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)

What is the Definition of a Portrait?

Flower Portraits? Why Yes, I Do That Too…

If you’re familiar with my work, you would know that I like to paint and draw animals, people, flowers…so as I was writing this post about portraits and what I like to focus on, I realized that what I’m really painting is portraits. Portraits of people, animals and flowers.

In my bio/statement/about me sections that all artists should have, I say the same things…that I’m drawn (hahaha) to the details of a subject. It makes sense when I put my portraits together…

Portrait of Alex | charcoal | 16×20

Bovine Curiosity | charcoal | 18×24

Himalayan | pastel | 16×20

Even when you look at the flowers I have done, you see the same thing…close enough to see some detail, but not too close that it becomes abstract.

 

Violet | colored pencil | 8×10

Antique Rose | colored pencil | 8×10
Carnation | colored pencil | 8×10

Reference Photos

Here are some of my photographs that will someday be “portraits”…not all of them are great photos, some are blurry, but I’m not a photographer. I just play one for reference photos.

Dairy Cow in Chapel Hill NC

You would never know it, but this is a Belted Galloway at Fearringon Village, near Chapel Hill NC

Some cats have it made…this one hangs out at the Westin, St John, USVI

Baby monkey at the NC Zoo in Ashboro NC

Our cat, “Chopper”

The walkway the zoo has now is amazing! You can feed the giraffes and be eye to eye with them!
Flower (petunia or pansy? I always get them mixed up)

OK, I’m pretty sure this is an orchid. I’ve been known to take photos at random places.

So, there it is. I have a problem. As much as I LOVE landscapes and trees and all that purdy stuff, I think I just get on autopilot when I see something I like.

An Old Portrait and an Older Portrait

Oops!

 

I totally forgot that I meant to post a charcoal portrait of my daughter in the last post! That was a major reason I did a non-art post, but I guess that’s what happens when you have someone like me, posting about who-knows-what. I try to stay on topic of art, but sometimes, I gotta stray.

Portrait of Anna

 

Granted, this portrait was done years ago, and I’m painfully aware I should do an update. Plus, I have other family members who have waited patiently for their turn, but since theirs is free, they have no choice but to sit back and… wait some more.

Portrait of my Dad

 

So now we get to go down memory lane…to 20 (yes, TWENTY!) years ago. I did a portrait of my dad that I submitted and won 1st place in a Father’s Day event. Looking at it now…I can honestly tell you his lips were not that “pretty”. Maybe a redo is in order… πŸ˜‰

It’s a “stippling” portrait, made up of a bunch of dots. I did a few other drawings in the same fashion, but that’s another topic… Maybe I’m not that brave to show more of my work from high school, but it might be an eye opener for some who think you gotta be born with talent. πŸ˜‰

 

"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…

Tuesday’s Portrait

Tina II, charcoal, 12 x 14 inches

Just in case you were wondering, last week’s class was canceled. Sorry about that – I guess I could have said something, but I was in a funk. This week’s model was Tina, which I was happy to hear that someone recognized to be the same model as one of my other drawings. (That always makes you feel good – that a person comes out recognizable!)

Two Boys – Finished

I finished and framed the pastel painting above. It’s never recommended to take a photograph of your work when it’s already framed, but I forgot I didn’t have the updated image. During my long shift at the gallery yesterday, I took quite a few photographs of the building, and some pieces of mine that are framed.

Portrait

Leah and Ian, charcoal 11×14- WIP!

I’ve taken a longer break than planned, so I apologize for that. Somehow, December came in, I blinked, and it’s gone. I didn’t even post a Merry Christmas, Happy Holiday, Happy New Year to everyone! So…yeah, what I just said.
Now that all of the holidays are over, we get back to work! I’ve been working on a commission since my last post. This is Ian and Leah, two beautiful children in Connecticut. It’s still a Work In Progress, since I still need to smooth things out a bit. Pending the feedback I get, I should have this done this week. (I really need to start taking these photos during the day!)