Step-by-step black labrador in watercolour

Well, golly gosh, it’s been a year since I’ve posted on this blog. Pathetic or what? It’s been busy, that’s my only excuse – lots of writing, lots of painting, lots of being a mum….. So, anyway I thought I would kick things off again with a step-by-step of a black labroador.

Now black is a challenge in watercolour. Being a transparent medium you need the white of the paper to shine through to give it a bit of a sparkle. What you don’t want is for the painting to look like a black blob. The other challenge is that if you are working from a photograph, getting a decent picture of a black animal is hard – more black blobs…. I was lucky with Roscoe, as his owner had taken some really well lit photos and being an older dog, he had grey patches. If my dark went a bit grey, then it would not look out of place, whereas a grey lab puppy would be wrong. So, the approach I take is to create a dark from two pigments and use those colours in the highlights.


I started by sketching him on Bockingford 200lb not paper. Not too much detail, but enough to make sure the proportions were right. I mixed up nice deep wells of colour – alizarin, teal blue, quin sienna, quin magenta, transparent turquoise.


I painted the iris first and let it dry, then went in dark. Usually you go light to dark in watercolour, but I think on such a dark subject you need to map in the darkest first.

I kept my nerve, as Roscoe looked a bit spooky without pupils. I was relieved once he lost his devil eyes!Image

The background was mostly from letting the colours bleed out into clean water, except at the top where I wanted a stronger colour, so I painted it upside down to let gravity do the work for me. A little salt helped add texture and interest. The teal blue reacts really well with salt and is my current favourite paint.


I let everything dry and then darked some parts and used a touch of gouache to add a few details and then cropped his down, before taking a pic and sending it off to his owners, in the hope they like the painting. Am waiting to hear – always a little nerve wracking!



3 thoughts on “Step-by-step black labrador in watercolour”

    1. Thanks Tracy. I went to your blog and love the photo of you painting at the top of the cliffs – looks like a high risk strategy to me! Really like the palette knife work in your landscapes – full of energy.

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