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Taking photos of your dog for a pet portrait : Do’s and Don’ts

My King Charles Cavalier Spaniel, Mona, has posed for us to help demonstrate how to get the best photos for your pet portrait.

  1. Take photos outside.

    Cloudy days are ideal and you can shoot at anytime during the day. If it’s sunny out, it’s best to plan to photograph around an hour after sunrise or an hour before sunset. Give yourself around 30 minutes for a photo session. The first image of Mona below is from a huge image file, but it’s a blurry image without a lot of detail because it was taken inside.

    photography don't for pet portrait

    Photo taken inside

    photos for a pet portrait painting

    Photo taken outside

  2. Get on your pets level.

    Though my ten year old Mona does look awfully cute and puppy like in the first image below, images taken from above distort the body and feel kind of generic. I find images shot from closer to a dogs eye level feel more intimate and show a clearer picture of who your unique furry friend is.

    photography don't for pet portrait

    photographed from above

    photos for a pet portrait painting

    Image taken from Mona’s eye level

  3. Get up close.

    The first shot below looks great at first glance, but it’s shot from too far away. When zooming in on the face, you can see that the fine details are lost. Capturing the little details if part of what makes your portrait special and if the detail isn’t in the photo, I can’t paint it.

    Photo taken from far away

    photography don't for pet portrait

    Far away image zoomed in

    Photo taken up close

    photos for a pet portrait painting

    Up close image zoomed in

  4. Light up their eyes.

    A little light reflected in the eyes gives your pet a lively alert expression. Mona looks like she’s kind of sad or very sleepy without that light. Even on a cloudy day you should be able to get a reflection. If you’re having trouble, try to position the sun behind you.

    photography don't for pet portrait

    No reflection in the eyes

    photos for a pet portrait painting

    Reflection in Mona’s eyes

  5. Take lots of photos.

    When trying to get the perfect shot, I took over sixty images. Be patient and try lots of different angles. Block out 30 minutes to take photos and even if you feel like you got the perfect image 5 minutes in, keep shooting for the entire time.

  6. Get a helper.

    Not all dogs are as docile as Mona and having someone there with toys and treats helping pose your dog is a tremendous help.

  7. Bonus tip.

    Don’t forget to brush your dog’s hair! Mona had some tangles I missed before we took our photos. ūüėČ

I look forward to seeing your images!! If you’re having trouble or if you’re unable to get new photos, contact me. Good luck!

Visit my Pet Portraits gallery to see some of my past pet portraits and see my tips for taking photos of your cat for a portrait. And now I’m going to have to make a portrait of Mona! Check back in a few months to see which image I end up choosing.

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Portrait of Fifi

My latest commission is a cat oil portrait on aluminum. Sean commissioned me to paint Fifi as a gift for his wife. Soon after commissioning the painting however, he let her in on the secret and they both got to enjoy the fun of anticipating the finished creation. We choose an oval format and 6″ x 8″ ended up being the perfect size.

Oil painting detail of pet portrait of fluffy cat by Rebecca Luncan

Detail of Portrait of Fifi
8″ x 6″
oil on aluminum

We choose a solid wood walnut frame with ornate detail on the outside and inside lip to give it a more formal look. I love how the brown of the frame compliments the green in the painting!

Framed cat pet portrait by Rebecca Luncan

Framed cat pet portrait by Rebecca Luncan

 

From Sean:

Painting received, it looks amazing!!!  I am super excited! Thank you again for all your work!

Client with pet portrait

Sean and Fifi pose with Fifi’s portrait

 

Please visit my commissions page to learn how to commission your own pet portrait.

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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‚Äôs 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‚Äôs 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‚Äôs a hard thing to explain why a painting should feel more significant than, say, the photo it‚Äôs based on, but I think it‚Äôs the¬†care put into making it. I love that all the smiling dogs and bright eyed cats that I‚Äôve 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‚Äôt thank you enough for the work you did on it. It goes without saying that you have some very happy customers (Wilson included!)”