I thought I’d demystify how to create a custom pet portrait from beginning to end. My client asked me for a portrait of a recently passed away family dog named Dudley. Dudley was a beloved family pet and lived a long good life and they wanted a way to commemorate his life with a keepsake. How lovely!
First off, I’ve been painting for over 15 years and I did study art (and interior design) in school but it’s really just about practice and making mistakes and doing it over and over again until you come up with a look you like. When I studied in college painting was all about photo realism and how to make your painting look like the photo. BORING! Yes, I learned “techniques” in school and they are very helpful in the beginning but in recent years I’ve more been interested in un-learning what I learned and taking my metaphorical bra off and letting it all hang out! I say this because the photos I include in this post aren’t from any traditional technique from steps 1-10. Sometimes I started at 1 and jumped to 5 and came back to 2 and had FUN! My goal was to make a colorful pet portrait that looked like Dudley but that had personality and pizazz! Let me show you what I mean…
So as you can see above, I started with a simple line drawing using a thin paint brush. Then I added some fun under-paint colors. Why pink? I get that question a lot. I just love pink and I love how it vibrates with other colors when you lay colors on top of pink and have little hints popping through. Pink and green are also complimentary colors so I knew it would impact the fun wreath well. I then started painting the wreath. I didn’t do a fun under-paint color here… Why you may ask? No reason. I definitely could have done something under there and it would have made the leaves even more interesting but I decided to go a little more “traditional” on the leaves by starting dark green and building my way up to light green. I also got into painting the eyes and nose at this point and I kept these pretty traditional as well because I wanted to capture Dudley’s soul and expression here.
I touched base with the client and got some feedback on what background color she would want for the custom dog portrait. The client mentioned she liked gray and lavender and that Dudley’s iconic red collar was a must. I added in the collar and did some fun pastel highlights. I must tell you that when I discovered adding pastels to my paintings a couple years ago it was a GAME CHANGER. It just looks so fun and some of those colors and textures you just can’t replicate with paint so it really gave my paintings that colorful, whimsical edge that makes them look at little more eclectic, fun and spontaneous. I then went to painting the background color in. I decided on a grayish/lavender color (as per the client’s request) and I left hints of pink popping through (hard to see the pinks popping through on the photo but I promise they’re there). Then I sealed it, signed it and mailed it off the client.
I’m really happy with this piece because I think it looks like the colorful pet portrait I was going for while retaining some of the realistic quality of capturing Dudley’s personality.