The eyes are particularly important in my pet portraits, since that's usually where the viewer's gaze is first drawn. One of the few pet portraits I've done which didn't have a strong eye-emphasis is my own Maggie Mae - I did her portrait when she was still in her "ADD" phase and never looked at us directly for more than a few seconds! (She's getting better now, at age 3).
As with most of my artwork, I rely heavily on photo references for dog portraits. My recent work, "Tyson," proved to be an unusual challenge. Sadly, the pit bull had died suddenly after being hit by a car, so I had to work from existing photos. Tyson's "mom" and some friends wanted to surprise his "dad," David, with the painting, to help with the loss of his beloved pal. The friends had commissioned me to paint their beloved dog Baron, a German Shepherd, several years ago. I was provided with several snapshots of Tyson, but, of course, none had actually been taken to capture the dog at his best; I had Tyson in a party hat, Tyson in a t-shirt, Tyson in the snow. Like most photos taken on smart phones these days, these were all low resolution images. So the details in the fur, the features, and the various textures - which I enjoy depicting - were not distinguishable.
I finally decided to use a photo of Tyson on a couch with his baby sister. This showed him in profile, sitting up straight and alert. Unfortunately, his upright ears were cropped out of the shot. Googling "pit bull photos" brought up images of this breed in many different colors of fur and various poses and viewpoints. I finally found a shot of another pit in profile which was good enough to help me fill in what was missing in the Tyson photo.
|This was the photo I relied upon for the portrait.|
I simplified the background for my painting, blending some warm grey mid-range tones which would work well against Tyson's white and brown fur. The photo of Tyson had good shadows in his upper body which helped me define his muscle form. I did the best I could at sharpening up his eye and detailing the nose, but had to settle for a bit less detail than I usually incorporate in my paintings.
The most important part, in the end, was that David was pleased with the portrait of Tyson, telling me "You did an amazing job - it's beautiful!" I hope it will warm his heart every time he looks at the painting.