Portraits are not meant to be photographs. Between cameras and Photoshop filters, anyone can make a stylized copy of their pet. That’s why, when I do a pet portrait, it’s important for me to get an idea of what each animal’s personality is and what the client loves about their pet.
The thumbnails (quick little sketches that come before the rough sketch) help me feel out what’s going to “fit” the dog. At this stage, there are no wrong answers. I try everything. Different angles, moods, orientations, and shapes.
After I’ve filled a couple pages with ideas, it’s time to edit. I consider the pet’s personality and the client’s personal taste. I settle on one or two compositions, clean them up enough so they’re understandable (thumbnails tend to be very small and very messy), and send them to the client for approval.
From there I make a series of small drawings to get a feel for the form. Once I have a sense of the subject, I can draw it in whatever pose I need.
I make sure the marks I make are intentional. The style of drawing should reflect the animal. When I drew Bunter, a quiet old Westie, I rendered him softly. This wasn’t a yappy, bouncing-off-the-walls terrier. Last year I posted a portrait of a German Pinscher, Cinnamon. Cinnamon is a bold little dog — she would not be recognizable in soft graphite!
Pets have personalities, and so do their owners. A pet portrait requires a unique mix of the animal’s nature and the owner’s personal style. So many factors go into a successful portrait, it’s important to be mindful of why I’m making the drawing as I draw.