How I create custom pet portraits

It’s no surprise that I love bold colour, and I’m absolutely loving the pet portraits I have been creating that are all about colour!

I was listening to an artist talk a few months ago and it was suggested that all artists include pet portraits as part of their work – I heard this and thought, well I really enjoy commissioned work and I love pets (the 100 million photos of my dog and chickens on my phone will prove that) so adding pet portraits to my art services seemed so obvious – why hadn’t I thought of this earlier!

I spent a few hours one day when I was sick in bed with a head cold pretty much googling pet portraits to see what other artists offer and how they go about it. That was so useful as it gave me a much better idea of how to set up pet portraits.

The next step was deciding which style/process to do as I enjoy creating both hand-painted and digital art. I drew a few dogs with watercolours and while I was happy with how they turned out, it was almost too obvious for me and thought this watercolour style is already quite available for pet portraits.

I decided to try a digital drawing that was a bit different – using bright colours instead of the real colours of the dog, and including a fun background. This was my first drawing in this style of my dog who is very energetic:

example of vibrant bright custom pet portrait

I really loved this illustration, so I did a second one using an image from Unsplash – this time in more subtle colours:

example of custom pet portrait

I knew I was onto something once I shared these two portraits on social media and had a great response. I wanted more images like this in my portfolio before going live so I asked if anyone wanted a free pet portrait – luckily I was sent a wonderful variety of dogs and one beautiful cat.

The first step to creating a drawing like this is to have a good reference photo – some people sent me a few photos to choose from so I would pick one that had a nice ‘happy’ face and was facing mostly front on. I also checked if there were any colour preferences before I got started.

I use Procreate to do the actual drawing, using the photo as a reference to get the shape and features looking correct. To give you an idea of how I draw fur – I create a solid colour as a base layer, then add a second layer of different colours to create highlights, shadows, and various shades of fur. This is then slightly blended. Then I add at least one or two more layers to give more texture to the fur, especially with long bits of hair.

Each drawing is taking me about 3-4 hours and around 10,000 brushstrokes! The hairier the dog, the longer it takes ha ha!

Once the actual pet is finished, I export the file to Photoshop where I then start looking at backgrounds. I’ll either use a pattern from my existing library and tweak it a bit, or draw a new background using Procreate. I’ve found so far that most of my completed pet portraits include a background I have drawn especially for that pet.

Now, what I find interesting is that most of the backgrounds I really like are different from what the owner likes – so I am now making at least three different backgrounds for someone to choose from, and then doing even more backgrounds if they are not so keen on the first ones.

Finally, once the completed illustration is chosen, I send the digital file to the owner and if they want I also get it printed on high quality art paper. I recently found a local printer who is awesome (Loupe Imaging) and love that I can print out these illustrations, sign them, and then send to the pet owner to frame and look at everyday! I think it is such a unique and fun way to see your pet and having an artwork like this would definitely brighten up your home and provide such a statement piece!

I’ve created a page that has all the information about pet portraits, how to book in and what’s included. I’m open to other subjects for commissions too so if you love my style and want a special illustration, just let me know 🙂

example of custom pet portrait

I'd love to know what you think!