Header photo for Jane Davies article. The Spaniel: Watercolor Portrait Step by Step

I would like to convey to you the magic of DANIEL SMITH’s amazing watercolour paints. If you can avoid fussing them too much, they will help you create the most unique and wonderful pieces of artwork.

Remember, your job is to be the watcher as well as the painter; to enjoy each step from the very first touch of paint onto wet paper, to the very last glint of white to the eyes. 

Let’s begin. I think it’s important to have a calm, tidy place to paint. I love to have flowers I’ve picked on my morning walk on my desk alongside a cup of tea. These two things make me happy and ready to create! 

Jane Davies' painting studio
Jane Davies’ painting studio

What is your subject? The best painting can only come from something that inspires you. Often working on commissions, I’m used to working from photographs, these must be able to evoke emotion within me, be it the line of a neck or the look in an eye, there has to be a spark! 

Description Jane Davies' pet spaniel, reference photo for her watercolor painting, The Spaniel Uploaded ByDeborah Burns
Jane Davies’ sweet spaniel, the reference photo for “The Spaniel”

Be a fairy in big boots

The subject I’ve chosen to share with you is very dear to my own heart: my little spaniel. She is loving, eager to please and fills my heart with joy. Something I like to tell my students is that you need to be a fairy in big boots! By which I mean, be bold of heart and light of touch. Let me explain:

Stage 1, for The Spaniel, watercolor painting by Jane Davies
Stage 1.

Stage 1 

Personally I always like to start with the ears. Slightly tilting my board, I wet the entire area of the ear, which I will usually have sketched out in advance. Then comes the colour, often several at the same time! Here I boldly apply Italian Burnt Sienna, Burnt Tiger’s Eye Genuine, Sodalite Genuine, Lunar Earth and Ultramarine Violet, allowing them to flow to the bottom in their own time.  I used just a hint of Aussie Red Gold on her outer ear.

Stage 2, for The Spaniel, watercolor painting by Jane Davies
Stage 2.

Stage 2

Once the ears have dried, I set my board flat again, then apply water to the coloured parts of the head and nose, leaving the eyes unwetted. With my big boots still on, I use Lunar Earth and Italian Burnt Sienna, again watching as they blend. As the paper begins to dry I add Sepia and hints of Ultramarine Violet to the areas I want darker.

Stage 3, for The Spaniel, watercolor painting by Jane Davies
Stage 3.

Stage 3

Moving onto her body, I tilt the board slightly and added a generous amount of water. I add Sodalite Genuine, Ultramarine Violet and Burnt Tiger’s Eye Genuine just under her chin. I watch and tweak as the colours slowly make their way down the body.

Stage 4, for The Spaniel, watercolor painting by Jane Davies
Stage 4.

Stage 4

I lay my board flat again, adding water to the whole head excluding the ears and chin. Allowing colour from the head to blend into the white areas will soften those hard lines. Using Lunar Earth and Burnt Tiger’s Eye Genuine, I paint the spots on her nose ensuring the paper is not too wet to avoid excess spreading. I continue to build up the darker areas with Sepia and Raw Umber Violet particularly around the all-important eye area.

Stage 5, for The Spaniel, watercolor painting by Jane Davies
Stage 5.

Stage 5

I want a nice crisp line to make her mouth stand out so I make sure the head is dry before continuing to work on the chin/mouth area.

Stage 6, for The Spaniel, watercolor painting by Jane Davies
Stage 6.

Stage 6

It’s all in the eyes! I simply wet the area and drop Italian Burnt Sienna and Serpentine Genuine onto the paper, allowing them to merge, then pop a little Sodalite Genuine just under the eyelid. A good tip to remember is there’s always a slight shadow at the top of the eye.

Watching carefully is key here, to allow any tweaking necessary while the colour dries. I like to take out a touch of colour on the lower section to give light and life to the eye.

Stage 7, for The Spaniel, watercolor painting by Jane Davies
Stage 7.

Stage 7

Now to being the fairy, Wetting the whole painting, apart from the eyes, now creates a lovely softness as all the separate areas join up. Any hard lines blend without me having to do anything! While the painting is wet, I look to see where I need more contrast, then add colour or carefully take it out, tweaking and taking the time to observe and enjoy. Repeating this process several times gives depth to the painting. Another tip is to take a photo of your work occasionally. It’s useful to see your painting in a different way and often helps me see areas that need attention.

The Spaniel, watercolor painting by Jane Davies
“The Spaniel”, watercolor portrait by Jane Davies

Stage 8

Once dry I add a few wisps of chest and ear hair, being very careful not to get too carried away. Then onto my favourite bit… adding the catchlight, with a bit of white gouache, to her eyes to bring her to life and she is all done!

Why I Love DANIEL SMITH Watercolours

I am in love with DANIEL SMITH paints… I confess!

Initially intrigued by their spot sheets [238 Watercolor Dot Card] whilst shopping online, once I discovered DANIEL SMITH’s wonderful colours and the granulation of their paints I was hooked! I saw my paintings improve overnight as these paints worked their magic. Each colour has its unique character and ability to interplay with others, a new adventure in every tube!

DANIEL SMITH Watercolors Jane Davies used for painting The Spaniel.
DANIEL SMITH Watercolors Jane Davies used for painting “The Spaniel”.

Paints I used for “The Spaniel” are:

My favourite Daniel Smith’s colours are


Photo of artist Jane Davies

Over the last ten years, I’ve taught myself the watercolour techniques you’ve read about today.

Not having been to art school, finding my own way has been fun and sometimes daunting, but has allowed me to develop my own style, and build this into a successful business specialising in pet portraits and British wildlife.

In 2016 I began teaching my free flow methods to small groups of beginner artists. The pleasure of helping people unlock their painting potential, seeing their faces light up when they discover they can paint too, makes me happy.

February 2019 brought me a new challenge, my first exhibition. It was a great opportunity to air my work, and gave me a much clearer vision of what I wanted to do next. After a busy summer teaching and painting pet portraits, I am eager to put those ideas onto paper for the repeat show in 2020.

Watercolour may be an unpredictable medium but it’s magical and I adore it!