Mona - step by step

this digital illustration features Mona, the little dog of Stéphanie Créations
Stephanie sent a stack of reference pictures to me, a variety of poses and closeups of Mona
the illustration is done with Paint Tool SAI and my Wacom Intuos 5
sketch with underpainting:

the under painting is very important, since it builds the base for dimensions. i keep the underpainting darker than the desired color value of the animal, this gives me more options later on for high lighting and will add lots of depth to the painting. i never use white or black in the under painting, but a variety of mid tones - next step will be to map out the direction of the fur and then the fun can start :)

fur map, on separate layer, very helpful to determine the fur flow on the first hair layer (it is a good idea to lock the fur map layer for not to merge it with the fur layers by accident) 
When i paint hair, i set down the opacity of the map layer to 5-10, so it won't disturb me, at times i blend it completely out (on large parts like the back or the sides, when i am sure of the direction)

start of the 1st hair layer, brush size 1.0 with 40% opacity to give the pen a chance to react to my hand pressure rather than to the brush preset, means - the more pressure, the thicker the brush strokes appear. the hairs are spaced out on the first layer, which makes them appear rough, blending will bring it together softly after the layer is completed. this is the layer where the single hair is at its thickest level. the following hair layers will be painted with a 0.5 brush and more density all together. you can see - the fur map is slightly visible, its my navigation system for hair so to say :)

Mona has a variety of length and texture in her coat. while i follow the fur map, i already add some movement to the hair where it is longer. it will look more natural later to have a slight wave in the longer and finer hair parts. with highlighting and darkening hair chunks this effect will be emphasized later on.

hair layer 1 completed, no blending yet. What you see is basically texturing the image by hand, i don't use overlay texturing on animals, it never looks natural enough for my taste. So what you see on a hairlayer are indeed single 1.0 dagger strokes in a variety of length and direction. When i paint hair, i make for every body part separate layers and group them (don't forget to name the layers, never underestimate correct labeling of the layers, can be tremendously helpful to keep the overview in the palette, when you work with many layers. ) 
Another important step is to flip the image horizontal and see if your hair flow looks organic or not and if the whole fur flow is adjusted to the body of the animal. don't depend on just one view in digital hair painting, the tube or illustration will look absolutely different, when flipped. you will find the balance in that with enough practice :)- next step is blending and color glazing, to add dimension to the illustration

hair layer 1 is now blended, the 1st color glaze is also completed, this builds the base for the second hair layer
glazing (digital) = overpainting areas of the illustration with a variety of colors in low opacity 
in the glaze layer i emphasize the light and dark areas of Mona's body

i decided to paint the pupils before proceeding to the second hair layer. since Mona has some expressive dark fur parts around her eyes, it makes it easier to balance the tonal values if the pupil is already painted. I kept it brighter than her original eyes are, since the fur around it will throw more shadow on the pupil in any case and will darken it considerably as i proceed with the fur ( and i don't want the eyes to look like black holes at the end - this sheet shows the basic steps of painting a pupil, the reflections differ from eye to eye, so there is no 'general' way to paint them, i mostly work with a variety of colors what makes the eyes more lively
This would also be the moment to mention, that i do NOT paint realism, but semi-realistic (with a great affection for surrealism) 

the 2nd hair layer is all about details (which can be very time consuming), for me personally it is the most enjoyable part. For Mona i choose to emphasize the longer hair strands and the light colored parts of her chest. 

 the eyes are not done yet, the dark 'eyeliner' is merely a guide for the finest hair lines surrounding the eye, as far as it are skin covered parts, they will also have tiny light reflections. the nose is will be taken care of later :)

detailing face and eyes, the muzzle hair is still 'raw' (not blended yet), next are the details on the nose

the nose is a combination of painted and afterwards blended pattern and a dark brown color glaze. On the last layer i added some little hairs around the nose, further blending of the muzzle area might be required as i add the finishing touches and of course - the whiskers (if you right-click the image and open in new tab/window, you can see the fullsize picture

'Mona' is available as Paint Shop Pro compatible psd character with 72 layers for accessories at