9 studies for pet portraits in acrylic6 min read

I used to do a lot of pet portraits way back when. It was before social media existed and so I got my commissions just by word of mouth.

It wasn’t something that I was committed to doing professionally because there’s a fine line that you have to tread when you’re drawing the likeness of an animal that someone loves dearly.

It’s something that I’m well suited to do, as an empath, because I can intuit my way to painting a portrait or taking a photo that perfectly captures that animal’s personality.

But it’s also tiring, so I don’t really do this anymore. I prefer to work with more of a fantasy theme where the identity of the animal isn’t important.

That doesn’t mean that I haven’t done some studies over the years – because people still ask me.

So, I thought I’d show you some of the animal portrait studies I’ve done in the past 18 months.

Small pets

This was a study of a guinea pig that I did based on a photo. I wanted to have a painterly feel that wasn’t overly detailed. My focus was more on light, colour and shadows than on filling in minute details or textures.

The fur could be finer, a little less solid, there could be some more brush strokes visible. But overall, I really like the feel in this portrait.

This just proves that “more” abstract didn’t make it better. Like wtf, Eva?

Same subject, different style. I had an idea that maybe what I’d prefer was a more cartoony style, so I tried to render guinea pigs in a more cartoon show fashion while still making them feel painted.

Then I moved on to this vector style drawing but I just completely lost touch with anything here. This still captures the subject but looks more like just a rendering of a random guinea pig rather than a portrait.

I thought that I’m most comfortable with acrylics, so I went back to painting with acrylics. It became highly detailed no matter how I tried to keep it more loose and abstract. Looks like the subject but took just way too long.

Now that’s more like it!

Again, went back to acrylic. Decided to do a full body portrait of a Bullterrier pup.

This has just the right amount of detail while still managing to have a painted look.

I spread out the shadow with a dry brush to emphasise the painterly feel.

The nose was a bit tricky because it’s not entirely black but I managed to keep the structure intact. I added some side-lighting to make the dog stand out against the background.

I spent way too long perfecting the smallest details on this one (teeth and nails) and most of the work that went into those isn’t even really visible. But it was a learning experience.

Horses

This was more painterly, less detailed. I tried to focus on the eye and went with similar tones in the background to highlight it better.

The mane and neck turned out pretty good, as did the muzzle. I was unsure about how much detail to add to the face and it shows because the painting clearly loses momentum in the middle of the face.

Attempt number two and I went heavier on the details. However, I first went too heavy on the details and it ended up looking like an old crone with lots of wrinkles and visible veins.

So, I had to backtrack, paint over it and start again. This time with less intense attention on the details and trying to put in just enough to make it look thought through.

The results are so, so. The veins remind me of bodybuilders and I’m not loving it. And the eyelashes don’t look right even though they’re exactly as they were in the photo.

Just goes to show that you can’t just copy when you’re making a portrait, you have to interpret.

This was my last push before I decided I was done with doing it in acrylic. Again, struggled with the right amount of depth and contour on the face.

I didn’t intend for it to look shiny and wet, but it does. The eye looks like it’s in the wrong place – again that came down to my slavish replicating of the reference photo.

The mane and forelock were fun, but my golly, did that take forever or what.

So, this was all a very interesting learning process, because previously I drew pet portraits exclusively in pencil and charcoal.

Will not be doing more pet portraits in acrylic, no.


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