'In this article I will focus on how to use soft pastels to convey the lovely textures of dogs’ coats and features, and how to achieve a sense of form,' says Rebecca de Mendonça. 'I will be demonstrating different types and grades of pastels and pencils to make a variety of marks, which are also useful for other types of subject matter, including portraits and landscapes.
'Remember, every mark tells a story, right from the very beginning of your drawing or painting. The way we make our marks can describe texture, energy and movement. This applies to any subject matter, from animals and people to landscapes. So why not try some experiments and see what happens.'
As pastels are such a tactile medium, it’s easy to draw attention to the eyes and nose with a contrast in textures, as they are smooth, wet and shiny, whereas the rest of the animal’s coat will be soft, silky, coarse or curly.
We can really enjoy these contrasts by varying our use of mark making, and also by using hard and soft pastels, as well as pastel pencils.
There are three main types of marks that can be adapted to most types of dogs’ coats: long hair, short hair, and shiny eyes and noses.
Looking Up, pastel on Colourfix primer, (53x36cm)
In Looking Up (above) you can see how the pastel has been applied using a variety of different marks: the hair on the face is short; on the neck and body it is curly and wavy; and the ears are long and silky.
This dog’s hair grows in different directions, and she is moving so I kept my marks loose and quick to convey the way her coat moves. The variety of browns, rusty reds, creams and greys in her coat mingle and interweave so I used quite a few colours together.
I chose a neutral pink-brown surface to work on and I added the cream background at an early stage in the process, as I needed the softness this gave me to work over with the twisting strokes of her coat.
Marks for short hair
For short hair, such as on the face or for dogs that are short haired all over (see Swankey, below), we can achieve the effect of the coat with hatched marks (and a little light blending, if needed). A coarser haired dog, such as a terrier, could be drawn with hatched marks left unblended.
Swankey, pastel on Colourfix primer, (32x42cm)
1. Hatched marks straight onto the surface, showing the variety of materials used.
Pitt Pastel Pencils give a much finer mark than a soft pastel and are fantastic for this technique.
2. When these hatched marks are applied over a smudged base of soft pastel they produce a much more subtle finish.
By combining your marks in layers you can create many different effects with the same technique.
Experiment with different ways of making marks and don’t always expect to produce a masterpiece each time.
See what you can do with your materials.
Marks for long-haired coats
Let’s look in detail at the variety of marks we can make by changing the types of pastels we use, by changing the way we hold them, and the pressure we apply.
Notice how some of these examples have been smudged with my fingers, and others just left.
1. Twisting marks on the ears using a Unison pastel on its side.
2. Twisting the mark with the Unison pastel onto its end, giving a varied, lively mark.
Changing the pressure really varies the marks as well.
Notice how harder types of pastel produce much sharper marks.
4. Smudging a base layer of Unison pastel to soften the surface.
5. Using twisting marks over this smudged base produces a much softer effect.
It’s Been a Hard Day, pastel on Colourfix primer, (36x53cm)
The painting illustrates even longer, flowing marks.
Demonstration: How to paint a dog's eye
Think of a dog’s eye as a marble within a socket.
Do you remember as a child looking into a marble and seeing how the light lit up the colours within? That is how the light glows in the eye.
Follow this process for drawing an eye.