Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Pet Portrait: Olive (2011), 11 x 14 in.

I am finally ready to write a post about my latest painting, a portrait of my dog Olive. I was waiting to post until I was finished with the painting so I could describe each step of the process with photos.

I approach portraits differently than other subjects. For the portrait of Olive I needed to find just the right photo. This is a photo I had taken several months ago, when she was basically full grown (she just turned one!). I didn't originally intend to do a painting of this photo (I didn't stage it for a painting), so there are areas that do not work perfectly for a painting, but I like Olive's pose, the color of the chair, and the fact that she is sitting with two of her favorite toys.The first step in painting a portrait is to crop the photo to the correct proportions and add graph lines to the photo:I draw the same graph lines on my canvas and then sketch the figure. The graph helps me to get the proportions of the figure right. This is extremely important when painting a portrait because the painting needs to look exactly like the subject. It can't just look like any old Boston Terrier (or whatever pet I'm painting), it has to look like my pet--personality and all. So, the sketch is crucial.
Still using the reference photo, I paint the head first, because if the head/face isn't right there is no point in working on the rest of the painting. Plus, it is the hardest part, so it feels good to get it done and over with. I painted Olive's head in one sitting--maybe 2.5 hrs. I was extremely pleased with how it turned out and it made me excited to continue with the painting. I really felt like Olive was staring back at me from the canvas.The next day I painted the body. The coloration and light-reflectiveness of her fur was a challenge. Luckily my style works well for painting fur, so the texture came naturally. I especially enjoyed painting her collar and tag.
Next, I sketched the chair and the toys at her feet. The strange little woven toy was difficult to sketch......and even more difficult to paint. The purple chair turned out a little more brightly-colored than in the photo, but I think it is a nice contrast to Olive's brown fur. It's really starting to look like a painting now!After finishing this, I took another look at the background from the original photo and decided I needed to change it somehow. I brainstormed all sorts of ways to change the background, but I couldn't come up with something that would match the lighting and give the painting depth. I finally found a photo of the book cases in our living room and "photoshopped" a piece of it into the background. I like it!The last step was to paint the books...
...and the details on the books.Want to commission a pet portrait of your own? Contact me here.


  1. I just painted a portrait of my Grandpa. With a 5x7" panel and a proportioned photo print, I was able to do it by hand. I've used the grids you mention for large paintings though. I do love what you did with the chair.

  2. Wonderful work Audra ! Nicely textured and you caught the expression just right.



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