Tutorial – How to Paint a Chow-Chow

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Artwork-Zebra Zensations Technical Pen and QoR watercolor on a Hahnemühle Cold Pressed Watercolor Postcard. Brushes: Princeton Elite Travel Brush set. Reference photo courtesy of MartinHolzer on Pixabay

This painting is what is known as a ‘line and wash’ because it is drawn in pen first and then painted with watercolor.

Today, my hubby took a Chow Chow in his lunch bag. Originating in Northern China, the Chow is called Songshi-Quan, which means ‘Puffy-lion dog.

Before You Start

I have been known to start drawing/painting without a clue as to what I want and then decide once I start. But usually when I have a photo reference, I find it better to decide what I like about that photo. This helps choose my tools.

I loved the dog’s expression – I wanted to capture that and I wanted the impression of deep, plush fur.

While, I used the photo’s color as a guide, I didn’t care as much whether I got the exact colors. Close would be good enough


(This scan is darkened so you can see the pencil lines. You should pencil lines in lightly)

The shapes were pretty simple in this, but in a face perspective and distance between shapes can make a big difference. For this reason, I used the grid method to pencil in my drawing. (see link below for an online grid you can use on your photos).

Not sure if you’re up to drawing this? Art Tutor has a great grid program that will help by applying a grid to your uploaded photo. You can also crop and adjust color and value.


I like the look of line and wash paintings, so I usually draw my lines and values with at least a .03 nib pen. This time, however, I decided I wanted my lines to pretty much disappear so I went with a .01 nib.

Why even use a pen, if the lines won’t be seen? Well, they are seen, but they blend in well enough that most people don’t even notice they are there.

One of the things that can be difficult with watercolor is getting distinct edges and/or texture, especially if you are going for a soft, blended look, and even more so if you are painting something small, like a postcard. Using thin pen lines can help you get both. The pen provides the distinct lines and some texture while the paint gives you a soft, dreamy look.

Something happened while I was drawing. I already knew I want fluffy clouds of fur. I got to this point in the drawing and it hit me. The drawing was done.

I wanted the distinct edges for the face – the expression. But I wanted soft, soft, soft for the rest of the fur.


I had a previous mixed Brown, using QoR Cadmium Red Light, Manganese Blue and Quinacridone Gold. I also used QoR Quinacridone Violet and QoR Ultramarine Blue Violet.

For the nose and the tongue I used a light wash of Cadmium Red Light. Don’t let the ‘light’ in that name fool you.

This is a powerful color, so I dip my brush (an Aqua Elite that I know will hold lots of water) into the water and hold it there for a slow count of five and then touch it to Cadmium Red Light that is already softened.

I mention counting – even if a brush holds a lot of water, it needs time to soak up the water. Brushes will differ, but if you learn how long to let it soak up, you can control a lot of how light or dark you color will be.

The same thing with the color. Get your brush wet, and then run the brush gently through color that has already been softened with water. Keep the brush moving while you count. For the tongue, I touched the cadmium red light for a count of one. I swirled it over the red for a count of two for the nose.

After a while, you stop counting and just kind of know how long to dunk.

Note for beginners: Do NOT set your brush tip down in the water and leave it. Keep the tip from hitting bottom at all times. You will damage your brush irreparably if you leave it sitting or bounce it on the bottom of your water glass!

Note that this technique won’t work unless you have a ‘thirsty’ brush – one that soaks water and paint up very well. You can also just premix your paint with water to the consistency you want.


  • Brush Counting
    • You don’t need as much palette room
    • You don’t need to keep mixing if you don’t mix enough
    • You can adjust on the fly instead of fussing with a large pool of paint and ending up with far more than you need
  • Premixing
    • More exact consistency throughout the painting
    • Your brush doesn’t need to be as thirsty.
    • It’s easier to get a creamy to thick mix
    • Works better for larger paintings

Once, the cadmium red light was dry, I used Ultramarine Blue Violet for the blue on the tongue, the fur between the mouth & nose and the shadows on the nose.

I used Quinacridone Gold for the eyes, and then once that dried, I added shadow color with the brown mix. The scan didn’t pick up the shadows for some reason.

Charlie O’Shields often shares some of his techniques in his daily rambles at Doodlewash.com and in his ‘Sketching Stuff Activity Book: Nature’ (see link below). I used one of his techniques here, by painting the darker areas first, and then using a brush to spread the color out in some areas.

For the darkest shadow values along the top of the mouth and around the gums, I took some of the brown mix and added more ultramarine blue-violet until the mix was closer to a black.

Then I add more water to my brush – a 2 or 3 count and do a 2 count to the black and paint light shadows around the face and up into the fur at the top.

The next value was painted with the original brown mix – about a 5-count dunk of water, and then 5-count gently swirling it through the pre-moistened brown mix.

While the black and brown was still damp, I cleaned and blotted my brush until it was also damp and dunked it for a 2-count. Then starting around the edges of the paint, I pick up some of the color on the brush, and pull it out to the edge of paper. I wiggle it to get the texture of the dog’s hair.

In some areas I start pulling from further in, to get more dark color. In some areas I barely touch the brown and get just the faintest of color.

Whew! I didn’t expect this to turn into a book, lol.


And where you can buy them

Hahnemühle Cold Press Watercolor Postcards (review).

Zebra Zensations Technical pens (review)

Princeton Aqua Elite Travel Brush Set, Series 4850 Synthetic Kolinsky  (review)

QoR Watercolor 11ml tube:

Sketching Stuff Activity Book – Nature

Published by Life Imitates Doodles Art, Reviews & Tutorials

Artist Ambassador for Zebra Pens. I'm a self-taught artist who dances about with all sorts of artistic mediums. My main loves are Watercolor, Zentangle and Ballpoint pen. The subjects of my work are many and varied and change at whim. I'm a little bit crazy, but doesn't that come with being an artist? At my Life Imitates Doodles Blog, I post a list of resource links for Tangles, Tutorials and Giveaways two times a week. I also write reviews, hold giveaways and share my art work.

15 thoughts on “Tutorial – How to Paint a Chow-Chow

  1. Love the expression on your chow-chow! Interesting reading about your thirsty brush method. Thanks.

  2. I didn’t know that about not touching the bottom of the glass with your brush. I see people in videos leave their brushes sitting in water all the time. I guess I never thought about what damage it might be doing. so thanks – helpful information

  3. Thanks for the detailed info on how you determine how much water you need! I count a lot when cooking – pouring things especially, but I never thought of it in painting! I’ve bookmarked this so I can find it when I can play!

  4. I downloaded your sheet and wanted to say THANK YOU! It is such a time consuming thing to write all that out and to provide it to us is SO nice. I will definitely use this. I want to get better at dogs…so I can paint my dogs 🙂

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