How to Trick People into Thinking You Can Paint (DIY Dog Portrait)

When my parents moved after I graduated from high school, I found stacks and stacks of art projects that my mom had saved from my elementary school classes where I had drawn vaguely horse-shaped creatures.

It would take a while for me to give up on drawing horses, realizing that I have no artistic abilities whatsoever. To this day I will pick up a pen or paintbrush every now and then, expecting to have magically and unknowingly been blessed with some newfound talent for capturing the image of animals.

My most recent attempt was after a lovely client of mine, an amateur painter, gave me a painting she had recently completed.

Donkey Painting

I was inspired to create a painting of my husband’s dog for his Christmas present, I just had to figure out how to make it happen.

DIY Dog Portrait
(for people who can’t paint good and wanna learn to do other stuff good too)

Supplies required:
Acrylic paints in a variety of colorsPaint brushes (various shapes and sizes)
Plastic plates/cups – to use as palettes and wash your brushes :)
Spray Gloss to seal painting (make sure it is for use with acrylic paints)

If you want to add glitter:
Mod Podge

I bought all of my supplies at Michaels Arts & Crafts. The specific supplies I used were:
Acrylic Fundamentals Set White AcrylicGloss Varnish Canvas Node_IOGLO000030000900001000040000H0001M0001L0000E000020000J0001Y0000200Z8E.ViewAsset Simply Simmons Flat Wash Brush

So, to get started I picked a photo that I wanted to base my painting on.

RoryI then used the Picasa application on my computer to convert the photo into a poster. I selected to increase by 300% for my 24×36″ canvas. You may have to print it a couple of times to see which size fits best. My “poster” printed in six 8.5×11″ pages. (I also printed them in black and white to save ink. I think it helped with differentiating shadows as well.)

After I printed the poster, I taped the sheets together and then cut out the silhouette of the dog with her toy. After cutting the silhouette out, I used it to trace the dog on the canvas. After tracing the entire silhouette I cut out specific features, following the lines between markings and objects to trace in the details. I free-handed some things and traced others. This is how I ensured my proportions were correct (the hardest thing for me as a non-artist, I have no eye for proportion).

Here is the traced image (after I had painted part of the toy).


I started by painting the toy, since it was the simplest element in the painting. I learned a couple of things in my first attempt with acrylic paints and these particular brushes. You HAVE to mix every color with white. For whatever reason (a real artist could tell you, I’m sure) the colors DO NOT look good unmixed. They are very translucent, and even the slightest amount of white paint makes them opaque, the way you want them to appear. I bought approximately 3 extra brown colors in addition to the ones included in my starter set. I tried to get close to the colors I would need on my dog, but I mixed new colors anyway, which yielded a better result. It may seem simpler to just buy the exact colors you need… DON’T DO THIS. I promise you will be happier if you just mix them yourself.

I also learned that the angle brush would quickly become my best friend. I used a nice tiny round brush for dots, like the eye on the toy and the shine in the dog’s eyes, but that was all I used that brush for. The small angle brush created nice sharp edges and was easiest for me to use. I also used a large flat “wash” brush to paint the background because it easily covered large areas.

IMG_1515Now, I’m sorry because I didn’t intend for this to be a how-to, DIY post, and I’m kind of going to pull one of these:

How to Draw OwlBut anyway, here is basically the final product.

Rory PaintingNow, I shaded some of the lighter areas on the dog (and convinced myself I was being really artistic) by going from lighter to darker shades of brown. I would add white directly on the canvas to areas that I wanted to have more of a highlighted look, and then blended it in as best I could. The best part is that if you mess up you can just paint over it, although you may have to wait for it to dry in between. After I had the dog finished, I painted the entire background with white acrylic paint to have a more finished look.

I also wanted to add a little glitter to the painting, so I painted a layer of Mod Podge over the dog’s tag, and then sprinkled glitter over it. Obviously I waited until the paint was dry on the rest of the painting to do this. Then I shook off the excess glitter, painted another layer of Mod Podge on, did another layer of glitter, shook off the excess again, and topped it with a third layer of Mod Podge to seal in the glitter. Once my Mod Podge was dry, I sprayed the entire painting with high gloss varnish to protect it and prevent it from yellowing over time.

Here is the final product.

Rory Painting

IMG_1815Not too shabby for someone who has never painted before! My husband was really impressed with his present :)

I was feeling very self-conscious about it, and didn’t know if it was any good until he told me had been showing pictures of it to the people he works with, and I had several people ask who I had commissioned for Rory’s painting! I’m going to try to do one of my horse next, so we’ll see how well that one turns out. I want it to be huge!

If anyone else tries my methods please share your efforts, I would love to see them!


One thought on “How to Trick People into Thinking You Can Paint (DIY Dog Portrait)

  1. Pingback: Tricking People Into Thinking You Can Paint, Part II (DIY: Animal Portrait) | Veterinarianess

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