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)

"Painting" a Himalayan Cat

I recently painted a Himilayan cat who passed away unexpectedly. He was definitely the king of the house as can be seen by the photograph below.

The owner is a dear friend of mine and a photographer. I chose this photograph, even though it looks a little dark and doesn’t show his eyes as well as another photograph I had. Sometimes, I just go by feel what I think would work better as a painting, but having several photos is always a plus when doing a portrait.

I used Mi Tientes pastel paper cropped at 16″ x 20″. Of course I have to provide you with the work in progress photos!

You can see the color of the paper in the first step. I cropped the background to concentrate on his face and body. How could I crop out his paws? This was part of his personality and was told he loved to hang out “at the bar”.

Obviously, I added more cream color in the fur, blue in the background and darkened the chair.

I decided not to show a clear distinction between the floor and wall and instead started to work on the transition.

I played with the colors for a while, trying to pull out the highlights and push the darker colors, while keeping a believable shape to his face and paws. I’ll save you the hundreds of photos I took in this process. For some reason, taking a photo with my phone as I go helps me to see the mistakes.

Here it is finished before I framed it.

And one more framed and in its new spot…

Charcoal Portrait…and Travel

Lilly, 8×10, charcoal

I’ve been out of town this week, travelling for business. I thought I should bring along a few portrait commissions just in case I was inspired in my hotel room. The one above, of course, is a really bad picture, taken from my phone. It’s a smaller one, 8×10 and was done fairly quickly. It is charcoal, so the photograph should just be black and white (no blue in real life!). Once I return home, I will prop it up and look at it again, and tweak it before giving it to the client.
I was hoping to return home yesterday, but I was among the many many people affected by the winter storm. I was trying to fly out of Providence Rhode Island. The snow is a gorgeous site for us not used to seeing it! Being from North Carolina, we see more ice than snow, and even the ice is rare…To see the snow coming down so quickly, I had mixed feelings. It was beautiful and exciting, but I was at the airport hoping to fly out. A flight that was supposed to leave at 1:30 was delayed many times and was eventually cancelled (after being boarded and waiting for the plane to de-ice twice). I was frustrated at first, but my company has a wonderful travel department that helped me with my flight and hotel. Can I say I love the Hilton? It’s my favorite hotel (especially when having to stay overnight due to cancelled flights). The beds are soft, the duvet covers are silky, warm and light. My favorite part was that they had HGTV! This has become a rarity in the hotels I’ve stayed in. The employees at the hotel were very nice, and I’m it was a struggle with so many stranded people staying there.

Portrait

Lavada and Ken, charcoal, 11″x14″

I feel like I’ve neglected this, but I guess not…it’s only been 5 days or so. I think I’m getting to the final stretch with the most recent portrait, though I’m still not calling it done. It has a different feel to it than the others, but I think it has more to do with the following:

  1. the source photo: the source photo was not as clear as the others, so there is less detail. Less detail in the photo=less detail in the portrait.
  2. vicinity to the camera: this comes back to the # of subjects for obvious reasons.
  3. # of subjects: the more people in the portrait, the less focus I can provide to each. Basically, this is the key to the whole portrait – the more subjects, the further they have to be from the camera, and the less detail it will provide.

So, really it comes down to you get what you give me. As a customer, it’s up to you to tell me what you want. You are paying for a portrait and I want it to be the best that it can possibly be. That means when I ask you to give me criticism (ie, does it look like you/him/her? What about the nose that doesn’t look right?). I’m perfectly fine with straying from the photo, since photographs are known to lie.