Three images of dogs in painting that come to mind:

Jan van Eyck’s ” Arnolfini Wedding” from 1434 is one of the early wonders of oil painting, and it shows the superior capabilities of oil over tempera. At the feet of the bridal couple stands a little hound, a Flemish poodle of sorts, every hair of its coat meticulously present. The dog stands for fidelity, but it also announces its proud ownership of the marital couple. Below is a detail from Titian’s “The death of Acteon,” in the National Gallery, London.

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It was painted in 1560 and shows Acteon being turned into a deer and set upon by his own hunting dogs. This as punishment for spying on the bathing goddess Diana. Rather harsh, that.

There is Goya’s “Head of a dog” from the early 1820’s.

Head of a Dog.(detail)

Head of a Dog.(detail)

The dog appears marooned in quicksand and stares up into a vast expanse of nothingness. A remarkably modern and poignant painting, done on the walls of his farmhouse near Madrid and only seen by the public many years after his death.

I’ve done a lot of drawings of our Africanis over the last four years. Here she is with her farm buddy (the aptly named Blackie) having an afternoon nap . Unusually, both dogs kept still long enough for me to make the drawing. The Overbergian landscape was washed in with gouache and watercolour afterwards.

Two dogs sleeping. Gouache. 24 x 27 cm. 2014

Two dogs sleeping. Gouache. 24 x 27 cm. 2014

So how do you draw a dog?

For starters, we can’t make rules that apply to the anatomy, like we do with the human figure. (The head goes into the body 6 times, and so on). There’s just too much variety of canine form.

I suggest you start with a sleeping dog, and get to work rapidly with a sharp pencil. Keep an eye on the negative spaces and don’t give up. You’ll soon get the hang of the alien physiology. There are no tricks, no formulas, it’s just a matter of observation and developing your visual memory. You may want to bear in mind John Ruskin’s words; “The true zeal and patience of a quarter of an hour are better than the sulky and inattentive labour of a whole day.” Your pencil will soon start to tell the truth. And hopefully the sleeping dog will lie.

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