traci turner, traci l turner, art, painting, portraits, artist

Oil on canvas, 11″ x 14″

I’m not going to front on here, I was very nervous about this one.

I usually only work with the human figure, and occasionally flowers, so when I was asked to paint a friend’s beloved pet I tightened up. A pet portrait isn’t something that people take lightly! Just like a person, you have to be able to capture the essence and personality when depicting an animal. And not just any “animal,” a pet. This is someone’s family member. You can’t let them down! At the same time, I didn’t want to let my inexperience and apprehension deter me from a new challenge and opportunity. Plus it’s pretty flattering to be asked to produce a piece of artwork for someone to have. So of course, I accepted.

I think my main concern with it was the drawing aspect of the piece. I don’t spend time drawing animals at all, so I really didn’t know where to start and I was afraid that whatever I did wouldn’t look too much like a dog – much less a GOOD one. I was given a few photo references to work from so that was super helpful. Since I’ve also met the subject, Sheela, I was familiar with her temperament so that helped me when deciding colors and posing to try to give the viewer a feeling of who Sheela is. Here’s a little bit of how this piece progressed:


The beginning sketch/line drawing.

Once I was able to sketch something that looked a lot like Sheela, I felt pretty good. I just need a really good start, because the rest of the painting process is nothing but adjustments as you go and that doesn’t bother me too much.

traci turner, traci l turner, art, artist, painting, portraits

Blocked in some basic colors here, just to establish some values to work with and a solid base on which to build up the rest of my colors.

traci turner, traci l turner, art, portraits, artist

Since the fur was going to be layered over the bandana and the bandana wasn’t so important to me, I just went ahead and loosely painted that in first. Then I started on the nose and eyes to get in some of my darkest values first.

So at this point there’s still a lot of decision-making to be done. You don’t want the whites to be too white, but muddiness must also be avoided. I still had a lot of terrain to cover on the rest of the head, because there no light/dark values to establish shape and lighting.

traci turner, traci l turner, pet portrait, portraits, art, artist, painting

A close up of the nose. I was quite proud of it, no bullshit. Of course in real life her nose is black, but your eyes will still register it as a dark color when compared to the rest of the painting.

traci turner, traci l turner, pet portrait, portraits, art, artist, painting

Two soft swipes of this reddish color and you have some eye highlights for dark brown eyes. These I made up to add dimension that couldn’t be seen in the photos.


Here is where I started to block in some more values to the head to really start making this painting look and feel like Sheela.

traci turner, traci l turner, art, painting, portraits, artist

The finished painting again.

I think for my first time painting something like this it was very successful. I shocked myself with it. Not sure if I’m going to do more like these, but with this one completed and well-received by the owner, I think I’ll have a lot less anxiety about taking on similar commissions. It is a bit of a deviation from the current style I’ve been working on, but the elements are still there. The brushwork is still very loose, however it’s much tighter than how I’ve been painted in the last year. I opted out of using wilder, highly saturated colors for a color range that matched how Sheela looks in-person. I’d like to think with those choices that I’ve been able to capture Sheela’s sweet, calm nature with this piece.

What are your thoughts?