Introduction to a Multiple Pet Portrait

My Take on a Portrait with More Than One Subject

In my previous post, I talked about portraits and how I LOVE them.

From Wikipedia: A portrait is a painting, photograph, sculpture, or other artistic representation of a person, in which the face and its expression is predominant.

Couldn’t this apply to any subject? I’m going to say “Of course!”

The purpose changes a little when doing portraits with multiple animals or people. The face and expression  of ONE is no longer predominant when adding more than one subject. But, that’s not to say it won’t be successful. Given the right references, it can be an awesome painting!  

Let’s say you’ve decided to commission an artist to do a portrait with two or more pets in it instead of multiple individual portraits.  First realize it won’t have the same impact as it would with one pet.

Wooly Malamute | pastel | 16×20

Having more than one dog/pet in a painting gives the feeling of a pack, the camaraderie/social aspect of them together. A dog and cat (or two separate species) could play off how well they get along, or how NOT well they get along (so many images flashing in my head of FUN portraits!)

The detail will be there, but may not have the same impact as having one pet to concentrate on. The concentration will be of the togetherness, not their individuality. Both are great options and both can be beautiful.

Combining Reference Photographs…Consistency is Key!

There are other considerations to a multiple pet portrait if you don’t have photos with them together. In addition to the recommendations for an individual portrait, keep these in mind:

  • Lighting
    • Should be consistent if there are highlights and shadows (and there should be for a good portrait)
    • Type of lighting (all indoor light or all outdoor)
    • Best to take all photos on the same day and in the same location for the best outcome for consistency 

Yorkshire Terrier “Chloe” in natural light

Yorkshire Terrier “Chloe” in indoor light

  • Direction 
    • From the photos you have, are they facing the same way?
    • If not, would it look natural for pets to be looking at different spots in a painting? 
      • Answer: Probably not. Chances are, your pet was looking at you, a bird, or a treat. I doubt that if you had all your pets in the same spot, they would choose different subjects. Think of holiday pictures you’ve taken or have been in with a group of people. Do you consider it a success if you have people looking in all directions, or when they’re looking in the same direction?

Boxer”Lily”
Mixed Breed “Hercules”

  • Angle
    • Your relation to the pet when you’re taking the picture. Are you above them? At eye level? It doesn’t really matter, although I’ve found that at eye level is best, but you want to make it consistent. If you’re at eye level with one pet, make sure you’re not at a completely different angle with the other pet.
German Shepherd “Nicholl”
Alaskan Malamute “Dash”

  • Proximity
    • Optional, but it will make the artist’s job a little easier there. If you zoom in on one pet, and don’t on the other, you may not have a realistic size relation in your portrait. If an artist isn’t familiar with a particular breed, they won’t know how one pet compares to the other if they don’t have photos of them together to judge. 

It all comes down to one word – CONSISTENCY.

In the End, It’s Your Call

It really is an individual decision. What feeling do you want to convey? If you want to be able to look at EACH of your pets as individuals, I would encourage separate portraits (like the example above). If you want to go with the “pack”, then I would recommend the group portrait. Just keep in mind there is more work on both parties to ensure consistency.

Portraits are commissions, after all. Artists who take on commissions, want to please the customer. So if you only have a limited amount of photos and the pet is no longer around (RIP), that’s OK. We work around what’s available and if we can get it, GREAT, but if not, at least we know what we have to work with.

However, the better the photo, the better the outcome…

I’ll leave you with one of the sketches I’ve done for a pet portrait I’m working on right now…(one of the earlier FAILED compositions. Can you name the issue I have here?).

Sketch of pet portrait (Alaskan Malamute, Samoyed, Siberian Husky)

2 thoughts on “Introduction to a Multiple Pet Portrait

  1. Janae–This is a worthwhile, informative blog that every animal portrait artist should read! I will share it and try to direct others to your blogs in general–great work! janetglatzmaineart.com #maineart #uniqueart

  2. Thanks Janet! I've found that many people don't think of some of these things when taking photos, so it's great if one person can take something from my post. I appreciate your comment!

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