A pet portrait is an excellent way to honor your fur baby, BFF (best feathered friend) or other beloved critter. Painting one is easier than it may look; in fact, you might be surprised to learn that capturing a pet’s likeness on canvas actually uses many of the same techniques as painting any portrait.
This tutorial will walk you through the basics. So sit! Stay! This is gonna be a treat.
Before You Paint
Creating a portrait of a pet is not about producing a photo-realistic image; it’s about conveying the animal’s personality. You probably know what makes your own pet so very (fill in the blank!), but if you’re painting someone else’s pet, ask the owner about the animal’s special qualities, mannerisms and quirks. These aren’t things you’ll be able to pick up from a single photo. And speaking of photos …
Get Plenty of Pics!
If you'll be using reference images, don't settle for just one — it won't give you enough information about the way the sunlight changes the color of a cat's fur, for instance.
Collect or take photos that show the pet in a bunch of different lighting situations and at all sorts of angles. Make sure to get any special markings or positions. Pics that include favorite places, toys or accessories help, too. These can help you decide on a setting, as well as a color scheme.
Warm Up by Sketching
Make plenty of sketches of the pet before you settle on the final angle and composition of your portrait. Use newsprint or other cheaper paper and give yourself the time and freedom to experiment with different looks in order to find the right one.
Set a Great Scene
Pet portraits don't need to be serious or 100-percent accurate; they can show humor and whimsy. One of my favorite portraits is of a mischievous black dog riding a unicycle in front of Grant's Tomb in New York City. (What, your dog can't do that?) Choosing a setting and composition that’s in sync with a pet’s personality will make your portrait more meaningful.
Prep Your Work Area
Before getting immersed in your art, you'll want to assemble your brushes, canvas or other work surface, and any other supplies you'll need . That way, instead of scrambling to find the things you need while you're painting, you can focus solely on the creative challenge of getting Mr. Biggles' ears just right.
Time to Start Painting!
Make an Underpainting
An underpainting (essentially a sketch of the image in paint) can add dimension to your pet portrait. Using a color that contrasts with the palette you have in mind for the final piece will give your finished painting a more lifelike effect.
Create the Perfect Palette
As with painting skin tones , you’ll need more than one color for fur, scales or feathers. Whether your subject is a dog, cat, turtle or python, you’ll notice color variations in the face and body. Even a dog that appears white might have yellow or gray undertones; a black cat probably isn’t just black, but may have reddish undertones in the sunlight. Create a palette that reflects these subtle variations.
Paint in Layers
Portraits of people are often painted in layers , and this technique works well with pets too. Start by creating a base layer that captures the basic colors and shapes of the face and body, then start to refine your painting by adding texture and detail.
The result of all this effort: a lovely portrait of your adorable subject. Doesn't your pet deserve it?