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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 special way of giving, and a very special portrait of Lucy the cat

Lucy is special one. People would see this cat pet portrait painting on the easel and just fall in love.

cat pet portrait painting  oil painting miniature by Rebecca Luncan

Portrait of Lucy
5.25″ x 3.75″
oil on aluminum

But this portrait commission started off a little differently than usual. Lucy was commissioned as a graduation gift from mother to daughter. Instead of opening a box and finding a painting, Taylor opened an envelope and found a gift voucher for a custom portrait of her Lucy.

Most paintings don’t start this way, I think because people like to present a finished painting for a gift but part of the fun of commissioning a custom portrait is dreaming up ideas, then looking through the mock-up proposals and seeing the painting develop. We looked through images together in my studio, figuring out both the composition and the perfect antique frame for the painting. Taylor had a strong instinct for which elements really said “Lucy,” and when the design was finalized we were all excited to see it take shape!

I am so happy with how Lucy turned out, please continue reading Taylor and Drindi’s testimonials below and see my gallery of portraits on the Pet Portraits page.

From Drindy:

Oh my goodness. You did such a great job capturing her. So exciting. I admire your commitment to your passion and you are so good at it. So I hope your art work continues to be a priority for you – certainly brings so much joy and beauty to our world.

From Taylor:

I have said this to my mom several times now, but wanted to officially say to you how much I absolutely love and adore my painting of Lucy.  It gives me so much joy and captures her spirit and personality so perfectly.  It’s truly one of those few things I would save in a fire (hopefully that’s never the case) but you get the gist – I will treasure it forever.

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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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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″

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Hound Dog Pet portrait painting in an Antique Frame

My latest pet portrait painting is of a hound dog named Owsley. Mason contacted me a month before Julianne’s birthday and he wanted to surprise her with Owsley’s portrait. It was too late to finish it in time, so we put it in the schedule for the following year. Mason was able to look through photos with Julianne and get a good idea of what kind of a portrait she would like. And because it was scheduled so far out, it was still a bit of a surprise when he gave her the painting. We did a formal portrait for Owsley in the Dutch tradition, similar to my Into the Country Monthly Miniature series.

Beagle Hound Dog Pet portrait painting in an Antique Frame by Rebecca Luncan

Portrait of Owsley, oil on copper, 3″ x 3″

 

Antique Picture Frame

I gave Mason the option of using either a newly manufactured frame or using an antique hand finished one. He choose to go with one of the antique solid wood circular frames from the 1920’s. Thanks to my sister in Cincinnati, I have a bit over a dozen of these beautiful unfinished frames that came from the Castner Picture Frame Company. They were primed, and then stored for almost a hundred years when the frame manufacture went out of business. Each one is carefully matched with a portrait and then it receives its long awaited finishing coats of paint. Finding miniature solid wood frames with such a classic design is almost impossible today. And though I do still have a dozen of these frames left, I’m always on the look out for more. It’s like finding a little treasure to surround the portrait of someone you treasure.

Contact me to see what antique frames are available for your custom portrait and learn about the commission process on the Commissions page.

 

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!)”