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  • Writer's picturePascale Vanbutsele

Tervueren with owner: another double portrait painting

Updated: May 11, 2022

The smile on both their faces, that look of joy! That is what did it for me, that is why I wanted to paint this double portrait in pastels. Little did I know when I started that this was not going to be an easy one. Of course, every pastel painting, whether it is a dog portrait or a people portrait, teaches me something new. That is where the fun is.

Photo of studio set-up with reference photo on the left, pastel painting in the  middle and materials on the right
The very first layer of the face. In hindsight, I can see that the left eye was already skewed.

Oops, something went wrong

The woman's face and hair were done. For the first time since taking up pastel painting, I had recorded the entire process with my smartphone. This filming lark was another learning process, I can tell you. But I wasn't happy with how this came out. There was something very wrong with the woman's left eye. So, being a bit of a perfectionist, I tore up the paper and decided to start again.

So much better the second time around

I am glad I took that decision instead of plodding along. The second attempt is turning out so much better. Although the many folds and wrinkles around the eyes mean it is slow going, I am so much happier with this face. The neck and the colourful necklace are almost too easy. When I cropped the original reference, I took care to leave the necklace in the frame, it has such beautiful colours that nicely contrast with the skin tones.

Couldn't she have worn another jacket!

Pastel painting where the woman is finished but the still has to be done
The embroidered jacket was created stitch after stitch

I am joking, of course, but that is exactly what someone wrote in a comment on my work-in-progress image on Facebook. The embroidery on the jacket has no distinctive pattern, which made it both easy and difficult to replicate in pastel pencils. The fact that it was rather random meant that I didn't have to copy the exact pattern, but just follow it as a guideline. Even so, it was a very finicky job and required a lot of patience. I spent an entire afternoon mimicking the stitching and the folds in the fabric. One stitch after the other, in three different colours: the yarn, the shadow along the bright side and the shadow along the shadow side to make it seem more three dimensional. Some might call me a mad perfectionist, but I am very proud of the result.

The Tervueren, a very popular Belgian shepherd dog

Onto the dog! The Tervueren (also known as Tervuren) as a breed is a very beautiful shepherd dog with an abundant double coat and a very elegant almost majestic posture. It is one of the four varieties of the Belgian shepherd dog and together with his "brother" the Malinois known worldwide. You can read more about the breed history in the book The Belgian Shepherd Dog, 125 Years of Illustrated History written by my father Jean-Marie Vanbutsele.

The many different and often dark markings on the face of the dog made it sometimes difficult to keep the transitions natural where the pale fawn meets the dark fawn that is almost black. I did a lot of squinting with my eyes to get the values correct. And then there is the hair texture that is quite hard to mimic on the chest. In some places, the woolly undercoat is more visible than the smooth long hairs. Ah well, I do love a challenge and I asked the dog for help in getting it right. Yes, I do have silent conversations with the subjects on my easel. I find it gets me in tune with them and usually the drawing goes much smoother if I talk to them when dealing with a difficult part of the painting.

The finishing touches

The finished pastel portrait of a Tervueren and his owner
The finished pastel portrait of a Tervueren and his owner

After approximately 29 hours into the creation I am ready to call the painting finished. After a few extra pencil strokes left and right on the Tervueren's coat, I feel that I can start my usual ritual of saying goodbye before signing the portrait. I am thinking about what I have learned from this artwork. Patience, definitely! Perseverance, trusting my instincts and as always working from the heART.

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