Most of my pet portrait commissions are based on images that come from my clients. I have a couple of blog posts for suggestions on getting photos of cats and dogs that can help get you started. What usually ends up working best though, is to take lots of photos (for dogs at least) when you’re running around at the park. I’m often altering the background of images to simplify it so that the attention is going to the subject of the painting. It’s not often that the background truly compliments the subject. When it does, though it’s something special.
The Historical Portrait Miniature
If you do a search for “Portrait Miniature” you’ll find countless classical miniatures, mostly from the 16th – 18th century. Popular in England, France and in the United States (There are probably a million portrait miniatures of George Washington).
At least a third of the paintings that come up in these searches have a blue sky with clouds in the background. They put it perfectly in an article about the representations of clouds in art by the Lawrence Wilson Art Gallery of the University of Western Australia. “The physical position of the clouds, situated between heaven and earth, associates them with a higher order, a characteristic that recurs in art through the ages.” The association is then tied to subject placed in front of the clouds. I’ve been dying to do a portrait like this for ages. And was fortunate that Theo (aka Thelonious Monk ) has the bearing to pull it off. I can’t look at this painting without imaging a cape on her back. I think of it as puggle portrait painting that reveals the true size of the personality held in such a tiny body.
It’s perfect!! Thank you so much! Melanie LOVES it, and we found a central spot to hang it. Just in time for her birthday and a gift for the ages…both with Theo, and beyond.
I was commissioned to make two paintings for Jason. The first, a gift for his sister of her beloved dog Hazel. Hazel was a golden retriever that had given a lifetime of love. The other was of Turbo, a lot of personality packed into a miniature 4″ composition.
I composed both of these painting with classical dutch portraits in mind. There were so many great photos for me to choose from of these two. I was especially inspired by the warmth in Hazel’s eyes and the intelligence in Turbo’s.
I was sad to hear that both Turbo and Hazel passed between the time when we designed the portraits and when they were completed. It really reinforces my mission of creating pet portraits though. And I love that their portraits will live on for hundreds of years to come.
From Jason: I got them today! We are in love! Thank you so much, such talented work!!
To learn about how to commission your own pet portrait, please visit the Commission’s page.
My King Charles Cavalier Spaniel, Mona, has posed for us to help demonstrate how to get the best photos for your pet portrait.
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.
Photo taken inside
Photo taken outside
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.
photographed from above
Image taken from Mona’s eye level
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
Far away image zoomed in
Photo taken up close
Up close image zoomed in
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.
No reflection in the eyes
Reflection in Mona’s eyes
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.
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.
Don’t forget to brush your dog’s hair! Mona had some tangles I missed before we took our photos. 😉
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.
Black Cat in progress – experimenting with background treatments
Despite my hungry little bundle joy, (i.e. my adorable, two month old son Isaac), June is off to a great start in the studio. Here’s a peak at four little paintings I’m working on right now.
The first of the lot is of Jolly Rajah, the black cat. I actually started this one months ago as an experiment related to the monthly miniature series (I considered a series of black cats). I had considered this little one finished, and originally it featured a window with a tree in the background. But it didn’t seem right to me, and I ended up going with the Into the Country idea instead. After contemplating it for a while, I’m reworking this little guy. I’m trying out a simplified background now, working to define his features a bit more, and also to create a stronger focal point at his lovely eyes.
I love the beautiful little 1920’s brass and celluloid miniature frame I have for it, so I’m hoping to salvage the painting. I’m also hoping that working through this painting, will help me get a better idea of what will work in the fourteen remaining frames I’ve been collecting in this style. Here’s a link to the finished painting!
Commission In Progress
I love painting animals, but I have to admit to a special soft spot for dogs
This little guy is my top priority in the studio right now. He’s the first of my June Miniature Pet Portrait Specials and will be completed in time for a special occasion. I have added a couple coats of paint since taking this photo, and I plan to have it finished by the end of the week so it can be shipped out to its new home right away.
Rabbit Couple in progress
I told you there would be more rabbits! It’ll be hard to separate these two paintings, and I’m considering selling them as a pair. Once they’re finished, they’ll go in a lovely pair of matching antique frames I’ve been saving for just the right couple. I’m planning on three or four more rabbit portraits and will be on the lookout for new models! Contact me if you have a willing bunny!