I've done portraits of people and animals that have already been painted because the client isn't happy with what they've received from another artist. From time to time, this could have been avoided with more dialogue between the two parties to help make sure the client is happy with the output before venturing too far into the finished painting. I've found a guide to choosing photos helps clients define how they'd like to remember their beloveds.
Choosing portrait pictures can be very difficult. After all, your fuzzy friend is cute all the time. However, there are some things to keep in mind when selecting photographs to send to a portrait artist. These also apply to human portraits!
1. Give a Description
A description of the character helps me gauge whether I'm choosing the right photo from an array and can put a little extra spark in the painting. The eyes truly are the window to the soul and knowing whether your friend is very serious or a goofball can only help the portrait be closer to what you envision.
This is one of the most important steps to me, but it isn't enough on its own. I don't know any portrait artists (although I'm sure a few exist) that will create a piece from a collection of photos and a description and come up with a unique pose and likeness. Many of us (if not all) prefer a photograph that is as close to possible to what you'd like.
2. Lighting & Color
As the time of day passes, the lighting changes with it. It's important to picture your dog while you look through your photos and think, "Is this the color I think of?" Natural lighting is absolutely best, but squinting isn't. A bit of sunlight will give a better idea of the true color, but may need to be paired with a better expression photo.
Good (Natural) lighting examples:
The dog on the far left has hints of apricot in her light coat, which can be seen in this photo. The expression is squinting, so I'd probably pair this with a better expression photo so the artist sees her colors. The dog on the far right is a rich red. In poor lighting these dogs can look white or brown respectively.
Neutral lighting examples:
For neutral light, think indoors during daylight. You're not in the direct sunlight, but the color of the dog is clear. You can see the eye color and see shadow and light. If your dog has blue eyes and they don't look blue, it's not good lighting.
The first photo on the left is close to Neutral. However I can't see the eye color and the dog's color is actually close to a red cattle dog. I'd never know this without additional photographs. In the other two photos, the angle and expressions aren't good in addition to filters being applied to distort the color.
Important: Just because the lighting isn't good, doesn't mean your photograph should be discounted. Expression is queen, and should be considered above all else.
3. Angle & Clarity
While an expression may be cute, it's very important it's taken at a natural angle (unless it's really, truly what you want). Cocked heads are cute, but a craned neck distorted because your dog is doing acrobatics for a treat won't look natural. Be sure to have the photo and story ready when you talk to your friends because they're going to wonder if the artist was having issues while painting :)
If the dog is in the position you want but the photo is blurry or the dog is not the prominent (read "large") feature in the photo, it may not be usable. Talk to your artist and they may be able to help you.
Poor angle examples:
As an artist, I want you to enjoy your painting for the rest of your life. This is why it is critical for you to choose a photograph that embodies how you want to remember your pet, even after they have departed. Pick four to five photographs, walk away for a bit, and then try to look at them with an unbiased lens. Does your dog look grumpy, mad, happy, or goofy? Is this who they normally are? Is this a happy moment you'll cherish? If the answers to the last two questions are yes, you've found your photograph.
In each of these photographs, the dogs are looking straight on at the camera. The first on the left isn't the greatest angle, but his smiling expression makes up for it. Note that the two dogs on the right are the same dogs in the "bad" expression category.
Feel free to link pictures in the comments if you have questions or reach out to me via email! I'm happy to browse and give pointers, even if you've hired someone else.
Dogs have always been an integral part of our household. One of these dogs was a gorgeous boy named Beauregard. He turned a lot heads at dog shows, especially when he was moving around the ring. The poor boy was a hot mess structurally, his tongue jutting out to the left and the rest of him moving in an odd corkscrew, limbs flailing in all directions. Standing still he was near perfect and a favorite model of mine.
There's one picture that really shows off his good looks while highlighting that goober tongue of his. I've been playing with toned paper and colored pencils, and it made sense to take a dog with natural high contrast points and put him on black paper.
There are definitely scary moments during a drawing where I question everything I've done up to that point and want to stop. This was not an exception. I alternated going brighter and then layering in darker colors on top to give more depth. My favorite phase was one of the last where I used a nice dark blue to define the outlines on his shadowed side.
Perseverance paid off and I thought he came together really well.
The process of drawing, painting, or writing is healing. When I struggle with illness or stress, sitting down and working on a piece is restorative. I hear this from other artists. However, not everyone embraces their creative side. When I hold classes for friends, the hardest part of the lesson is trying to get them to silence their inner critic. Art is only fun if failing is acceptable.
This was something I had to hold onto after I decided to use a new product (without reading the label or trying it on a black piece of paper to make sure it was compatible) and completely destroyed the piece.
That blurry white stuff is not highlighting or glare from the camera. It's permanent.
At least this wasn't a commission piece! Lesson learned. Read labels, test a blank page with the fixative to see if the color warps, and leave well enough alone.
Perhaps the hardest part is knowing when something is done. Knowing I can try again helps dull the pain :)