Puppy! – Pencil to Paint Tutorial

Artwork-Zebra Zensations Technical Pen and Daniel Smith watercolor on a Hahnemühle Cold Pressed Watercolor Postcard. Brushes: Jane Davenport Travel Watercolor Brush Collapsible Mini Paint Brush and Jack Richeson Richeson Grey Matters Synthetic Watercolor Flat 1/4 in.

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

Did you know that dogs have over 100 expressions, most of them created by the ears?

Before You Start

Reference photo courtesy of Oldiefan on Pixabay. G

What’s to even think about? This puppy’s so stinkin’ cute and that’s what I want. And I decide that those eyes will be the most important thing in the painting.

I can almost hear some of you saying desperately, “I know I want cute, but how do I get it?” Look closely and take note of:

  • wild, fluffy ears
    • bottom of one ear is higher than the other
  • large, clear eyes
  • lovely chocolate color – hints of lavender and red
  • the slight head tilt
  • width and height of the head compared to width and height of the snout
    • always important but the head is larger in babies of all kinds. Better to exaggerate that than to make the head too small

The one detail I decided to leave out? In the mid background there’s an object that looks a bit like the puppy’s tail, but whoosh, what a long tail that would be. I’m not sure what it is, but it ain’t going into my painting, lol.

I did a Chocolate Labrador Retriever Puppy postcard a while back, and I’ll use the same colors for this painting.


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

Gridlines added via the Art Tutor Grid program.

Truthfully, the shapes in this photo are simple enough that I didn’t need a grid. But I thought it was time to focus on the drawing portion of my postcards, and this makes it easier to show you what I’m doing.

Keep in mind, too, that with experience this stage of the process usually takes seconds. I have to slow down in order to explain it, because it’s so automatic to me now.

I have a bunch of postcards that I’ve drawn grids on. Rather than draw the grid on the card that I’ll paint, I put it underneath. If I can’t see the grid, I use a lightbox (for the grid and the card I’m drawing on. Not the photo reference).

Note that the grids don’t have to be exact. They’re just meant to be a guide.

I did some photoshopping to make it so you could see the pencil drawing and the grid together. In real life, my drawing has no grid lines and it is much lighter.

My last Pencil to Paint tutorial was a peacock, and if you read that, you’ll know that I started with the overall shape and worked inward. I chose to do that because the peacock was a real challenge to fit on the page and there was so much detail, it was important to get those shapes down first.

This is a much simpler drawing, so I started with the exact opposite. Note that many artists always start with the outer shape and work in.

I start with the eyes because want them to be my central focus. Then I draw the nose, the the outline of the head, then the body and then add a little facial detail.

I use the pencil drawing to fit the puppy to the page, establish the major shapes, and place the most important details. I don’t worry about the background at all. This is also the time where I make sure the eyes are the same size and in the correct relationship to one another.

It doesn’t matter at this point if everything is exactly right. I can make adjustments when I use pen (or paint, if I were going to skip the pen drawing). This is meant to be a guide that will allow me to change my mind if I wish to.

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 did a pretty detailed pen drawing, knowing that much of it would disappear under the paint. Gasp! All that drawing for nothing?

It’s not. There is a technique’ Grisaille‘ that refers to underpainting with gray tones before adding color. What I’m doing is similar. I’m creating a map for myself, creating a unity to the painting and it’s something that will affect the finished work, whether the viewer sees the pen lines or not.

When I say ‘mapping’, I’m establishing values – light to dark, the direction of the fur, areas of interest and the kind of edges that I want.

Knowing the kind of edges you want is important. Getting them is a matter of practice and has to do with the amount of water to the amount of paint and whether you add paint to a dry area of paper, a damp area, or a wet area.

But what are edges? (feel free to skip this if you already know)

  • hard edges
    • color changes abruptly, lying next to each other with no mingling
  • soft edges
    • the point where color changes is easily seen, but the colors mingle at the line where they change
  • lost and found edges
    • two or more colors are easily seen, but they mingle so much that it is hard to see where the actual change begins.

Obviously, you create these edges when you are painting, but I establish where I’ll put them while I’m drawing. Some examples:

At the top of the head, I just leave the pencil line. This is where the light is glowing off the fur. I’ll create a soft edge where the color just fades away.

I’ll add hard edges around the eyes. Note the distinct little furry shapes along the snout down from the bottom corner of the eye? I’ll use negative painting, painting darker around those shapes to create hard edges at various points. Not too much, but enough to imply clumps of fur rather than single hairs.

You can control where there will be lost and found edges but beyond that you have to let them happen, and they are done entirely with the paint.

It pays to think about edges ahead of times. Those times when you are unhappy with a painting and aren’t certain why? Look at your edges – they might be part of the reason.

Values= dark to light. When you establish your values, you are deciding where the darkest areas are, and some of the important mid-tones.


I start with Raw Sienna for the eyes and a touch along the snout.

Piemontite Genuine is a Daniel Smith Primatek color, made from natural mineral pigments and it is one of my favorites. It is also an expensive color. Some mixes of PBr7/PV19, such as Raw Umber Violet, are similar and usually cheaper, so if cost is an issue they might be a better choice. Another option – Piemontite Genuine is available as one of Daniel Smith’s watercolor sticks.

These watercolor sticks look a bit like pastel, but are stickier. I cut them up and put them into watercolor pans, but you can use them in other ways. The sticks are usually much cheaper than the tubes.

Lavender was added and some Aussie Red Gold. I felt it was applied too thickly and lifted a lot of it, didn’t like the resulting color and re-applied more color. Two or three times.

I was fighting the brush that I was using (I wrote about it yesterday), not happy with the amount of color being put down (too much for this stage). I’m still learning how this brush works so I accepted that my plan was not working and adjusted my strategy.

Switching to my Grey Matters 1/4 inch Flat brush helped. Not that my first brush was a bad one, but it was not right for the techniques I was using. Now I know.

My plan was to have lost and found edges, created with wet-into-wet technique on most of the head and ears. This technique doesn’t work well on paper after color has been lifted. I was using a more appropriate brush, but needed a different technique as well. There are soft edges but many more hard edges than I originally intended.

Lavender wasn’t meant to be the dominant color, but it started to happen, and I liked it so I went with it.

Essentially, I lifted most of the color from my earlier attempt, let the paper dry and painted again. I knew I could do this with the Hahnemühle Cold-pressed paper. As long as I don’t scrub too hard, this paper takes a lot of lifting.

You can see along the top of the head – there is some ugly there that I couldn’t fix. Chances are, most of you wouldn’t notice if I hadn’t pointed it out. But it’s the kind of thing you notice when you are the artist and getting frustrated. I let it go and I believe the painting works even with it.

Lavender is an opaque color, so it hides colors underneath. It can also appear chalky. My challenge was to balance the Piemontite so it made the Lavender glow. Adding Aussie Red Gold to the background, and a little to the eyes, helped. I used Rose of Ultramarine in the shadowed areas.

A wash of Undersea Green was used for the grass,

I added shadow and darkened the pupils of the eyes with a thin wash of Piemontite Genuine and called the work finished.

After Thoughts

I sort of switched gears on you, didn’t I?

This tutorial was written as I scanned in each step, so the details would be fresh in my mind. I was focusing on edges, and suddenly I was writing about changing style mid-stream.

I was conflicted. Should I rewrite the earlier steps and make the tutorial more cohesive, or let it stand and make it a tutorial about adapting? I let it stand and hope it was helpful.

Paintings often go pear-shaped when you meant them to be apples. Being able to adapt can result in something wonderful, even if it isn’t what you planned on. And no matter what happens, you learn something valuable that will make you a better artist.


And where you can buy them

Jack Richeson Richeson Grey Matters Synthetic Watercolor Flat 1/4

Jane Davenport Travel Watercolor Brush Collapsible Mini Paint Brush

Zebra Zensations Technical pens (review)

Zebra Zensations Drafix Technical Pencil, 0.5mm

Hahnemühle Cold Pressed Watercolor Postcard

DANIEL SMITH watercolor:

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.

9 thoughts on “Puppy! – Pencil to Paint Tutorial

  1. Aww, Sandra. I was so thankful to receive this sweet boy today. Thank you for your post cards. I’m having lots of fun with them, and I’m also thankful for your contributions to this newbie!

    Happy Day!
    Fanna Turano

  2. I learned so much from this post Sandra! I did not even notice you switched gears, I was so deep in thought. LOL! Thank you for taking the time to do this. I might print it out just to refer back to. 😉

  3. Once again, you nailed the cuteness factor! Those eyes! Such a wonderful tutorial…it is even better that you left the gear-shifting in, makes us beginners realize that happens often!

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