No one knows your dog better than you do. No one.
You live with her, you watch her sleep, and eat, and sleep some more. You watch her frolic in the yard and then laugh was she rolls in that one spot she likes where the grass is extra soft. You know her personality inside and out, so you know what expressions capture what makes your dog your dog.
Part of the dilemma I face with any pet portrait is choosing the right photo reference.While the best photos will always render the most detailed custom pet portraits, I don't know your pet the way you do. I can't search through hundreds of images and choose the one photo that depicts your dog the way you know her.
One of the most important things in any custom pet portrait is to choose an image that really shows your pet's personality.
Lola was a perfect example.
Because this was a local commissioned pet portrait, I was able to do a photo shoot with Lola at her home. We struggled to get her just at the right moment to get that "I'm excited" happy face. In other words, I needed her ears up. (When a dog's ear are down or back in a photo, they often look scared or sheepish and it does not translate well into a painting. )
Out of almost 200 photos, these 3 were the only ones I could find in which Lola's facial expression depicted her as the excited Lola that laid in front of my camera lens:
To me, all three of these photos would have made fantastic dog portraits. She's looking straight at me, ears up, even smiling!
But Lola's mommy, April, wasn't thrilled with any of them. They were "OK" but I could tell none of them really stood out to her.
Before I wrapped up our shooting session, I let April paw through the shots on my camera. She gasped "AHA!" and I immediately knew we found the one.
It was a new concept for me to approach a pet portrait that wasn't gleaming with happiness and excitement. This photo of Lola was one of exhaustion and boredom. Is this really what April wanted hanging on her wall?
Yes, it was. April explained that this photo captured Lola in every way. Even though she has a spunky happy-go-lucky side, most of Lola's days are just spent lounging on the couch, moping around the house, and giving her best "feel bad for me" sad eyes.
I couldn't argue. I don't live with Lola, so I had to rely on April's gut reaction.
Her love of the photo was undeniable - and so it was chosen.
The Portrait Begins...
Lola's expression translated immediately into the initial portrait drawing. Not even five minutes into the process and she's already giving me "sad eyes". Oh boy...
Above, my first pastel color gets scribbled into place. I always start with the highlights, and then the darkest darks, and then hit all the shades in between.
As you can see below, when I say "scribble" I really mean it. Nothing fancy here, folks!
Below, after all the larger (less detailed) areas were scribbled in, I blended the pastel to give subtle gradients of color. Had to mask all the evidence of scribbling ;)
Onto the nose. Because of this portrait's size, I was able to get really detailed with the texture in Lola's nose. This required many layers of pastel, as you'll see in the final portrait stages...
Once the basics are established (eyes, nose, snout) my favorite step begins! Adding the coat texture is a long, tedious process. However along with the monotany of billions upon billions of tiny hair strokes, theres an excitement building inside me - I love watching the portrait come alive with color!
As you can see above and below, there's a lot of bright layers of color that I used to achieve the neutral tone of Lola's hair.
And the hair strokes continue...
Here you can see the juxtaposition of her face - almost completely filled in with hair strokes - beside the remainder of her body which has yet to receive any detail beyond my blurred scribbles.
I'm not sure why but I tend to leave things like ears for one of the last steps to the portrait...
Lola's snout was quite an endeavor. As you can see in the image above, there were many shades of blue, grey, and even purple needed to achieve the appearance of texture. Additionally, the white hair strokes layered over top required different shades of grey and white to give the illusion that some were popping out more than others.
And Voi la! A "Lola" comes to life!
When April finally held Lola's portrait in her hands, she kept saying "She's beautiful" as opposed to "it's beautiful."
In those few words, I learned a really valuable lesson:
I can spend any number of endless hours perfecting a pet portrait to be as photorealistic as possible and in the end it will look just like your photo. But if that photo doesn't depict your dog's true personality, that portrait is just "a portrait" of "a dog". So be sure to choose a reference photo that shows who your dog really is.
I eat, sleep, and breathe art. I'm fond of horses and put ketchup on everything. =]