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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

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    Far away image zoomed in

    Photo taken up close

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    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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A Portrait of a Dog, Woman’s Best Friend

Portraits of Woman’s Best Friend

This is my second painting of Penny. I made my first portrait of her titled, “Woman’s Best Friend”, for my series Monthly Miniature, Into the country a few years ago (pictured below). She’s was my mother in law‚Äôs best friend. Penny posed for me, as many of her barnyard friends had done before her. The first painting sold while on exhibit, but Margot’s partner, Tony, though she should have a portrait of Penny of her very own. He commissioned the portrait for her in secret.

Two Sides of Penny

It’s interesting to see the two painting together. She almost looks like a different dog because her coloring is a little different on her right and left size. This influenced the colors I choose for the background. I like using a contrasting green tone when painting animals with orange/brown fur. Even though Penny only had a little orange spot on her cheek and in her eyes the color combination gives a nice warmth and depth.

The other side of Penny’s face is almost entirely black and white with some soft hints of brown. For my first painting of Penny, I kept this background in the grey tones and wanted to reinforce her stoic profile pose. I also kept more texture in the background to help lead the viewers eye around to her textured curly fur on her chest. Though they both portray the same dog, you can see how these little details make such a big difference.

From Margot:

OMG. I’m in tears.. every freckle on her nose, her ruffly fur, her sweet eyes!! You, my darling Rebecca, are truly amazing!

In Progress commissioned Pet portrait painting of black and white dog by Rebecca Luncan woman's best friend
Woman's best friend, pet portrait dog, oil on copper, 4" x 4"
Woman’s best friend, oil on copper, 4″ x 4″

Please go to my commissions page to learn more about my process, pricing and schedule. And contact me if you’re interested in having a custom portrait made of your very own.

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Portrait of an American Quarter Horse

Animals hold a special place in our hearts.  If you’re looking for a gift for someone who has everything, a portrait of their dearly loved animal is bound to be something they will cherish. I recently finished this portrait painting of an American Quarter Horse and shipped it off to Tennessee. It was commissioned as a Christmas gift for a much appreciated CEO from her work colleagues.

Layer by Layer

My paintings are created with a traditional fat over lean technique to ensure that they will last for hundreds of years. By using layers and glazing, the paintings have a rich depth that you don’t get with just one layer of paint. Adding more and more oil to each additional layer helps the paintings dry more evenly and they are also much less likely to crack (even after hundreds of years!). Paintings on metal made using this technique still survive in pristine condition from the 1500’s.

 

Thank you to Kady and Trey who helped organized the commission! Go to my Pet Portrait commissions gallery to see more work.

 

From Kady:

She cried when we gave it to her and she was speechless. She loved it!!!!

 

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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.

Painting fluffy cats takes lots of patience, but it’s so rewarding when the final layers start to come together and you can start to “feel” the light fluffy fur. I use 4-6 layers of paint and and combine transparent and opaque areas to get the effect. 

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

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

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 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‚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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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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Golden Retriever Paintings Memorialize Jackson, painted as a puppy & adult in a diptych

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‚ÄĒthe 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.