I’ve been painting pet portraits for almost two years now, and I thought it might be interesting to show you the process, the evolution of a portrait.
I study the photos of Cody and Hana that were emailed to me: I keep them up on the computer and refer to them constantly while I’m painting.
First I sketch the dogs in pencil on a canvas board, just getting the outlines and the placement of the eyes and noses. It’s faint in this photo, but there’s enough for me to go on. Sometimes for a more complicated portrait I’ll use a projector or graphite paper to trace the details. I hold the sketch up to a mirror to make sure it looks balanced and correct.
Then I choose my palette of acrylic paints. I like Golden Acrylics for their consistency and color. I use various sizes of synthetic bristle brushes. One of my favorite brushes is a 1/2 inch angled brush. For Cody the black Lab, I chose Paynes Gray and Prussian Blue. Even though he’s black, he really isn’t all black- highlights and shadows comprise many colors. I don’t like to use black paint – it’s too flat and dark. For Hana I used Raw Siena, Burnt Siena, Buff, and White.
I like to paint the eyes right away – that way the animal is there and the personality comes through. I used Burnt Siena and Burnt Umber along with Payne’s Gray, and I always put two dots of white in the pupil. It gives life to the eyes. I paint the noses in at that time too. Hana’s nose needed some pink so I diluted some Cadmium Red with White and added a little Raw Siena. A little stroke of white at the bottom of the nostrils gives definition and a bit of shine.
Working more color in, I gave Hana some Prussian Blue for her shadows and even a little pink here and there. I worked with Cody’s shadows and highlights some more.
I don’t do a painting all at one sitting. Acrylics dry quickly, and I leave the painting for a while and then come back to it. Sometimes I leave it for a day. When I come back I always see something I missed and need to correct. If I get stuck I leave it alone and usually I can work it out after a while. Sometimes a painting reaches the I hate it stage. It’s awful. It will never work. Before I get too frustrated I leave it alone and then later I’ll get a fresh look at it and move on.
Moving along, I worked more on Cody finished up Hana and thought about my background. I usually like a smooth background, although I’ve been experimenting with mottled and different color backgrounds. I try to have the background color complement the dog’s color. Since we have 2 different color dogs here, I decided to use green – lighter behind Cody and darker behind Hana. I mixed Cobalt Blue and Hansa Yellow, both transparent colors, and made a mixture with White, some darker and some lighter. I laid down several layers, letting them dry in between coats. A drop if dish washing liquid makes the paint flow very smoothly and cover evenly.
I notified the client that the painting was finished, and she sent a check right away. I mailed it off and a few days later I got this email: Hi, Deena, I received the portrait yesterday. It came out great! I love it and can’t wait to give it to my friend. I will definitely recommend you to anyone interested in having a portrait done of their animal buddy.
Please visit my web site at Pet Portraits by Deena. I have over 40 portraits on the site, mostly dogs, several cats and a couple of horses. I love animals and I love painting, so I’ve been fortunate to be able to combine these interests and create paintings that have made many people very happy.