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Lucy Reclining, getting the perfect images for a cat portrait painting

Most of my pet portrait commissions are made by referencing photos provided by my clients. I like to get a big range of images, not only to reference the painting, but also to get a sense of my subjects personality. Cats are notoriously difficult to photograph but getting the perfect images for a cat portrait painting is easier if you follow a few tips and have lots of patience. From these images, I pick the ones that inspire me the most and do a couple of mock-ups for the client to pick from. 

I have pulled some of the images from a recent commission of Lucy to help you get an idea of how to take photographs. Take a look at my tips below and if you have any questions about commissioning a portrait, feel free to contact me. 

1. Get on your cats level

Images for a cat portraitPhotographing your cat from a their eye level tends to make the image feel more intimate and it shows your cat without distortion. Cat’s do like to climb so you don’t always have to get down on the ground to achieve this.

 

 

 

 

2.Natural Light

Images for a cat portraitNatural light is ideal and its best if the day is slightly overcast. Cats are usually indoor creatures, but steering them towards a window will achieve the desired effect. Not only does natural overcast light help avoid harsh shadows, it gives me a more accurate representation of color for the fur and eyes. Try to pose them so that they get the light to twinkle in their eyes for a lifelike appearance.

 

 

3. Hi Resolution / Fill the Frame

Images for a cat portraitHi resolution images are a must but if most of the picture is just background, I’m not going to get any detail (unless the landscape will be a part of the painting!). Never compress images before sending them and fill the frame with your cat as much as possible for the most detail. Getting the correct texture of your cats fur and the subtle color changes in the eyes is impossible if the image is blurry. Filling the frame with your cat gives me all of the details that are so fun to paint and to look at. Use the zoom feature on your camera to help you get close without attracting too much attention.

 

4. Take and send lots of images!

Primary reference image for composition

You can not send to many images for a cat portrait! Molly sent me dozens and it helped me get a sense of Lucy’s personality and get a feel for all of her different expressions. It also gave me flexibility in designing the composition that we chose for the painting. The primary reference image that inspired my portrait of “Reclining Lucy” didn’t fit any of the above suggestions. The client and I both loved how the pose and expression captured her so perfectly though. And since Molly sent me so many great images I was able to reference other images for accurate colors and fine details.

 

 

5. Help!

If you’re having trouble, getting someone to distract them helps you focus on photographing. Toys and treats can also be useful to get them to go and look where you want.

What a Mock-up looks like

Images for a cat portraitMy mock-up’s are constructed digitally and they help give a sense of what the painting will look like. This mock-up was submitted with the note that the color and fine details would be taken form another image (the one used to demonstrate “natural light” above).

For more information about commission, please visit the commissions page

 

 

 

From Molly:

We got the box today!  OMG, I absolutely love Lucy

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A Happy Father’s Day Pet Portrait of Man’s Best Friend

Black Lab’s are the quintessential family dog and a pet portrait of man’s best friend makes the perfect Father’s day gift. Black Lab’s are full of energy and aren’t really suited for apartment living, but few breeds can outmatch their friendly personalities. Such sweet personalities makes them very easy to love back.

Sally commissioned me to paint Pi (short for Pirate) as a gift for her husband for Fathers Day. She sent me lost of great photos, which gave me an insight to how lucky Pi is. Dogs love with such a wholehearted passion and it was clear that Pi is loved back just as much.

Pet Portrait of Man's Best Friend Black lab miniature oil paining by Rebecca Luncan

Portrait of Pi
oil on aluminum
5″ x 5″

We choose a solid wood frame manufactured by a company in Canada, Inline Ovals. Learn more about my commission process on my commission page and see more examples of pet portraits in the pet portraits gallery.

From Sally:

…it is SO amazing. It’s my favorite piece of art in the whole house:)

Anders was surprised and he loves it too. I def scored points. Thank you SO much!!!

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Portrait of Tank, a Black Cat Portrait Painting

Commissions and Personal Work: One Fuels the Other

I split my studio time about equally between commissioned work and personal work. With a one-year-old and a part time job at the Seattle Art Museum, I guard my painting time carefully. My priority is always to finish commissions on time, and that sometimes means putting off other paintings.

With plenty of ideas to begin with, paintings can be put on the back burner for years. A series of nine paintings of black cats was one such series but between my commissions and a backlog of other personal work, that project is at least two years away. You can imagine I was very excited to receive a request to paint this portrait of the black cat, Tank!

I love how the painting came out, and it gives me the feeling my black cats project is not so far away. It eases a sense of urgency and being short of time, by getting some of my ideas out of my head and into the world. In so doing it also helps to inform my future work. When I finally paint my black cats series, (future Monthly Miniatures perhaps?), I will have a better idea of what I want to explore, having already ‘pulled back the curtain’ and taken a peek.

I am thankful for this invitation to paint Tank and the opportunity to explore the mystique and beauty of black cats! I am so lucky to do work that lets me feel so thankful, so often.  If you have a black cat, I would love to paint his or her portrait. Read about commissioning a pet portrait at my commissions page. Tanya and family also commissioned two duck stuffed animal paintings that were both a delight to paint.

From Tanya:

…we love tank’s portrait
It was hard to convince my mother it wasn’t a photograph
Many thanks

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Miniature Dog Portrait Painting, Softening Loss with Joyful Memories

When I first started painting pet portraits, I never imagined I would paint so many in memoriam. It’s a hard thing to explain why a painting should feel more significant than, say, the photo it’s based on, but I think it’s the care put into making it. I love that all the smiling dogs and bright eyed cats that I’ve painted will be just as happy and alert in their portraits for hundreds of years to come. They will not only bring a moment of joy to their much loved companion, but also to countless generations of viewers after all of us are gone. It’s an honor to make these paintings.

Hicks was one such special dog. I painted his portrait for Megan, whose husband was very close to Hicks. Our time with our pets is brief, but the love we experience is profound. We dread the moment of loss almost from the first, and it is always too soon. I know how it feels to lose a dog so well loved, and I think that is why I never get tired of painting memorial pet portraits.

I have a little portrait of Buster, my favorite companion who I lost six years go, hanging where I can see him every day. His portrait honors our connection and keeps his memory warm in my heart. It also gives me occasion to talk about him more, and tell stories of special memories. Painting it and having it helped me turn my grief at his passing into a celebration of our friendship. If you are considering a similar gift for yourself or a loved one, let me personally encourage you. If you have any questions about it, you may read my Commissions page or reach out to me directly.

From Megan:

Oh my gosh. It’s amazing!! I have tears in my eyes writing this. My husband loved it. It is so beautiful. I can’t thank you enough.

Pet Portrait of a White Cat and the Tradition of Glazing

pet portrait painting of white cat

Shiro
5″ x 5″
oil on aluminum

 

Painting pet portraits is a journey of discovery

Years of training in traditional painting techniques and my past pet portraits form the foundation for each new piece I make. Yet with each portrait I still learn new things. Mixing just the right color still feels like making magic, and finding the precise technique to create a new texture of fur or feathers is an enchanting challenge all its own.

A perfect example is my recent cat portrait of Shiro, a fluffy white fellow with piercing blue eyes. In this case, the key technique to capture the luminosity in those beautiful eyes, as well as the soft sense of fluff, was glazing.

Glazing is a little like magic

Evidence of glazing is found in the earliest examples of painting. The idea is to apply transparent layers of oil paint atop the dried lower layers. I use Gamblin’s Galkyd media for the upper layers of my paintings and when glazing, I increase the medium enough to create transparent layers, which offer a sense of optical depth. This is one reason why painting always look better in person than when reproduced. In reproductions all the colors are flattened out and the transparent layers are lost.

Glazing is typically used in just a few key areas of a painting. The areas of optical depth attract the viewer’s eye more than surrounding areas of opaque paint, so it’s a great way to help direct the eye of the viewer around a composition and create focal points. Gamblin has a list of pigments that are ideal for glazing on their website. I used Phthalo Blue, Phthalo Green, and a touch of Indian Yellow in Shiro’s eyes.

From Dawn:

We absolutely love the picture.  You rendered him so beautifully!  We have a special spot in the house to hang the picture so we can look at it every day and it looks amazing.

Thank you again.  It is such an honor and a treat to have a piece of your art and it is so special that it is of Shiro who we love so much.

Thanks so much for the commission, Dawn!

See more examples of my paintings on the Pet Portraits page and learn about the commission process on the Commissions page.

Pet Portrait in Memory of Corinna, the Yellow Eyed Cat

oil Portrait painting miniature of Cat by Rebecca Luncan

Corina, oil on aluminum, 2.25″ x 2.25″

 

It’s never too late…

Sixteen years after Corinna passed, she is still fresh in the mind of her favorite person. I have been very honored to be given this commission to create a memorial portrait that pays tribute to a sweet and loved little creature.

An image taken in the mid 1990’s and lots of very helpful tips about her unique colors from Aaron, helped me bring her to life on my small disk of aluminum. She has such unusual eyes and fur and I loved mixing such a lovely combination of colors. As the painting began to unfold, I couldn’t help but imagine petting her soft little nose. Thanks you for the commission, Aaron. I hope that this painting helps bring fond memories of your loved little Corinna to you often.

From Aaron:

Oh Rebecca, it’s wonderful! That’s Corinna. Expression, subtle pink color, eyes, everything. You did it! I’m blown away. It’s more like her than any photograph. I can see, or feel, that it has a little extra love in there. Thank you.

 

Big Henry, meet little Henry! A French Bulldog Portrait Painting Miniature

French Bulldog portrait painting miniature by Rebecca Luncan

Henry at his new home

My latest french bulldog portrait painting traveled across the country and has arrived in his new home.

I’d been looking forward to working on Henry’s portrait and it went almost too quickly! The wait list for one of my painting is currently about eight months. Though it seems like a long time, the anticipation is part of the fun both for clients receiving the paintings and for me to get working on them. What better way to spend your day than to look at that cute little face? I already miss him in the studio.

I found three miniature antique plaster frames and they are to be used for the portraits of two dogs (Oliver and Henry) and a cat (Corinna). For my pet portraits, I mostly work from photos taken by my clients, so I can take commissions from just about anywhere in the world. These three little paintings will split ways and make their independent journeys to California, Pennsylvania and Virginia. If you’re interested in a portrait of your own, please visit my Commissions page to learn about the process or contact me to get started today.

French bulldog Pet portrait painting by Rebecca Luncan

Henry
oil on aluminum
2.25″ x 2.25″

 

From Sandy:

Just received my portrait of Henri. It’s so small and so perfect! I love it.
Thank you again, Rebecca

Pet Portrait of Wilson, quite possibly the most charismatic dog in Washington

Pet Portrait Painting of Wilson the Golden Retriever by Rebecca Luncan

Portrait of Wilson
oil on aluminum
11″ x 14″

I was asked to make a painting of Wilson as a surprise Christmas gift and I loved the assortment of high quality images that I was given to choose from.

Photography is a skill to be mastered just like any other, and his owners have certainly been working hard to perfect their craft. Wilson is a willing muse and he is quick to give the camera his winning smile when asked. He is clearly a very happy and well loved pooch and I enjoyed the opportunity to capture him in oils from images taken when he was out hiking, one of his favorite things to do.

Check out his Instagram account where you can see an assortment of adorable photographs while you follow him on all sorts of adventures.

From Andrew

“I wanted to…let you know that the painting was the perfect gift. Olivia absolutely loved it! I can’t thank you enough for the work you did on it. It goes without saying that you have some very happy customers (Wilson included!)”

Trio of Rabbit Portrait Commissions

Miniature painting of house rabbits, Setting Sail, by Rebecca Luncan

Setting Sail,
oil on aluminum
4.25″ x 3.25

Remember when I said I had a dozen more mock up’s for rabbit paintings?

Thanks to Nicholas Dorman, painting conservator at the Seattle Art Museum, I was able to squeeze a few more paintings of rabbits into my busy schedule last year. As you may know, I currently split my studio schedule equally between personal and commissioned artworks and these paintings were a combination of the two!

The paintings were commissioned for his wife, whose maiden name is Rabbitt and their two children, whose middle names are also Rabbitt! I sent him all of those rabbit mock up’s that were on the back burner while I was working on a new monthly miniature project and he picked his favorite three. I feel so humbled and honored that he wanted to add some of my paintings to his collection when he gets to travel the world with the museum to conserve so many amazing paintings.

Setting Sail, pictured above, was inspired by a pose my rabbits struck in the studio. I like thinking of this one personifying Nick and his wife contemplating their adventures. Nick’s art history background influenced the other two paintings he chose for his son and daughter. The paintings were inspired by historical works by Hans Hoffmann and Matthias Withoos. I replaced Hans Hoffman’s hare and Matthias Withoos’s mushroom with my house rabbits who share the art studio with me.

Take a look at my Monthly Miniature: Rabbits gallery to see my rabbit miniatures.

 

Miniature rabbit painting, A Rabbit in the Forest, after Hans Hoffmann. oil on aluminum by Rebecca Luncan

A Rabbitt in the Forest, after Hans Hoffmann, oil on aluminum, 4.25″ x 3.25″

Rabbit Painting

A Forest Still Life, after Matthias Withoos – March, 2016, oil on aluminum, 4.25″ x 3.25″

 

From Nick:

Thanks so much! I love the paintings…They really are beautiful.

From his wife:

We absolutely love the rabbitt (rabbit) paintings! Thank you so much!

Pet Portrait Miniature Birthday Gift

 

Oliver, pet portrait miniature oil painting by Rebecca Luncan

Oliver, oil on copper, 2.25″ x 2.25″

What could be a more perfect gift for someone you love, but a miniature painting of someone they love?

Many of my commissioned portraits are given as gifts. And while I enjoy creating each and every painting I make, those made for an unsuspecting recipient are made with an extra element of excitement and joy in the air. The charming Oliver was carefully captured in oils as a gift for his owner’s birthday. His owner’s sister, who commissioned the painting, was a big fan of Ollie, and I’m very grateful for the commission.

Learn More

See the pet portrait miniature of Oliver’s first coat of paint in one of my On the Easel blog posts featuring works in progress. I work in a traditional lean to fat method that ensures my paintings will survive for hundreds of years and this first thin coat is essential to the process. To see more finished paintings, please take a look at my pet portraits gallery and my human portraits gallery. And if you’re interested in commissioning a portrait for of your own, take a look at my commissions page to learn my process and contact me to get started!

From Lisa

“I LOVE him!!!! Ollie looks perfect. Thank you Rebecca for all your patience and guidance. You are a talented artist with a true eye. And best of all I KNOW my sister will love it! It’s a given….”

And here’s what her sister posted in Instagram:

Portrait Commission Testimonial