Capturing likeness and character in a pet portrait

Capturing likeness and character in a pet portrait

Capturing likeness and character in a pet portrait

“Ask the artist” time – a chance to get your questions answered

Many people receive their portraits and are just amazed at the fact that the portrait really looks like THEIR pet. It is not only the likeness. But the big surprise is still the fact that it captures the character too.

Hi Kathrin, I got it today and I’m just blown away! It’s so much like her and it even feels like her. I don’t know how you did it. I am just overwhelmed.
Leanne

owner of Puss, a very independent rescue cat

So yes, the question of “HOW?” keeps coming up. Well, let me try and answer it.
It really is a question that is easy to answer but maybe not as easy to comprehend. The secret lies in a single fact: you fall … just a little bit … in love with your subject.
Sounds ridiculous? Bear with me and I’ll explain.

Likeness

By the time I have painted or drawn your pet, I will have spent between 20 and 40 hours gazing at it. Studying every strand of fur, the angle of its ears, each visible skin fold and mostly the finest details in their eyes. It is my job as an artist to capture it as correctly as I possibly can. And while I do this, I feel like l really get to know your pets looks. You know how you can pick your pet out from a bunch of lookalikes without a second thought? It’s a little like that. But while I spend hours with their photos, you get to spend a lifetime with them.

Character

Before I ever put my pencil to paper or dip my brush in the paint, I want to find out more about your pet.
Is it a bouncy puppy, always getting into mischief? Or a quiet cuddle monster looking for snuggle time?
Is kitty a royal lady, living life on her terms? Or a stealth hunter, loving the cover of darkness?
Or your pony? Is it a free spirit, happiest in the fields or a brave companion loving to be ridden and fussed about?
If you could only tell one story about your pet, what would it be? Tell me, please. This story (or stories) will decide nearly half of the portrait work. These stories are like webs, woven into the fabric of your portrait.
You might not think it’s important. But I promise you, it will have a huge impact. But I tell you more and just why this is, in more depth in another post.

Capturing likeness and character

When you combine the information of the looks and the stories of the character in a piece of art, each enhances the other and nearly paints the picture on its own.
When I study your pet in so much detail, likeness and character, I build a relationship with it, a connection. And this bond is like I mentioned at the very start of this post. I fall (just a little bit) in love with it. Every pet I paint or draw, every animal, every human portrait, the memories of them, and the process of creating it, will stay with me forever. Just like a little bit of me will stay in your pet portrait. And this is how likeness and character come together and ensure that it is your pet in your pet’s portrait.
My big WHY (as in why do I paint and draw)

My big WHY (as in why do I paint and draw)

Why do I paint and draw?

“Ask the artist” time – a chance to get your questions answered

This is a question that gets asked in many different versions.

  • Why do you paint and draw?
  • How did you become an artist?
  • What drives you to create art?
  • Why do you specialize in animals?

They all boil down to the same thing though, what is the big WHY? The answer is pretty easy and complex at the same time. Animals make my world go round. I grew up around animals at home in Germany. Cats, dogs, rabbits, guinea pigs, mice, hamsters, cockatiel, budgies, sheep, pigs, hens and even a pony called Pedro. If you could own it, we probably had it, at some stage or the other. Growing up in the countryside made it possible. I started taking lessons in a riding school when I was 12 and was hooked from the very first moment.

I know, lots of people own pets and don’t become artists. But to me, it was never about owning the pets. It was a friendship with them. I wanted to understand them, look after them, help them and be with them. And this has never changed. This need for a deep connection with my furry friends.

Being an artist

But when you surround your life with pets and animals in general, the unavoidable happens too. You lose them. Sickness, accidents, old age, it takes on many forms but it always happens eventually. And I found this hard. I still do and I don’t think it will ever change. But I have to say, being an artist and painting pet portraits has given me a form of peace. Feel free to pop over to the portrait painting of Junior, my Labrador. He was painted for this very reason. And not only can I use my art to get this feeling for myself, but I can help others find it for themselves too. A painting or drawing will always capture something that a photo cant.

Sole focus

A photo is just that, a photo. But a piece of art has so much more. The focus is solely on the pet or animal. You don’t have the cluttered background (even if it is another pet photobombing lol) and you can even bring the focus to the part of the pet you want to highlight most. Those clear brown eyes? The fluffy fur? Or those alert ears? All of it? Would you rather your pet’s portrait to match the decor of your living room? No problem! The background color can be color coordinated. The choice is endless and all yours. Getting a pet portrait painted gives you all the choices. And I love being an artist because I can deliver a portrait you will love and be proud to display. THIS is my why. The need to make pet owner happy, to fill a void, to serve a purpose.

Acrylic vs oil paints (why I prefer 1 over the other)

Acrylic vs oil paints (why I prefer 1 over the other)

Acrylics vs oil and why I prefer one over the other

“Ask the artist” time – a chance to get your questions answered

 

One of the big questions I hear is “Why don’t you paint with oil paints?” I know those comments are usually well meant. Coming from my friends, supporters and also my clients. In a way, you would assume that is the next logical step too. Oil paintings are generally twice as expensive (at the very least) as a comparable acrylic painting. And everyone seems to hold oil paints in high regards. Of course, there are the oil paintings of the old masters. Like Rembrandt, Vermeer and Da Vinci, paintings everyone knows and admires.

 

Acrylics – no patience needed

But I am not drawn to oils for so many reasons and I love acrylic paints for the very same. Did you know that Oil paints don’t dry? Instead, they harden due to oxidation, usually in about two weeks. And they are ready for varnishing in roughly six months. However, sometimes it takes years for an oil painting to fully harden! I am a patient person for all the right reasons. But how could I let my clients wait for 6 or more months AFTER I completed their commission? I wouldn’t want to wait this long and I wouldn’t expect my clients to wait this long! Acrylic paintings are easily varnished after 24 hours and are ready to ship the day after that. Much better I would think.

 

 Oil paints and pets

The long drying time has another knock on effect I couldn’t live with. I love having my dogs with me in my studio. They are my friends and companions. And they clear up any biscuit crumbs that may fall to the ground during my coffee breaks lol. I can only imagine the nightmare it would be to try and keep any loose pet hair of the always wet oil paints on my palette or the painting itself. Torture! Acrylics are dry within minutes, sometimes seconds after applying them to the board. If my dogs feel the need to jump up in a flurry of legs, sending a whirl of pet hair in the air because the doorbell rang, it’s not a big deal at all.

 

 And of course, there is the cleanup process. Brushes used in oil paintings need cleaning with solvents. While acrylic paint brushes get cleaned with water. So, considering I got pets in my studio, do I prefer a container with water or a container with solvents around? It’s a no-brainer to go with water. 

 

Why I love acrylic paints

 But I guess the main reason why I paint my pet portraits in acrylics is that I love using acrylic paints! I love the versatility of it. Thin washes looking like watercolors. Opaque layers with not a single brushstroke in sight. Or even thick layers looking like oil paint. You can even add extra textures to the paint. Glass beads create effects such as air bubbles in water. Sand texture gel gives the feel of sand and iridescent medium to give a pearlescent effect and many more. I personally prefer the flat smooth layers without brushstrokes or textures. But should I want them, I know I can add them at any time.

…and

I love the speedy drying time too. I can paint over any parts of the painting in minutes without a trace. Or if I change my mind or a client changes their wish, changes are made easily and quickly. I love the endless colour mixing possibilities too. From vibrant to mute, every colour under the rainbow. Shipping a finished acrylic painting is never an issue either. But it can be with oils due to drying time or pastels with its fragility.  Verdict : What can I say, I love my acrylic paints and their endless possibilities. Every time I set up my palette with fresh piles of paints, it’s like opening a box of chocolates. Endless possibilities in every painting and always something new to learn and discover. What’s not to love about acrylics.