Rigel

Meet Rigel, from Cincinnati. As a young adult he was saved by a Bernese Mountain Dog rescue group, and quickly found his forever home, by showing off his warm and gentle personality and charming brown eyes. His family didn’t mind that his white blaze was crooked, it was part of what made him beautiful. Rigel was a true pack animal. He expressed his gratitude and always wanted to please those he loved. With them he traveled to places near and far, and he learned many human words. Of course all mountain dog breeds love winter, and Rigel enjoyed snowy days in his backyard among the spruce trees.

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Socksie

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I finally had an opportunity to paint a beagle! This is Socksie, a very sweet girl, who is dearly missed by her family. While I wasn’t able to meet her in person, I had many photos to work from that showed her playful, happy nature and beautiful beagle markings.

Here’s a peek at the portrait in various stages. A basic sketch establishes shapes, angles, and proportions of the dog’s body. Then a value study helps me understand her form, markings, and how she will fit into her environment. These first two stages involved some input from my client, which is an essential part of my process. I won’t move on to the painting until the preliminary drawing accurately shows the dog’s unique appearance and personality. After selecting my color palette (described in more detail below), I transferred the drawing to watercolor paper and began laying in color, from lightest to darkest.

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I’m a fan of limited palettes, so choosing my colors is a little project of its own. With a limited palette (2-4 pigments) all the colors I mix are related, and they work to unify the painting. Fewer tubes of paint in my work space also keeps me organized, and I don’t waste time trying new colors on the fly. (Although that can bring in some spontaneity, it can possibly mess up my painting and I don’t have time to redo a pet portrait in the weeks before Christmas.)

For Socksie’s portrait I needed to be able to make (1) summery greens for the grass and (2) the correct shades of amber and brown for her fur. I always choose my palettes around blue –  Which blue will give me the colors I need? Ultramarine (made dull greens) and cobalt and cerulean (not dark enough to make dark gray) were immediately ruled out. I also experimented with phthalo blue, and that was pretty close – it made some nice greens, but not quite the right browns (see below, left).

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I settled on Holbein’s royal blue (above, right). Mixed with burnt sienna, it made rich browns that ranged from rusty brown to a very dark and neutral gray. See that dark bluish gray? That’s exactly what I needed for the shadowy parts of Socksie’s back, side, and tail. Mixed with a bright lemon yellow, royal blue made a variety of greens. And by mixing the lemon yellow with burnt sienna, I found the warm, earthy golds and oranges necessary to show the sunlit parts of Socksie (on her face, ears, and right shoulder) and her grassy environment. For her pink tongue, a fourth pigment was needed – just a touch of cadmium red. So that’s it – 4 pigments in this entire painting!

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Rudy

Rudy

Rudy

This has been the most fun I’ve had creating a portrait. Rudy is quite an extraordinary little dog who has fought hard to overcome debilitating injuries. He’s just the sweetest guy – I feel so lucky to know him!

Prior to starting this portrait, we met up at a local park so I could take some photos of him and learn his story. Rudy walks on all fours now, but there was a time he couldn’t use his hind legs – he was in very rough shape at the shelter and not expected to survive. He was taken in by a wonderful family and treated by a group of veterinary surgeons, all who have made it possible for him to heal and have a very happy life. As a result of his trauma, he has lost one eye completely and is blind in the other. Rudy has a confident, curious, and charming nature that melted my heart instantly.

The natural garden in his yard is his favorite place to be, so that’s where I painted him – a summer afternoon among the clovers, black-eyed Susans, and lilies.

Indy

Indy

Sweet, gentle Indy. She is the seventh boxer I have painted!

This is another watercolor painted with a limited palette. I selected the colors based on what I would need to create her fur: burnt sienna, neutralized to different degrees with phthalo blue, or warmed with touches of cadmium yellow or quinacridone violet. The violet was a new tube (Holbein), so this was a great opportunity to see what magic this hue could make. Burnt sienna or the violet functioned as my red, except in parts of the collar and her tongue where I needed to cheat with a tiny bit of alizarin crimson.

Also, look at that green! ↓ Why bother with green paint when you can mix one that pretty?!

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Ultra-favorite

Understanding how to mix colors opens the eyes to a whole new way of seeing colors. I’ve been playing around with paints my whole life, yet it wasn’t until one watercolor class a few years back in Oregon that I finally learned how pigments interact. So many interesting colors can be made with just two tubes of paint. Add in a third, and you’ve got everything you need to build a harmonious palette. And I’m not even talking about red, yellow, and blue. Rarely do I feel the need to mix the whole spectrum. Take my most recent portrait, for example.

90 percent of this painting was created using just two pigments: ultramarine blue and burnt sienna. This is my ultra-favorite combination, with which I can get warm rusty browns, tans, gray browns, neutral grays (from pale smoke to almost black), dull blue-grays, and true blues. Right out of the tube, ultra blue is almost violet. Even better, it has a fine sediment that settles as the paint dries, creating beautiful crackly textures.

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Another paint I used sparingly for Guthrie was yellow ochre. It was essential for showing the creamy colors in his fur, and I used it primarily on his left side, where the hazy sunlight shines down on him. Warm  and brighter tones always suggest the form is closer to our eye and nearer to the light. Cool and darker tones, such as on his right side and the floor, indicate shadow. Obviously Guthrie’s fur is not blue, so this treatment is subtle, but effective. Warm = burnt sienna or ochre. Cool = ultra blue. What more do you need?  (Well, just a dab of red-orange here and there on his collar, and a careful splash of phthalo blue in the highlights of his eyes and nose. But that’s it. I promise.)

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This is pretty much all that went into this painting. Just add water.

Boots Moves to the Cape

Beach CatRelocation isn’t easy. Even after you’ve moved into your new home, there’s a whole new neighborhood to get to know, new friends to make. Boots grew up in the Green Mountains of Vermont and just moved to Cape Cod, where the beaches are full of fun things for a cat to explore. His owner wanted to announce this special event to friends and family with a custom postcard, so together we designed this little illustration. It’s painted in watercolor and includes some favorite shells and lucky stones. Good luck, Boots!

Tips for Photographing Pets

When preparing for a portrait, occasionally I have the opportunity to meet and photograph your pet myself. Usually, however, the photos you send me are the only reference I have to guide me in my drawing and painting. An accurate portrait depends on clear photos showing good detail. The more photos I have to work with the clearer my understanding of your pet’s features and personality.

USE NATURAL LIGHT. The best light is outside – if you must be indoors, try to position your pet near a window or door in order to let in the most light possible. Avoid using a flash because it can cause washed-out color and red-eye. Also be aware that full sun can sometimes distort your pet’s color too. Look at your photos. Does the color, fur, and other features look accurate?

MAKE YOUR PET COMFORTABLE. Some pets don’t mind posing for the camera, while others find it uncomfortable. Allow them to do something they enjoy. Incorporating a favorite activity (like fetching) brings out the pet’s personality. Sometimes you can get terrific pictures while your pet is resting. If your pet is being grouchy, give them their space and try again later when they are in a better mood.

HAVE SOMEONE ASSIST YOU. This is a good way to get great profile photos. And an affectionate, perky expression can be obtained by making noises or by holding up a favorite toy or treat. If you want your pet looking right at the camera, remember to have your assistant directly behind you and your camera.

BE READY. Take advantage of sudden moments of curiosity and playfulness.

BE AT YOUR PET’S LEVEL. Position yourself at the same level as your pet to avoid awkward perspective.

GET CLOSE UP. Fill the frame with the pet and eliminate distracting background. You should also take some photos that show close-up detail of the face and head.

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In addition, if you would like more than one pet in the same portrait, it is important to photograph the two pets together to provide me with an accurate scale.

HOW TO SELECT PHOTOS TO BE USED AS REFERENCES FOR A PET PORTRAIT:

You should include

1. Two or more photos showing the entire pet (sitting, lying down, etc). This will be useful in designing the overall composition.

2. Several close-up photos of the pet’s face, showing details and true color of the eyes, ears, nose, and fur.

3. If there will be two pets in the same portrait, include a photo with both pets side-by-side.