Patience, persistence and a passion for dogs are key requirements when embarking on a pet portrait according to these Irish artists. Whether you prefer pop art or a more painterly approach, find out what’s involved in a “pawtrait” from these dog whisperers…
Dogs and art have been my two main passions since childhood. I started by drawing our own pets as gifts for my mum. After graduating as an illustrator I gravitated into doing portraits for friends which led me to realise I could market myself as a portrait artist and earn a living as a full time artist. After many years of slowly gaining momentum, I have my dream job. While I love to draw and sketch from life, my portraits take many days to complete. Working from photos allows me to play with composition and
lighting as well as taking the time needed to capture every detail of the dog. Ideally, I love to meet the animal to take photographs but I often work from client’s photographs, especially as my client base is worldwide. The life of a pet portrait artist is one of patience. While it takes patience to paint them, sometimes it takes even more patience to capture the perfect photograph of your dog to paint from. I have spent many hours on my hands and knees with my camera, squeaking and meowing and doing
whatever it takes to get the look! I use soft pastel for all my work. I’ve used this medium now for 20 years and its soft qualities are perfect for creating fur. I have been fortunate enough to work along with Unison Colour, my favourite pastel brand. I designed their “Animal Set” of colours which now helps many new artists begin their journey in painting animals in pastel. For any aspiring pet portrait artists you can learn all my tricks on my Youtube channel. I work in a variety of sizes from small to 40″ and often include more than just the animal in the painting. When you commission me I aim to create a snapshot in time to remember your pooch by. That might include them in their favourite sunny spot or in the forest where they love to explore. For me it’s as important to create a beautiful scene that works not only as a pet portrait but a piece of art to treasure for generations. I charge from €440 upwards for my portraits. www.emmacolbertart.com
So often my pet portraits are a surprise present – lovely husbands battle the guilt of the white lie – sending their wives away on a ruse while I tiptoe in for clandestine photoshoots. I have to talk them through this being a good lie sometimes: it all makes sense and happy marital relations (and hopefully a winning portrait) in the end reveal.
I take up to 2,000 photographs of the subject muse. Even when I couldn’t afford beans, I have always invested in a decent camera. I need a few hours on my own with the dog so that they relax and get curious back – that’s when they give you the magic moment. This can be a challenge. For instance, I went out to a London park to photograph a stunningly beautiful Weimaraner – but she refused to look at me. Hours in, sweet talking, treat dropping, practically cartwheeling to get her attention – she gave me absolutely nothing. Defeated and resigned, I eventually retreated to pack up my camera at which point she walked past, striding out, and winked at me. I got it. A Dragon of BBCs Dragon’s Den so kindly bought paintings in early years to save me from beans and bankruptcy and the large version of “The Winking Weimaraner” now hangs in his beautiful hall. The process is rarely straight forward, never linear, but it’s rarely not worth it in the end.
The actual painting happens back in the studio – it feels like a police investigation unit with images all around me as I want to feel the essence of the gorgeous subject I am painting. I tend to fall in love with these dogs on a regular basis. The photographs prompt me to feel what I felt when I was with them – they are for recollection not for direct reproduction – you don’t get the soul in that.
When I’m working on a commission the first few weeks tend to go well and then I hit “why did I think I could ever be an artist? “ mode. I now know this is par for my course (I am writing a book on this subject in fact). Painting for joy is one thing – heaven – painting so that what you convey is what their loving owners know intimately as their “baby” carries a whole different level of expectation. But the moment comes full circle when it begins to really come together and the painting sings. My portraits are in oils and start from €3,000. www.dedegold.com
I began painting murals 20 years ago in children’s bedrooms and corporate spaces and I’ve been asked for many various commissions along the way. These have ranged from birthday card illustrations and house portraits to detailed architectural-style interior design drawings.
It was really by chance that I began painting “dogtraits”. I was sitting in a stand watching a sports game, when the gentleman beside me, who I knew through a mutual friend, began chatting about how his beautiful Labrador had just sadly died of old age. He wanted to know if I could recommend someone to capture his wonderful spirit in a painting. I said I would like to have that opportunity and so all of my work has begun from this first work. Perhaps a sad story with a positive outcome. For this initial dogtrait I relied on a (rather poor quality) photograph, but I do insist on meeting the dog to gauge it’s personality. I love dogs dearly and grew up with a golden Labrador called Kim and a Toy Poodle called Sooty; if it wasn’t for my travel commitments I would most certainly have more than one.
Meeting the owner and their dog is a wonderful part of my job. I used to take about 50 photographs but now I can almost capture the character by taking ten and these I share with the owner at that time. Together we see which one is best for me to work from and which one the owner prefers. I feel it’s important to get a collaboration of thoughts I truly enjoy pen and charcoal as a medium, but for the dogtraits I use gouache which is like watercolour with a richer pigment. I also work in oil. As for price, it always makes me feel very uncomfortable to give a fee for something I love and often I have to just write it down instead of speaking it out loud. I guess I’m fortunate as I get clients by word of mouth so they don’t have to ask the price. My portraits start at £800 unframed. www.joannesalleyart.com
“Dogtraits’ or “pawtraits” are one of my favourite things to paint. I live in a dog obsessed household and had three of my own dogs until one, Rosie, passed away not too long ago. I began painting dogs by accident, rather than design. I was in the gym on the treadmill listening to the Moulin Rouge soundtrack and Beck’s Diamond Dogs came on. I suddenly got this image of dogs in diamonds and went home to paint what became “Diamond Dogs”, my first dog painting. From there, I painted a collection called “Oh My Dog”. The collection was inspired by dogs (and their humans) who I’d see in Hollywood, or downtown New York where I used to spend a lot of time. The “Oh My Dawg” art collection launched in 2017 and the exhibition was opened by the then Arts Minister Heather Humpreys. Then in late 2017 I was about to fly to LA for an exhibition of my work in Santa Monica, when I was diagnosed with stage three melanoma cancer. The exhibition went ahead without me, and I’m now working on a new collection of dog paintings, as well as launching a series of greeting cards and prints of some of my most popular paintings. I’m kept busy with commissions, especially at the moment.
My aim is to capture dogs’ personalities in really fun, bright, unique, pop art-style paintings, and I love the reactions from “humans” when they see their pets painted. The finished paintings are really great talking points and I hope they cheer people up, which is especially important right now. I mainly use acrylic on canvas, but I also paint digitally. My commission paintings really depend on a number of factors, and depending on the size of the painting it can be anything from €600 upwards. www.stevenfarrell.ie
Everyone knows I love dogs as much as people. I first started drawing again last year in lockdown and that’s when my “pawtraits” began. My next door neighbour has a divine basset hound called Cali. My dogs, Harry and Joe, have the biggest crush on her and her sister Lissi, so much so, they even exchange Valentine’s cards with each other! In fact I love Cali so much I made her a tutu and then drew her in it. From there my dogtraits flowed and I have been drawing lots of different breeds. I paint and draw the dogs on toned paper using watercolour pencils and pastels. As I post a lot of my drawings on Instagram I have been getting a steady stream of commissions and I love the variety this brings to my work. @helencodydublin
Dogs have been in my life since I was born, in fact the only period without canine companionship was during my degree course! I don’t think there is a more rewarding subject matter than painting gorgeous, loving hounds of all shapes and sizes. I paint in oils, mainly on panels. On the backs of the panels I make mixed media, fabric and paper inlays to reflect the title and details of the sitter. I work from a mix of life “sittings” and photographs. Sometimes photographs are the only option when working on commissions [priced from €400 to €1800] from distant locations such as America. Latterly, I seem to have painted quite a few rescue dogs. The model for “La Levrette” which is with The Doorway Gallery is a retired Greyhound called Izzy, who has featured in at least three paintings. Perhaps I’m drawn to them as my own dog, Tess, is a rescue Staffie who has been my constant companion for 15 years. www.thedoorwaygallery.com
Other notable mentions include:
Working in charcoal in her Co Sligo studio, Heidi Wickham often receives commissions for pet portraits which have found their way to Dubai and Australia. “I like to work fast capturing the essence of the animal, and then go in and refine – but not too much. I admire ultra-realism, but sometimes that can flatten an image and I’m all about maintaining a vitality and connection with the viewer.” Sometimes she receives photographs of the pets, at other times a full profile. “I try not to anthropomorphise my dogs too much, but it’s so important to have a drawing with personality. Eyes are very important – I try to capture that early so that we can see each other for the rest of the drawing journey.” www.heidiwickham.com. Maya Browne is in her second year art college and is very busy with pet portrait commissions which you can see on her Instagram page @mayaafradesign. Figurative artist Trudy Good, alternates her beautiful human portraits with sensitive pet portraits and can be commissioned via www.thedoorwaygallery.com.
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