How to paint a Westie in acrylic with Lisa Shearing

Posted on Thu 06 Dec 2018

Portrait of a Westie - a pet portrait commission in acrylic by Lisa Shearing

Finished painting Little Rascal, acrylic on 12" x 16" deep edged canvas

I am an amateur painter and have been drawing and painting many subjects for as long as I can remember, but it is only since my children grew up that I decided to take my art further. There was a stage in my life where I needed to boost my income. Near to the office where I worked I noticed a new cafe about to open - feeling very brave I decided to ask if they would like some paintings on their walls to sell, they agreed and that's where it all began. My art began to sell, much to my surprise! It was a good feeling when, as I passed the cafe on way into work, I spotted gaps on the wall and knew that a painting had been sold!  From there, my confidence grew and people began to ask for commissions.  

Several years later, I have now left my full time job and moved to the coast in West Sussex.  It has always been my aim to try and make some income with my painting. When I moved here I decided to specialise in pet portraits, as that was probably the most popular subject with my commissions. I made a website from a template provider and set up a Facebook business page, and it has been really good. I like to think I'm improving all the time but I am forever learning and my best picture is yet to come. I really love doing my pet commissions! I am still to paint of my own pets though - two Ragdoll cats! 

My love for painting dogs began in my local park where I used to live,  Nonsuch Park, Surrey.  I spotted a little Border Terrier sitting outside the cafe of Nonsuch House, he was waiting patiently for his owner,  it was the expression on his face that made me want to paint him right there and then!  I have become addicted to taking photos of dogs whenever I’m out whether shopping, at the beach or in the park. I see something different about every dog, something in their expression or character that makes me want to paint them. I now never go out without my camera and sketchbook ..... it makes life interesting, you never know who you're going to meet, even if it's just at my local shops!

Little Rascal was a commission from my cousin to give to a friend. 

I paint from photos, I prefer to have a number of photos as don't want to literally copy one photo. You need close up ones of the eyes and fur detail as well as the one you are basing the painting on. 

I love my chosen medium of acrylics, it's very versatile and forgiving. It doesn't matter if you go wrong as the painting benefits from having lots of layers. I'm not loyal to a particular brand, I like Liquitex heavy body but I also use Daler Rowney System 3.



  • Deep edged canvas or canvas board (mine was a 12"x16")


  • I use Graduate brushes which are under £3 for any size and I have a collection of old splayed brushes which are good for the different fur textures

Acrylic paints:

  • Graduate mixing white
  • Liquitex
  • Mars black
  • White Titanium
  • Raw umber
  • Burnt umber
  • Ultramarine blue (red shade)
  • Medium Magenta
  • Burnt sienna
  • Brilliant blue
  • Blue
  • Yellow medium

Daler Rowney System 3

  • Wedgwood  (I wouldn't buy this especially, I just happened to have it) 


  • A pile of white paper plates

Step 1

I prime the canvas with a couple of coats of white acrylic and then, using a 2b pencil, I then sketch my dog onto the canvas using the grid method (I use Jacksons Art Supplies grid tool app for iPad). The drawing does not have to be too exact as long as the proportions are correct, I do however try to be as accurate as possible with the eyes. 

Step 2 - Eyes, nose and shadows


I carefully outline the eyes with a rigger brush, I try not to do a solid outline as they will look more realistic if left slightly sketchy. I like to get as much of the eye detail down in this early stage as the painting comes alive with the eyes and it gives me a positive feeling for the rest of the painting if the eyes are looking good! I even put in the eye highlights now, they can always be altered later if you want to. 

I block in the eye colour with a mix of raw umber and burnt sienna. 

I then block in the collar and the metal name disc with a mix of ultramarine blue and burnt sienna (and a touch of white for the disc).  I then use gestural marks for the shadow areas of the fur using a mix of burnt sienna, ultramarine and white. For the ear shadow, I use a mix of raw umber, magenta and varying amounts of white as necessary.

Not forgetting the nose - I like to get the nose looking good at an early stage. I block it in with a light coat of black, paying particular attention to the shape and angle. Take care when doing facial features that they all correspond with each other, the only way is to really look closely at your subject/photo. 

Step 3 - background

I roughly put in a few strokes of ultramarine, a hint of burnt sienna and white, to imitate folds of cloth. The background is a suggestion of being on a bed. This will be worked on throughout the rest of the painting with further glazes. 

I add a little white to the name disc, more to one side to suggest shine. 

I also add some shine to the nose. Using a dry brush method, I just dab the top of the nose with white (mixed with a touch of black).  If nothing seems to come off the brush, moisten it slightly. This is where the old brushes come in handy! Then use a tiny stroke of white for the nostril shine. 

He's starting to come alive now!  

Step 4 - building up fur depth

I carry on building up layers of fur, using varying mixes of burnt sienna with ultramarine blue and white. 

I realised at this stage that the positioning of the back thigh was not right so I painted over it and started again. Thankfully acrylic is very forgiving! You may have also noticed that the back foot is missing?  I was waiting for the owner to supply a photo with back foot showing as in my reference photo his foot was bandaged up!  


To complete the background I laid a thin wash of Wedgwood and added a few bold strokes for folds. While still damp, with a large flat brush, I dragged a thin layer of white over the blue to suggest pillow shapes. 

More layers of fur were added using varying amounts of ultramarine blue and burnt sienna with white. I also added just a few shadowy strokes of fur with a mix of Wedgwood and white.

I love painting a Westie as you can use nice thick chunky strokes of white paint for their hair around the face, particularly where it's been cut! With a fine brush, I added lots of flicks of white paint and a shadow mix for those darker areas, making sure that the fur overlaps the background and not vice versa. 

Then a final study of the photo and check the eyes ... finished I think? This is where I have to walk away quickly!  

See more of Lisa's work in the PaintersOnline gallery by clicking here, or visit her website,

How to paint a Westie in acrylic with Lisa Shearing


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