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Creating a Detailed Furry Dog Portrait with Art Brushes

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Read Time: 20 min

Have you considered trying to recreate detailed fur, showing shadows and highlights? Today's Premium tutorial goes into creating a personalized dog portrait using Adobe Illustrator art brushes for the fur and flowers, as well as some useful tips that can be applied to creating hair!

You can find the source files in the directory labeled 'source' that came in the files that you downloaded. You may wish to look through them briefly before we begin.


Last month I introduced you to the new member of our family, Shelley. In the tutorial I went over a basic fur technique using the Paintbrush Tool (B), well it's time to get more in depth. Sometimes you want to knock up the detailing further so it matches a more realistic appearance, which is often hard to pull off in vector and much easier in say Photoshop/raster.

In today's tutorial, I'm going to show you how to create a detailed, personalized, pet portrait. I'll be going in depth with creating long fur and how to create a basic flower. In this case, I'll be creating dandelions. These techniques can be applied to other elements in vector art, so it's definitely one to check out.

I would recommend attempting any in depth tutorial on fur and hair with a graphics tablet as it will cut down the work time on the piece; however, it is achievable with a mouse, as I have done in the past.

Background Research

Shelley is a female Cavalier King Charles Spaniel with a blenhiem coloring (red and white fur). She's very typical of her breed type, which is eager to please, friendly with humans and other animals and always up to something naughty – I have a butchered Wacom stylus pen to prove it!

One of the stand out traits she has, which my family joke about, is her attraction to dandelions – a very native British weed. Apparently the eating of dandelions is good for dogs, as it helps maintain a healthy liver. Considering liver issues are a pedigree trait with the CKC, her addiction to this bright yellow flower is a positive thing.

The inclusion of yellow with her red and white coloring is great, but I feel I'll need another color to balance the warm tones. So to make it more seasonal to a Spring come Summer theme – as this is when the dandelion is in full bloom – I'm going to add some light green shades to balance the coloring.

A straight animal/pet portrait is great, but including personalized elements (such as I'm doing with the dandelions) will bring out the animal's personality. Should you get a client who wants a pet portrait as I have in the past, get talking about what the dog is like. Not only will the client connect with the art further, but it can also create a good conversational point for the owner to their friends!

Step 1

I took the photo used as a reference in this tutorial in natural light rather than indoors with a flash. I would recommend that should you do one for yourself, to source the image from outside to prevent any distortion of the lighting. You don't want to vector a client's pet with the "yellow" tones of an indoor light, nor do you want modified lighting from the use of a flash. So the aim here is to get as close to the natural coloring as possible.

I want to centralize the portrait, so I'm going to open the reference in Photoshop and then use the Move Tool (V) to rotate it so the eyes are vertically parallel. This will also help emphasize the off central white in between her eyes.

Once done, Save for Web & Devices at about a 600px width.

Step 2

I'm going to create a new Portrait oriented document in Adobe Illustrator and then File > Place the reference image onto the artboard. Double-click on "Layer 1," rename it "Original," and then lock it.

Create a New Layer and rename it "BG." Within this layer draw a rectangle with a white fill at Opacity 30% using the Rectangle Tool (M). This helps show the strokes you'll be drawing based on the reference image, which can be the same color as those on the reference, without you losing your strokes into the reference image. Lock this layer once done.

Create a New Layer and rename it "Bases."

Step 3

I'm going to begin creating the "base" layers for Shelley. To create a solid base for areas with fur, specifically long fur, it can be very time consuming. I found the quickest and best way to do this is to use the "Width Profile 1" brush from my past tutorial and to draw a sort of zig-zag line around the area.

Step 4

Once you've drawn the outline for the area with the short strokes, Select All (Command + A) and then Object > Expand the lines until they become filled objects. Then using the Pathfinder options, Unite them.

While your area is selected, use the Live Paint Bucket (K) to fill it with a brown/red color (C=30, M=65, Y=85, K=15). Then Object > Expand the live paint group that has been created, and then use Pathfinder > Unite again to create one shape.

Step 5

Use the same process to create the shape for the legs and chest area. This is to be filled with an off-white shade (C=0, M=0, Y=0, K=10).

Step 6

Duplicate the base for the head and then draw over it with the Pen Tool (P) for the white areas on the face. Use the Pathfinder > Intersect option to trim it to the shape required. Fill this shape with the same off-white color.

Step 7

Draw a new object above the shape for the body/legs, which will be the longer fur on her chin/neck area. This will be in front of the body/legs shape and below the head shape. The gray on the face should be C=0, M=0, Y=0, K=5, the chin/neck K=10 and the body/legs K=20.

Step 8

Select All of the bases (Command + A) and then Copy (Command + C) and Paste in Front (Command + F). Collate the shapes so the duplicate is directly above the original in the "Bases" layer folder as shown below.

Step 9

For each of the grays and the brown/red used for the base layers, create a transparent radial gradient and apply those to the duplicate shapes. Set the Blending Modes for the shapes to Multiply.

Step 10

I've decided to change the base layer color of the body/legs shape to the same shade as the neck/chin as I don't wish for it to be too dark.

Step 11

Now let's begin adding the fur to the bases. I'm going to be using the Paintbrush Tool (B) with the Width Profile 1 brush previously used set to a Stroke Weight of 2pt.

First add brown/red strokes around the head base and along the white stripe. These will be set to Opacity 50%. Once done, Group (Command + G) them to make it more organized.

Step 12

Now add the lightest gray around the white stripe and nose area on the head. These also will be set at 50% Opacity. Group them once done (Command + G).

Step 13

You'll need to create strokes in a similar fashion for around the body/legs area and the neck/chin area. Now Group these two separately and drag and drop the groups into place so that they don't overlap unnecessarily over the wrong bases.

Step 14

I'm going to begin adding darker strands of fur to the bases. For the body/legs and chin/neck region, I'm going to use a darker gray (C=0, M=0, Y=0, K=20) set to Opacity 50%.

Group them separately and then drag and drop them into place as before.

Step 15

Shorter strands of fur are added to the face around the mouth and nose area. However, towards the top the hair is much longer. It's a strange trait in the CKC, that they have this longer hair on the white area on their head... similar to a flat Mohawk! As before Group them once done.

Step 16

I'm going to use the same red/brown shade for the strokes on the head; however, with the Blending Mode set to Multiply and Opacity to 10%.

Step 17

I'm going to begin adding the highlights to the fur. The reason to color the fur an off-white shade of gray is so you can draw the highlights on it. No animals fur is 100% white, although it might appear it.

So as before, I'm going to add strands to the fur, this time with a white stroke color set to Opacity 30%.

And as previous, Group the fur desperately and drag and drop above the corresponding bases.

Step 18

Continue to add strokes for the head, although due to the place of the gradient and wanting the head to appear less in shadow, the white strokes will be set to Opacity 50%.

Now with the red/brown strokes use the same color as the base with the Blending Mode set to Screen with Opacity 30%.

Step 19

It's getting a little busy with all the groups and bases, so I'm going to reorganize the layer folders. I'm a believer that if you get to a point with your groups and objects that if you can't name what each group or objects purpose is, then you need to get them organized into layer folders.

This will not only make it easier to get to the group you need should you require it altered, but more importantly it will be a lot quicker to get to! I've organized the layer folders as shown below with the addition of a layer folder called "Layer."

This is a useful layer folder that can be dragged and dropped under whichever folder I wish to draw strokes in.

Step 20

I want to add more depth to the fur, so rather than increasing the Opacity of the previously drawn strands, I'm going to add some more. The reason for doing this is that fur has so many shadows and highlights. If I was to just increase the Opacity of previous strands, it may look too flat. I want the fur to be as detailed as I can, so further strands will be the right way to go.

The strands for the lower portion of the body will be done in a darker shade of gray (K=40) with the Opacity of 40%.

Step 21

With the red/brown fur on the head, use the same color used for the base with the Blending Mode set to Multiply and Opacity at 40%.

Step 22

Now with a dark shade of gray (K=30), draw strokes around the mouth parting and nose with a Blending Mode of Multiply and Opacity 20%.

Step 23

Further highlighting strokes are now added to the stripe on the head/nose area, with a white stroke color and Opacity of 50%. Again this is building up on the previously highlighted areas.

Step 24

To add more yellow highlights to the ears and head, I'm going to use the red/brown color set to Blending Mode Color Dodge and Opacity 25%.

Step 25

Now to add further shadow in the bottom portion. This is with an even darker gray (K=60), set to Blending Mode Multiply and Opacity 15%. This is with a slight change of the Stroke Weight at 4pt. What this will do is add faint shadowed areas which will overlap onto previous strokes placed. This helps vary the shadow strength in these areas.

Step 26

The same method is applied to the red areas of the head with a Blending Mode of Multiply, Opacity 40%. These strokes further enhance the curls in the fur on the ears and help define the boundaries of the ears on the head and darken the region around the eyes.

Step 27

This is then repeated with the Blending Mode at Color Dodge and Opacity 30%. These strokes add the highlights to the curls and help enhance the brow and cheek areas.

Step 28

Create a New Layer above all the other layers and rename is "Eyes." I'm going to use a dark brown shade for the bases of the eyes (C=67, M=68, Y=63, K=71) and set these shapes to Blending Mode Multiply and Opacity 50%. There will be two shapes for each eye, one slightly larger than the other.

Then to play on the "puppy" like qualities, I'm going to increase the size of the eyes slightly.

Step 29

For the smaller shape, I'm going to change the fill to an inverted transparent radial gradient using the dark brown color. This will add a more rounded appearance to the eyeball.

Step 30

Back to using the dark brown solid color, adding shapes to outline the eyes and darken the surrounding region. These will be set to Blending Mode Multiply and 50% Opacity.

Step 31

Dogs eyes are watery, so to play on this I'm going to add lighter lines around the eyes. This will also help to define the eyeball away from the surrounding area. These lines will be done with the same dark brown, with the Width Profile 1 brush and set to Blending Mode Screen.

Step 32

Now add reflections of light to the eyes, use a transparent radial gradient with the dark brown shade. I've drawn circles using the Ellipse Tool (L) and just modified the shadow/placement of them using the Free Transform Tool (E). These shapes will be set to Blending Mode Screen.

Step 33

Create a New Layer above the "Eyes" layer folder and rename it "Nose". I'm going to add three shapes with the dark brown fill color to this. One for the overall area of the nose that will include a jagged line around the bottom of the nose and then two shapes for the rest of the nose as shown below. The largest shape will be set to Blending Mode Multiply, Opacity 50% and the two smaller shapes at Normal, 80%.

Step 34

I'm now going to add shapes around the nose and nostrils to deepen the shadows further. However these will be done with the darker brown in a transparent radial gradient set to Blending Mode Multiply, Opacity 20%.

Step 35

I'm going to add two large shapes over the nose with the dark brown. This will help add a step in darkness around the nose and underneath it. These are set to Blending Mode Multiply with Opacity 10%, as I don't want this step to be too noticeable.

Step 36

Around the nose there are some pink areas, specifically around the nostrils and along the bottom where the fur meets the nose. I'm going to use transparent radial gradients with a pink hue (C=0, M=65, Y=10, K=0). All three shapes will be set to Blending Mode Soft Light; however, the nostril shapes will be at 100% Opacity and the one along the bottom of the nose set to 50%.

Step 37

Using the pink again, I'm going to add strokes around the nose and mouth parting. This is to illustrate where the fur isn't as dense as say on the ears, so you'd be able to see the skin showing through. I'm going to use the Paintbrush Tool (B) and the Width Profile 1 brush, set to Blending Mode Multiply and Opacity 10%.

Step 38

In the Default CMYK brush palette there should be a 2pt Oval brush. I'm going to use this to add highlights to the nose which will also give a pimply texture to it. In addition, I'll add strokes around the bottom of the nose that blend in the colors more between the nose and the fur. I'll use a white stroke color with an Opacity of 20%.

Step 39

Create a New Layer and rename it "Whiskers." Like cats, dogs also have whiskers just not as many. I'm going to use the Width Profile 3 brush to add whiskers around the eyebrows and the snout area. These will have a stroke color of the red/brown and a Blending Mode of Screen with 75% Opacity. Group the whiskers when done (Command + G).

Step 40

Now comparing the darkness of the eyes to the rest of the fur, I feel I need to add further contrast and shadow to the fur. So I'm going to Create a New Layer and rename it "Fine Fur." In this layer I'm going to add red/brown strands of fur at Blending Mode Multiply with 50% Opacity.

Step 41

Now add additional darker strands of fur with a dark gray (K=60) at Blending Mode Multiply, Opacity 20%; in the lower portion of the body.

Step 42

I'm going to create a new document to start work on my dandelions. The reason for this is if you're following this tutorial yourself, you'll notice that the large amount of fur can be rather memory consuming. To reduce frustration, if you can create any new elements away from the document you're working on then it can be done more accurately and less stuttered!

Using the Ellipse Tool (L), draw a light gray fill ellipse. Modify the handles of the bottom three points to give a half ellipse, half rounded rectangle shape. Then duplicate the shape and fill with a darker gray with an Opacity of 50%. Decrease the size by using the Free Transform Tool (E) and then repeat.

Rotate the shapes 90 degrees. Duplicate the same process with the center elements wider than before.

Step 43

I'm going to create two brushes from these two groups. Select your first group and make a New Art Brush. Depending on the size will determine the Width and the Stroke Weight later on. Importantly, remember to set the Colorization Mode to Hue Shift.

Step 44

Dandelions are known for being bright yellow, so I'm going to use bright colors for the leaves and the flower. Use the Inner petal brush to create the leaves with a green stroke color. Using the Outer brush but with yellow, create the outer petals. Then using a yellow with a very slight orange tint create the Inner petals.

Now to create a Dandelion in a birds eye view, create the Outer petals first and then the Inner.

Step 45

Back to our dog artboard, I'm going to reorganize the layer folders again. This time all layer folders which contain an element of Shelley, I'm going to put within another layer folder called "Dog" and then just lock these.

Create a New Layer below the "Dog" layer and rename it "Frame Guide." Use the Ellipse Tool (L) without a fill but with a gray stroke and draw a circle around the dog, leaving the paws to hang out of the frame. This will be used as a guide for placing elements around.

Step 46

Using the brush I created for this Ivy and Holly Brush tutorial, I'm going to begin adding clusters of ivy leaves around the frame. Once you have a few clusters, then Group them (Command + G).

Now fill in the gaps with further clusters behind. Once done, Group these also.

Step 47

With the leaves in the back, I'm going to Copy (Command + C) and Paste in Front (Command + F) and then Object > Expand Appearance and then Object > Expand them. Using Pathfinder > Unite, make them one shape.

I'm going to add some variety to the leaves by adding a new fill color to a light green (C=50, M=0, Y=100, K=0) and setting the Blending Mode to Color Burn, Opacity 50%.

Step 48

Create a New Layer above the "Dog" layer folder and rename it to "Dandelions." Begin Copy (Command + C) and Pasting (Command + V) your dandelions from the other artboard to the frame. Use the Free Transform Tool (E) to rescale and resize the flower heads to add more variety to them.

Step 49

Time to get rid of the background to make a 100% Opacity white background. Then select the frame guide and fill it with a light green to dark green to white radial gradient and remove the stroke. This is to give a background within the frame and to also make the white areas of the fur stand out.

I had to modify the bottom of the ellipse by adding anchor points on either side of the paws and then using the Direct Selection Tool (V) to drag the bottom point upwards so the background can't be seen between the dogs legs.

Step 50

I'm going to create the heart shaped diamond tag she is wearing, so first to Create a New Layer above the "Body Bases" layer folder and rename it "Tag." I'm going to create a heart shape using two circles created by the Ellipse Tool (L). Then use Pathfinder > Unite to combined them. Remove the bottom points and then drag the center point downwards using the Direct Selection Tool (V).

Step 51

Switch to the stroke of the shape and set the Stroke Weight to about 10pt depending on how big you've drawn your heart and also select "Round Joint" to round off the corners.

Then Object > Expand to what is shown below:

Step 52

With the heart is selected, go to Effects > 3D > Bevel & Revolve and use the options below.

Step 53

Go to Object > Expand again and then put a gray backing to the heart. Group these objects together (Command + G). Then place the tag underneath the chin.

Step 54

Using the same gray, I'm going to add dots using the 3pt Round brush in the brush palette and set them at Blending Mode Screen. Then duplicate the dots and move them slightly. Change the Blending Mode to Multiply. This will create a faux sparkling effect for the diamonds.

Step 55

Create a long ellipse to connect the tag and underneath the chin area with a dark gray stroke color. Then duplicate the ellipse and offset it slightly and recolor the stroke to a lighter gray. This is to just add an additional impression of a metallic shine to the hoop.

Step 56

Create New Layer below the "Frame Guide" layer folder and rename it "Grass."

Within the Default CMYK brush palette there should be a brush called "Chalk – Scribble". Using the Paintbrush Tool (B) draw strokes underneath the dogs feet in either direction set to Blending Mode Multiply and with a stroke color of light green. Set the Stroke Weight at about 6pt to give a condensed and thick appearance to the lines, which when layered will give the impression of grass.

Step 57

Group the grass strokes (Command + G) and then create an Ellipse Opacity Mask with a transparent radial gradient. You can find out how to create one by checking out this tutorial.

Step 58

To add a subtle shadow cast from the dogs body and paws, use the Ellipse Tool (L) to draw three circles on top of the grass. Fill with a dark green transparent radial gradient set to Blending Mode Multiply.

Step 59

Finally, Create a New Layer below the "Dandelions" layer folder and rename it "Grass Top." Draw longer blades of grass with a light green stroke color with the Width Profile 1 brush around the feet of the dog. Set these strokes to Blending Mode Multiply.


Today's tutorial not only went into showing you how to create a detailed personalized portrait of a dog, but also how versatile art brushes can be. The final image is below.

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