Pet Portraits - Part 1

dog painting oil painting pet portraits process tutorial

   One of my most frequently asked questions is "Do you accept requests for pet portraits?" Yes, I do. However, I take a limited number each year. I open the season in the spring for new requests. By fall and winter I normally don't accept any more until I have completed the commissions I have already accepted for that year. I am going to outline the process in four steps.
1. Costumes and Thumbnails
When a new commission is contracted one of the first exchanges is photos of the pet and photo ideas for costumes. Sometimes the client has a clear vision of what they want the painting to look like. More often it is left up to me to present visual ideas. If the pet is going to be in costume, I share inspirational Art History portraits until we narrow down something they like. If the client needs help deciding between a few options they like, I create thumbnail sketches. These are quick, tiny sketches that help visualize different possibilities. Below are some samples of thumbnails. 
Sometimes the client is very articulate about what they want and I skip thumbnails and move to the next step.
2. The Drawing
So let us imagine the client has decided on a 3/4 profile of their pet in a Medieval inspired jester costume. I create a scale drawing that becomes the skeletal structure for the painting. This step often results in edits and sometimes I create more than one drawing if the client needs a strong visual comparison. The two drawings below are the same dog. (At the end of the post you will notice which drawing they liked better).
3. Oil Painting
As you can see from the image at the beginning of the post, the drawing heavily influences the painting. My painting style involves many layers of glazes, starting with a "dead", or colorless, underpainting. This is an old technique that has been around for a long time. Although it takes months to do it correctly, I find the layers create a beautiful, rich, luminous oil painting. 
In these images, you can see which thumbnail sketch the client liked better. I went on to create an 8x10" drawing, and finally, the finished 8x10" oil painting. 
4. Framing
   If the client asks me to do the framing I provide options. I take the nearly-finished painting to my framer and take a lot of snapshots. I try to stick with frames that complement the painting colors while still providing a variety. Here is a sample of photos I send to a client (except, I send a lot more!)
I hope you enjoyed learning about this fun collaboration with the artist.
In part 2, I will cover how I handle more unusual requests.

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  • Erika on

    Thanks for this post! It’s really interesting and fun to see the background of the pet portraits!


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