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:
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.
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.
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?