Portraits of Champions

“Three Time Derby Winner!”

That was the decree when Laveau, a.k.a. Roux’s VooDoo Queen Of New Orleans, a black lab owned by Ellen McNeill, completed her derby career at the 2014 AKC Field Trials in February, in Northern California.

From July 2013, through February 2014, Laveau finished eight of ten trials with three Firsts, two Thirds, two Fourths and a Judges’ Award of Merit (JAM) for a total of twenty-one points in ten derby events. This performance earned Laveau a place on the AKC National Field Trial Retriever Derby List for competitive field trial retrievers under two years old. It is an honor to make this distinguished list. The bar is ten points or more in Derby events.

Laveau will now start competing in the all-age stakes.


laveau blog ribbons


Ellen has another champion waiting in the wings. Alli is Laveau’s roomate and training partner. Alli is working her way to becoming a Field Champion (FC), and Amateur Field Champion (AFC), needing only four more points in each to obtain those titles.

This is a tough challenge for both Alli and Ellen, since you only obtain points by placing first, second, third, or fourth in an event which usually involves anywhere from fifty to a hundred dogs. It is a great achievement to place consistently in the top four. In the Open Event for the Field Champion title, amateurs compete against professionals, and must obtain ten points for the FC title. The Amateur Field Champion event is limited to amateurs. You must obtain fifteen points for the AFC  title.

In Open Field Champion (FC) events, Alli has won an event and placed third in another. Those cumulative points, since Ellen is an amateur, count toward Alli’s AFC title. In AFC events, she has one second place finish, and a pair of third place finishes.


alli blog running


I had the privilege of doing portraits of Alli and Laveau a month or so prior to this competition. In meeting them, it is immediately apparent these dogs are exceptional, not only in their hunt trial work, but in their joie de vivre.

Laveau is a real character.  When not working, she pulls her broom around the lower forty, and plays tug-of-war with Alli over an old bumper. When the work collar is in place, Laveau is all business. Alli, on the other hand, enjoys her favorite old leather couch during off hours.

Because they are so different, Ellen wanted the portraits to capture the uniqueness of each dog’s personality.

Here they are horsing around during our photo session. What follows is my process of creating their portraits in watercolor. Enjoy.


candid shot of dogs blog


After getting to know Laveau and Alli and observing them play, the first step in the process is to take a ton of photos. This is just a fraction of them.


photos blog


Ellen and I discussed her vision for the portraits, and I did some sketches for her to choose from.


Pencil sketches blog


She liked Laveau’s pose in D, but to really show Alli’s personality Ellen thought Alli should be on her favorite leather couch. Here’s the follow-up sketch of Alli for Ellen’s input.


alli sketch on couch blog


The next step is transferring the line drawing to watercolor paper, stretching it, and beginning to lay in the darks. In my experience, black dogs are particularly difficult to paint.


transfer and set up



blog first step


Slowly, things come together, but it is a discovery process for me. It’s hard to know how much to make obvious, and how much nuance to leave to the viewer’s imagination.


final stretched


And here are the final portraits.

Laveau was in direct sun, her coat wet and shiny from the grass, while Alli was indoors, snug and dry on that old couch. Part of my great challenge was to capture the contrast in these black dogs’ coats as a way to help their unique personalities shine through.

Good dogs!

Click here for more information about commissioning a portrait.



final alli full body blog




alli full body blog



One Response to “Portraits of Champions”

  1. Your talent is amazing!

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