Bridger: Portrait of a Hunting Retriever

This commission was an interesting collaboration between Yellow Labrador Retriever owner, Jane Francis of Cheyenne, Wyoming, her dog Bridger, and me. Jane saw an ad for my dog portraits in EntryExpress, a catalogue distributed at hunt tests and field trials across the US.

Initially, Jane wanted a head shot. She had good photo reference, and it seemed like a straightforward assignment. But the more we talked, the more the personality of this exceptional dog showed itself. Bridger is a hunting dog and competes in hunt trials.

Jane suggested that since Bridger was a terrific retriever, perhaps he should carry a duck in his mouth. My reply was, “OK, do you have any reference of him doing that?”  Jane said,”Well, no. But I have some shots of him carrying his bumper.”

So, I had to do a bit of research to study how a lab carries a duck and how the duck fits in the jaws of the dog.  My next question for Jane was, “What type of duck?”  “Mallard.” was her reply, so I gathered information about mallards. Especially dead mallards.

I found this great painting by Maynard Reese that appeared on a 1959 Federal Bird Hunting stamp and thought it might provide a good example of a dead duck.

At this point, I needed more help from Jane and her husband, John.  I asked them to take a series of digital snapshots of Bridger in action: running, jumping, swimming and retrieving his bumper.  They provided me with two CDs full of terrific visual reference which included some shots of Bridger swimming chest deep in water and then running ashore. We agreed the image of Bridger running through the water was very dramatic, and decided that would be the route to pursue for the painting.

I began the sketches to figure out how to replace the bumper with a fictional dead duck and also work out subtle things like how the ears and tail should look. There were many details to consider. Ears flapping? Should the tail be seen? How should the dead duck hang from Bridger’s mouth? Would I be able to paint the splashing water in a convincing way?

The first sketch was loose, to see if Jane and I were on the same page. I emailed it to Jane in Wyoming.

She wrote, “The drawing looks great!  I like this one a lot!! Hope to get you more head shots of Bridger soon. If you need any more feedback from me let me know, but this one is great!” Once Jane approved that composition, we began to cull though all the photo reference for just the right details.

It was at this stage, that I did a very tight line drawing that would act as my guide for the inking and watercolor.

Every portrait is a struggle. I never know now the final painting will turn out. The greatest challenge of this particular commission was to create a cohesive composition that combined elements from a variety of disparate reference photos and drawings. The lighting was different in many of the photos. I had to fabricate the duck in Bridger’s mouth. I was also concerned about painting a convincing reflection of the duck in the water. To further complicate matters, this was a small painting measuring only about 7 x 10″. In the future, for projects like this one, I plan to work larger.

Jane has been so kind to guide me through this process of painting a retriever in action, and has introduced me to a whole new world of dogs and hunting. It has been a very positive experience and I enjoyed the challenge. I hope to do more portraits of retrievers, pointers and other hunting dogs.

9 Responses to “Bridger: Portrait of a Hunting Retriever”

  1. Mikey P says:

    Lovely work Karl. Specially the dead duck–v cool.

    • karledwards says:

      Hey Mikey P

      So, when are we going to work again. Need a dead duck illustration for an upcoming promotional campaign! If so, I’m your man. :^)


  2. Jane Francis says:

    Well I have never seen a photo of myself at a blog before. cool! I am honored to be featured with the fantastic Bridger. He is the champion of my life. It is never too cold – recently 28 below zero here in cheyenne – for him to want to go for a walk. An inspiration.
    Perhaps you can tell, working with Karl was an inspiration too. I have never had so much challange, anticipation, and fun with a project. Didn’t know how much I would like the outcome: a great painting on my wall, above my desk, in front of my face, where I see it every day.

    • karledwards says:


      Working through this process with you has been incredibly fun. I have learned so much about your relationship with Bridger and you’ve given me a whole new perspective on how unique the labrador retrieve is as, not only a loving companion, but as an invaluable tool for the hunter.

      Thanks for your patience and guidance throughout this whole thing. I also appreciate your support, your informative insight and encouragement.

      You are the best!


  3. Briger's Grandparents says:

    Karl , We, the grandparents ( as Jane calls us ) of Bridger were delighted to see your painting of this special pet of our daughter’s . Jane started out at 13 training our black lab when we lived in Wayzata , Minnesota & has loved labs ever since . She brought one home on her lap from England after spending some time there as a student . That was Chumbly , a favorite of all of us . Her 5 brothers have dogs , none are labs tho . We will have to get to Cheyenne soon to see your painting , maybe when summer comes . Let us know what you might do with the BRIDGER picture , maybe on a dog calander . Happy painting for now . Barbara & Bill Cramer

    • karledwards says:

      Hi Barbara and Bill

      Thanks for the great post. Jane has been such a help on so many levels. She’s exceptional and so is your ‘grandson’!

      Take care,

  4. marty says:

    Very Cool Portrait!

    • karledwards says:


      Thanks. I’m learning a great deal as I go along. This is an exceptional dog and needed to be treated as such. Some of my portraits are more whimsical in nature (I’ve done a great deal of humorous illustration), but not this one of Bridger.


  5. Ruth Manning says:

    Karl, the forward movement on this dog is fantastic – and such a small format…you really do give me inspiration to “keep at it” with my own dog watercolors….I love the field trials…Thanks!

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