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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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Owen and Silvan, a Miniature Portrait of Brothers (as birds)

This month’s miniature portrait of brothers features the sons of artist Jennifer Zwick. Jenny is a fixture in the Seattle art community, and I’ve known her since long before she had kids. I’ve always been a great fan of her work, her contagious grin, and her breathtaking beauty (I’ve nicknamed her Snow White, and yes, she is the fairest of them all!).

detail of Miniature portrait of brothers. oil painting by Rebecca Luncan

Detail of, “Portrait of Owen and Silvan”
4″ x 4″
oil on copper

I did a painting of Jenny once upon a time, and I’ve been excited to make a portrait of her boys. I originally imagined a classic miniature, but these two just didn’t quite fit the mold. Jenny sent me dozens of images, some of which fit my original idea, but there were so many goofy shots. These kids are definitely raised in a very creative household, and I felt more and more that their portrait should reflect this. There were several images that fit, but I love the expressiveness of the two of them in this image in particular. You see so much about their relationship, and capturing it in a painting was worth the madness of painting such tiny faces and hands.

This is the smallest-scale portrait I’ve made in a long time, and if I never work so small again, I’ll be glad the last time was for Jenny. Please take the time to enjoy a peek into her life as an artist mom, through her words and images below.

Please visit the gallery of Monthly Miniatures, and learn more about all of the Artists featured in the series in the Archive.

Words from Jennifer, on being an artist and mother:

Jenny Zwick, art and family

Jenny Zwick, art and son Owen

My first thought is to write about how the restrictions of parenting have affected my work: how, when I was first pregnant, I could no longer build large sets, so instead made tiny wearable rooms (which I call “head sets”) with dollhouse hardwood floors and framed artwork which attach magnetically and look hilarious and unreal; or when I was pregnant a second time, and so large I could barely move, and my art grew even smaller still, making miniature watercolors of Nintendo game systems.

But if I focus away from how parenthood makes one’s artistic career smaller (no residences; harder to attend openings; expensive child care; higher stakes and confusion about if making art really is a priority), I see that it was a very natural thing for me to incorporate parenthood into my artistic practice and output.

Jenny Zwick, art and sons Owen and Silvan

Jenny Zwick, art and sons Owen and Silvan

Before pregnancy, my work often focused on what I experienced as a child – things I thought might be possible, or wished could happen, or might as well have.  My obsession with optics, with the disconnect between how our senses literally perceive the world, and then how our brain translates these into the impression of a coherent experience, this was amazing to see firsthand as my children learned about object permanence, or how proximity affects scale (older son’s first airplane trip: “when do we get small?” since he’d only ever seen airplanes flying overhead, in perfect miniature distant detail), or what aspects of a world we will completely take for granted, and what sticks out as wrong, or as special, or as notable.  One ongoing photo series of mine involves building set-based narrative photographs depicting young girls in surreal circumstances, staging remembered childhood ideas and atmospheres.  I was recently able to create several new images, and for the first time, there are adults – two of the photos have mothers; one with her daughter, and one hugely pregnant.

Jennifer Zwick, "Hello 2" 2010 21" x 31" Archival pigment print

Jennifer Zwick, “Hello 2”
2010, 21″ x 31″
Archival pigment print

During my first pregnancy I had a show called “Partum” which was hung in three sections: First Trimester, Second Trimester, Third Trimester – the work was all very distinct, as I adjusted to giving up Ritalin, then as I became anemic, and then as I dealt with acute nervousness and humor about the impending birth.

Recently I revisited a photograph I made for that first “Partum” show, which was about how the female body is treated as a public object. For that photograph I stretched chaotically patterned fabric on a frame, cut a hole in it, and stuck my third-trimester belly through. Photographed head-on, it is a strange exercise in depth, with the flat fabric directly parallel to the picture plane, and the belly jutting out, impossibly round. In the new iteration, I mounted the life-sized photo on foam core, cut the belly button out, and attached it to a small motor which I wired to rotate, comically spinning in the middle of this huge belly, just as weird and humorous and insane as it is to grow a freaking person in your body.

Whenever possible, I love having my kids help with my projects, building or installing or whatever won’t 1) derail the project 2) ruin everything or 3) kill them.

Jenny Zwick, art and sons Owen and Silvan

Jenny Zwick, art and sons Owen and Silvan

Additionally, making large-scale art projects means I end up with interesting and odd materials – one project involved taking site-specific photographs of banal locations at Seattle Center, then printing them out life-sized and reinstalling them on location as photo opportunities.  In order to ensure I had the exact right focal length and composition I made several rounds of large black and white test prints at copy centers.  I did not end up creating a piece at the Kobe Bell Pagoda location, so my then 5-year old son had a great time using all the huge images for his own purposes.  One of them became the backdrop for a “play” he wrote about ghosts, and we brought it to the pagoda and he performed the play (which involved a surprising amount of jumping in dried leaves).

Jennifer Zwick, "The Moment" 2017, 28.8" x 40" Archival pigment print

Jennifer Zwick, “The Moment”
2017, 28.8″ x 40″
Archival pigment print

Jennifer Zwick

From Jennifer about her artwork: Trained in photography, I work in a variety of media, including large-scale installations, wearable sculptures, painting, interactive video installation, printmaking, and photographic processes. I am particularly interested in optics, symmetry, humor, one-point-perspective, anxiety, repetition, repetition, and repetition.  I create artwork which requires the viewer to reorient themselves, using one-point-perspective, in- camera techniques, site-specific construction, and sculptural installation, presenting nonlinear narratives depicting the fraction of a second where something fundamentally concrete is shifted just enough to turn an ordinary moment into something gently surreal.

I firmly believe that by making art which looks fantastical but is constructed rudimentarily, “in real life”, an opportunity is created for the viewer to think about what we will accept as real; about how much our brains miss when we move through the world; about what we take for granted and how much power we truly have to reshape our reality.

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Artist Choice Award

As customary during their annual juried exhibitions, the International Guild of Realism (IGOR) asks the gallery hosting the exhibition to appoint a guest judge(s) to award ribbons in different categories for outstanding artwork. I’m happy to share that I was awarded the Artist Choice Award for my portrait of my sister in law, painted with oils on aluminum, “Arlington”.

Congratulations to the Winners!

Best of Show – Ed Copley “When the Sun Rises”
American Art Collector Editor Choice – Ed Copley “The Torn Hat”
Bill & Sue Rowett Collector’s Choice – Lee Alban “May the Warm Winds of Heaven Blow Softly upon your House”
Robert Kirkpatrick Best Still Life – Sandra Robinson “Monkeys”
Best Figurative – Duffy Sheridan “The Whale Watcher”
Best Landscape – Lee Alban “May the Warm Winds of Heaven Blow Softly upon your House”
Best Tromp l’Oeil – Jorge Alberto “Allegory of the Arts”
Director’s Choice – Sandra Kuck “My Dear Angus”
Pioneer in Realism Award – David M. Bowers “Animal Instinct”
Creative Achievement – Marissa Oosterlee “The Forever Search”
Artist’s Choice Award – Rebecca Luncan “Arlington”
Best Floral – Jane Jones “Three Graces”
Best Wildlife – Camille Engel “Patient Observer”
Best Drawing – Heather Ward “That was You?”

Take a look at the whole exhibition online on the Sugarman-Peterson Gallery’s website.

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Realism Exhibition in Santa Fe

If you’re in Santa Fe this coming weekend, please stop by Sugarman-Peterson Gallery to see my painting, “Arlington” oil on aluminum, 24″ x 36″. The gallery is hosting the 14th International Guild of Realism exhibition, which will feature a blend of contemporary and classical realism. Stop by the gallery anytime from October 5 to October 29 to see some amazing work from 91 different artists. The reception is this Friday, October 5th from 5:30 to 7:30pm. View the whole show on the gallery’s website.

About IGOR

The International Guild of Realism, also known as IGOR, was founded by a group of renowned realist artists in 2002. They now represent the work of over 390 members from over 35 countries. The Guild’s mission is to advance realism in fine art. They do this through organizing museum exhibitions, art gallery shows, workshops and education programs, marketing support, and internet exposure.

It’s inspiring to be a member of guild filled with so many talented artists. I exhibited two paintings in the 13th International Guild of Realism exhibition last year in Carmel.

Please go to my figurative painting gallery to see more paintings in this series. If you’re interested in purchasing this painting, please contact the Sugarman-Peterson Gallery.

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Painting of Silkie Chicken in the ARC Salon Traveling Exhibition

First stop: New York City!

My portrait painting of the silkie chicken, Admiral Vox, will be included in the upcoming 13th International ARC Salon Exhibition. The exhibit consists of 89 Contemporary Realist works selected from over 3,750 entries from 69 countries. It is the most prestigious realist art competition in the Americas and perhaps the world.

New York, LA, & Barcelona: three stops over the next six months

The ARC Salon Exhibition will be on view at the Salmagundi Club, 47 Fifth Ave., New York, NY from September 21st—October 2nd, 2018. The public opening event on Saturday, September 22nd from 11am to 3pm. Entry is free. The exhibition will then travel to Sotheby’s, Los Angeles where it will be on view from December 4th—December 13th, 2018 with the opening reception on December 4th from 6pm to 8pm. The show will then travel to the MEAM Museum, Barcelona, Spain from February 8th—March 31st, 2019, with the opening event and award ceremony starting at 7pm on February 8th. To learn more, go to the ARC Salon website

The ideas behind the painting of Admiral Vox

My early memories are few but vivid, with joy and sorrow in equal measure. When I was small, I discovered the aftermath of a weasel attack in the hen house. Yet I also remember the sole survivor, a newly hatched chick who followed me everywhere. As my father succumbed to Multiple Sclerosis, the rest of us took more responsibility for the animals, and I reveled in it.

Now I paint animals, revisiting memories of my dad and the wonder of growing up on a small farm. I compose portraits of animals the same as I do portraits of people, seeking not only likeness but the beauty particular to them.

Admiral Vox is one of my mother-in-law’s flock. Despite his stern expression, he is gentle with people. Here he guards his hens in the dim of his coop, which has been lighted to personify the rooster without embellishment in a classic and dignified pose.

View more paintings in this series

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Painting cows: Going afield for inspiration, and preparing for an exhibition

The Nashville area has become a special place for me. Two of my sisters and my adorable nephew and niece are there, so it’s become a go-to spots for family travel. And just outside Nashville, I have discovered the wondrous Holly Belle on Instagram. Even if you didn’t grow up with a dad that brought home a baby cow in the back of the station wagon (true story!), Holly’s “puppy cow” jumping around in the dining room of her house is sure to make you happy. Her mini cows have inspired my paintings and drawings in the recent past, and I have three paintings of cows started, shown above in various states of completion.

Please visit my Into the Country series to see more paintings of animals.

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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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Children of Artists, Miniature Portrait Painting of the son of Barbara Robertson

Portrait of Sean

Sean, the happy kid featured in this month’s monthly miniature, is the son of artist Barbara Robertson. I was first introduced to Barbara in the basement at the Seattle Art Museum many years ago and have been following her brilliant career every since.

There is a fear for many women that their career will not recover after being put on hold to raise kids. That is no less true for artist moms, who deal with the additional challenges in being a woman artist who have historicaly been less recognized in museums, galleries and art history publications. Every step forward in a victory, and Barbara is another inspiring example that it can be done. Among other things, the story she tells below highlights how powerful it is to have a role model. Thank you Barbara, for being another incredible inspiration!

Paintings in this Monthly Miniature series fall somewhere between commission work and my original works. Like a commission, source images for these miniatures may come from family photos or be taken by me. But whereas I involve clients in my commissions, both in selecting photos and composing the painting, I take full control in the Monthly Miniatures. Most parents see these portraits for the first time when you do, here in the newsletter. I love the process of composing a painting in collaboration, but having complete freedom gives me a different connection to the painting, and it is helping me develop confidence in my choices.

Barbara (far right) pictured with her family. Her son Sean (left middle row with green hat), husband, step children, grandchildren and nieces and nephews.

Words from Barbara, on being an artist and mother:

When my son was born, I really didn’t know what it was like to be an artist, or anything else, except being a young girl. I had wanted, and dreamed, of being an artist since I was fourteen when I met my first professional, working artist. I was full of the enthusiasm and optimism of youth.

She was the mother of my best friend. I had not dreamed of being a mother. But when I had my baby at age 19, at least I had a great role model for how to be an artist and a mother. My friend’s mother had a studio in her home, with a door that she kept closed; her own private space. I was often invited in to see her work and receive her advice when I was in high school.

My baby was a surprise, of course…who plans a baby at 19? I was a freshman in college, so had taken a few introductory courses and loved it. I was determined to get my degree in art and determined to get my MFA, which I did. It took me ten years, going part time, to get my BFA. I was so naïve, that I did not know that no one takes you seriously as an artist if you are a woman and certainly not if you are a mother. If someone had told me that, I would not have believed them. I had my friend’s mother as an example and I just proceeded as if I had no impediments.

By the time I was in graduate school, my son was ten, and being a parent and a beginning artist was much easier but still a challenge. I was always juggling commitments to find time to make some art. My son often came to UW with me in the evenings and rode his skateboard down the halls of the art school building befriending and charming some of the other students.

Being a young parent definitely has its advantages; you can carry your child around for a long time without getting tired, have endless energy and certainly no carpel tunnel stress that most mature mothers experience. You have lots of stamina and optimism but, the downside is that you are not very smart. And you don’t know what you don’t know. I’m pretty sure that was a disadvantage for him. So my son and I grew up together. He went everywhere with me and lived around creative people and “alternative” life styles and was always a welcome part of the group. This has, I think, contributed to him being a tolerant, wise, independent and intelligent person. As he got older, I devoted more of my time to my art and I think that he thinks that having an artist mother is a natural thing. He is a self -employed craftsman and an amateur chef.

"Rough Cut 3" acrylic and collage on paper, 44" x 30", by Barbara Roberts

“Rough Cut 3″ acrylic and collage on paper, 44″ x 30”, by Barbara Roberts

Barbara Robertson

Seattle based artist Barbara Robertson is known primarily for her work in experimental printmaking. Recently, she has expanded her practice to include digital animation and sound installations. Awards for her work include grants from the Seattle Office of Arts and Culture City Artists program, 4Culture Individual Artists award, 4Cullture Artists Projects grants, Artists Trust GAP grant, a KALA Art Institute Fellowship and the Neddy Fellowship from the Behnke Foundation.

In 2004 her work was included in “Events,” a collaboration with the Merce Cunningham Dance Company, Joyce Theater, New York. In 2012, her work in animation was exhibited at the 4Cutlure Electronic Gallery in Seattle, in 2012 at “aproject space” in Seattle, Washington, at Trykk 17 Art Center, in Stavanger, Norway and at the Eleftherias Art Center in Athens, Greece.  In the winter of 2013, her animation “Three Phases,” was exhibited on a large outdoor screen at the Gates Foundation in Seattle.  In 2014, three animations and one work on paper were part of a large special exhibition at the Tacoma Art Museum, titled “Ink This! Contemporary Print Art in the Northwest.” Robertson’s work shown in 2014-2016 as part of “The Intersection Between Science, Art and Technology” exhibition at the American Embassy in Bern, Switzerland. In 2015, her work in animation and print was exhibited at “Impact”, Hangzhou, China. Three animations were shown in 2016 at 4Cullture’s E4C electronic gallery.

Robertson’s work is included in private and public collections including the State of Washington Percent for Art, King County Public Art Collection, the City of Seattle Portable Works Collection, Harborview Medical Center, Tacoma Art Museum, University of Washington Special Collections, US Trust and Safeco Corporation. She has a Master of Fine Arts degree from the University of Washington, Seattle. She established the print art program at Pratt Fine Arts Center in Seattle, served on Pratt’s board of directors and is the founder and past president of Seattle Print Arts. In 2016 she curated and organized a satellite exhibition in conjunction with the Seattle Art Fair, “In Context” exhibiting large scale work by thirteen regional artists. In 2017, her large scale, sight specific animation installation, “Architectonic” was exhibited at Oxbow Art Space in Seattle.

 

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Oil and Water Do Mix! A Pet Portrait Oil Painting of a Water Dog

Sarah and her aunt commissioned me to make this pet portrait of Ruby as a gift for Sarah’s parents. Sara is my husband’s best friend, she was the “best man” in our wedding, and I absolutely adore her. I never got to meet Ruby but I’ve heard lots of stories about her. Though it’s been years since she passed, she is still missed by those that knew her. I put a lot of care into each painting I make, but knowing the family personally, knowing firsthand how much Ruby was loved, really reinforces my mission of creating these paintings with a sensitivity to the bond between people and their animal friends. You can see the love that Ruby gave back to her family in her happy smiling face. I hope the painting brings them all much joy. Please take a look at my Pet portraits gallery to see more examples of my work.

A Painting More True to Life than a Photograph

This painting evokes Ruby’s puppy-like zeal the way only an original painting can. Since it’s painstakingly created layer by layer, I’m able to pay careful attention to all the details that make Ruby “Ruby”. Sometimes these details even get missed by the camera. The main image I used for the portrait showed Ruby’s eyes to be dark brown. But in the other images, and in everyone’s memory, her eyes had a golden glow, which I worked to capture. Though I can sometimes get all of the information I need with just one image, working with several and getting lots of feedback is important to my process.

I had the added honor of witnessing the happy couple unwrap Ruby’s portrait. People often write that seeing their portrait for the first time brought tears to their eyes, but seeing them both burst into happy tears was a special moment for me. See them below in a photo taken by Sarah, with the framed portrait of Ruby.

couple posing with their commissioned pet portrait, a gift from their daughter, painted by Rebecca Luncan

From the Family

You are a very talented artist and you captured the heart and spirit of our wonderful four-legged sweetheart, Ruby. We really love the painting. Thanks again, very much.

Doug, Gloria & Sarah

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Memorial portrait of Jackson, painted in diptych as puppy & dog

Clark worked hard to make this pair of portraits happen! They were an anniversary gift, and getting all the old photos of Jackson scanned and mailed in secret took time and cunning. Clark was up to the task though, and he supplied me with lots of great images. Although we talked at first of painting Jackson as an adult, he sent me a few pictures from his puppy stage as well. I couldn’t resist mocking up a puppy portrait—the images were too adorable! Clark was tempted too, and instead of one portrait, he commissioned two paintings, each from a different stage in Jackson’s life.

Framing the Portraits

puppy pet portrait oil painting framed by Rebecca Luncan

“Jackson as a Puppy” oil on copper, 6″ x 6″

I sent Clark a selection of frames to choose from and he picked a 1 1/2″ wide natural wooden frame. The color brings out the warmth of Jackson’s Golden Retriever silky coat, and the pair of portraits look great together. Take a look at my Pet Portraits Gallery to see more examples of my work, and visit the Commissions page to learn how to commission your own pet portrait oil paintings.

pet portrait oil painting of golden retriever by Rebecca Luncan

Portrait of Jackson
oil on copper
6″ x 6″