Monday 30 July 2012

Pet Portrait in ten steps from OliveTheRabbit

I've asked quite a few times by my peers over the last year to do a process post. A visual write up showing a step by step of how I go about painting my pet portraits. I haven't done one before, largely because when I paint, I often work non-stop from start to finish, without a break, very much "in the zone". And it's quite hard to remember to stop and take photos. I meant to take process photos for some of my last paintings, but ended up missing a whole chunk of photos. So this time for my latest commission, "Barney" in the UK, I made a real effort to document the procress!

1. Before I even pick up a pencil, my first step is to spend time researching different styles of clothing and people who represent the feel of the pet's character.  I collect images and put them into a folder which becomes the go to ref folder for that pet.

This is especially important when I'm doing the portrait for people I have only "met" via one or two emails. Especially when not much information is given, I use my own guage and collect pics of  famous people and clothing brands for inspiration.   

Eg, for the cat Tochi I used George Clooney, for Hamish the Westie I used Ewan McGregor haha. In this case for Barney, my reference was just Ben Sherman clothing.

2. I then do a few "rough" pencil drafts, that cover different attitudes. And one of them is what the owner will go with.

This step is probably the hardest would you believe and takes 75% of the portraiture time. It's a little bit like being forced to write with writer's block. But I always want to produce something special for the owner so I really have to push through.

3. The owner chooses the one they prefer.
I also give the option of mixing and matching eg shoes from one, with a jacket from another draft, or the head of one draft on the body of the other.
I redraw the final draft using a light table to trace onto the good watercolour paper and ink over with a black or brown ink pen.
If the animal has specific fur patterning, I use pencil to outline this.


4. I pick a base colour and do a faint wash around the animal.

Sometimes I leave this 'til the end if i don't know what colour or if I don't know if it needs a background colour or not yet.

5. The "rule" of watercolours is to work from light colours to dark colours.

But I always paint in order of colour decision. There are main colours I know I definately want to use. So I paint these in first, so then I can look at it and visualise whatcolour will look good for the extra bits.

So for Barney I knew I wanted his jacket caramel and his pants charcoal.

6. I fill in all the brown fur, two shades, for the head and tail. Using a washed out sepia for the shadows in the white.

Decide to make the under jumper red to add some pizzaz.


I go into the fur with a second layer of brown paint in the darker areas (both shadow and colour richness).

The jacket didn't look as rich as I pictured so I went over that a second time with a tan paint, being careful to keep the fabric folds darker.

8. It might be hard to tell from the pics, but the head fur looked too fluffy from my individual brusk stroked. Barney had short, silky fur, so in order to make him look accurate, I went over the head after the paint dried, and teased out the strokes to smooth it, dabbing the extra moisture away with a serviette when the right amount of smoothness was achieved. (I always work with a serviette at hand to control the flow of water or to stem a water effect.)

I also went over the pants with a brown wash to make the colour richer.

Then a final pass of grey shadowing for the base of the tail, and more shadow to sculpt the head, snout and eye sockets, and ice-cream shadows. Another layer of background wash around the ice-cream and tail end to make the white stand out.

Lastly the shadow he stands on.

9. I've been spray painting natural wooden frames with enamel gloss paint. Takes a bit of practice and days of drying, but it looks nice and contemporary.

I seal the back myself with gummed paper tape to protect from extra moisture/humidity in the air.

Put my OliveTheRabbit on the back,

10. And it's finally done!