Ay Chihuahua! Creating Color from Black and White

Chihuahua: Make color from B&W: Gouache, 8x10"

Chihuahua: Make color from B&W: Gouache, 8×10″

When the Sktchy (see previous post) Weekend Art Extravaganza inspiration was to make a color sketch from a black and white photo I found the photo below and couldn’t resist putting a little color in this little guy’s life. I used to make fun of Chihuahuas, comparing them to rats (which can also actually make good pets if you don’t mind the smell). But after a couple of friends adopted chihuahua mixes, I have come to really appreciate their funny and quirky personalities.

B&W Photo Reference

B&W Photo Reference

Jack London Square Sketch for East Bay SPCA

I was honored when the East Bay SPCA asked to license my sketch of Jack London Square (in the poster below) for their annual Adopt-A-Thon fund-raiser publicity materials. They kindly offered to pay for the use of the image but I was very happy to donate it for their use. As an animal lover I am grateful for the wonderful work the SPCA does to care for and find homes for animals.

You can click the image to get more information about the event. It will be a lot of fun and if you’re looking for a new family member of the furry variety, be sure to visit the Adopt-A-Thon! My original sketch is and info about it is at the bottom of this post.


I sketched the scene below at Jack London Square of London’s old cabin and the wolf statue out front on a gorgeous sunny day and the shadows were in just the right place. It was one of those sketches where everything just worked. In the background are the high-rise office buildings of Downtown Oakland.

Jack London Cabin and Wolf Statue, ink and watercolor, 10x7 in

Jack London Cabin and Wolf Statue, ink and watercolor, 10×7 in

Mika, Formosan Mountain Dog Portrait

Mika, a Formosan Mountain Dog portrait in oil paint on linen panel,, 10x8 in

Mika, a Formosan Mountain Dog portrait in oil paint on linen panel,, 10×8 in

This little cutie was a fun challenge to paint. Below are some steps along the way, including the reference photos that I joined and edited in Photoshop to simplify the background and combine the tops and bottoms of her ears. Her ears were too tall in my first sketch (done in gouache in my journal). I must have added extra length when I assembled the two photos in Photoshop so edited them down to life-size in the painting.

Mika’s owner was happy with the painting and noted that Mika, who is a playful goofball in real life, seems so dignified in the painting. That gave me the idea to ask owners to also provide videos of dogs I’m to paint in the future so I can get a better sense of their personalities. I tried to include some of the family’s garden in Mika’s portrait but I struggled with getting the spring flowers to behave in the background. I painted over them with sky, planning to try them again, but when I sent Mika’s owner a photo of the painting with the sky background, she liked it better that way and so did I.

Leo Take Two: Same Dog, Revised Painting

Leo, Dog Portrait, Take Two, oil on panel, 8x10

Leo, Dog Portrait, Take Two, oil on panel, 8×10

After I varnished Leo’s painting and was going to deliver it to the family that commissioned it, I realized I wasn’t satisfied with the background. I asked for and was granted permission to adjust it. It’s a good thing Leo’s people are very patient: I asked for an extra two weeks but then my dog Millie started having epileptic grand mal seizures and my cat Busby got sick and I was spending more of my time nursing animals than painting them.

Finally, after many visits to the emergency vet hospital, my family vet, and a veterinary neurologist (thank goodness for pet insurance) Millie has stabilized on her meds (no seizures in over a week), and Busby has sadly has passed on to Kitty Heaven. He was a beautiful cat and my remaining kitty Fiona misses him, even though he was a bit of a bully, like big brothers can sometimes be.

Back in the studio I explored how to rework the background. What bothered me was the way the it divided the painting in half vertically and how vague it was. With my realistic approach to the dog, it felt like the background needed more detail so I tried to suggest some of the actual greenery in Leo’s Northern California backyard (see photo below) and added some sky to add depth.

Below, copied from the previous post, are the reference photo and the work in progress before I got to the finished painting above.

Whiskey: A Mini-Aussie Dog Portrait

Whiskey, Portrait of Mini Aussie, oil on Gessobord panel, 8x10 inches

Whiskey, Portrait of Mini Aussie, oil on Gessobord panel, 8×10 inches

I had so much fun painting Whiskey, a Miniature Australian Shepherd, for her owner Diane. I started with a rough sketch (below) on vellum tracing paper (erases easily and is strong) and that’s when I discovered the heart-shaped spot above her nose. I’m not sure if it’s just a reflection or an actual marking in her fur but it was one of those joyful discoveries that happen when you look closely at things.

Preliminary sketch of Whiskey, graphite on vellum tracing paper, 8x10 inches

Preliminary sketch of Whiskey, graphite on vellum tracing paper, 8×10 inches

After sketching her, I printed out an 8×10″ copy of the photo and traced it onto the Gessobord using a sheet of graphite Saral Transfer Paper between the photo and the panel. Ideally I would work on a drawing until it perfectly matched the photo and then transfer the drawing to the panel, but on commissions I need to work a little more quickly than my imperfect drawing skills allow.

Below are 1) my painting and my reference photos, 2) cropped and 3) original. Isn’t she incredibly adorable!

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