dog portraits

Dog portraits are memories that you can hold on to forever and share with your friends and family.

“An artist friend surprised me one Christmas with an exquisite pencil drawing of my two tabby cats,” says Florrie. “That was six years ago, and it’s the only gift that stands out in my mind from that holiday. It hangs in my hallway and I look at it every day.” Animal portraiture has become a popular trend in recent years, as more and more people come to regard their dogs and cats as family members. Ravetta Photography in St. Louis is seeing a demand for animals not only in individual portraits, but also in family portraits and even graduation pictures. An artistic photograph, painting or drawing is a wonderful way to celebrate your animal companion, and will also keep his memory alive after he passes on.

But as every dog lover learns early on, you can rarely focus your camera (let alone make a sketch) faster than your pup can put a nose print on the lens or become a retreating backside. Cat people fare no better – a cute pose turns into a blur or a hunched-up blob of fur blending in with the rug. Sometimes, getting a good portrait means turning to the professionals.

Photo opportunity

A professional animal photographer is used to working with reluctant or overly-enthusiastic models and may have more patience than you can muster. Each artist has his or her own techniques and specialities. Adam Williams of Benton Park Photography, for example, works with natural light in his clients’ homes, and lets the animals create their own poses in a setting where they feel most comfortable.

“I always see and photograph pets as personalities,” says Toronto Pet Photography’s Piotr Organa. “Pet photography works best when dogs and cats are treated with dignity and respect.” Piotr takes his own backdrops and lights for photo shoots in the client’s home or at an outdoor location. “I photograph mostly the faces of my dog and cat clients, with as much expression as possible.”

Mary Fish Arango is known for her action shots of dogs running full out with all four feet off the ground. “An obedient, well-mannered dog, with a solid recall, sit-stay, down-stay and stand-stay will have the easiest and most favorable photo shoot,” she says. “Dogs who are clever about posing are a bonus, both for the photographer and the client.” Mary finds clicker trained dogs cooperate well and offer photogenic poses and behaviors. If you want to have your dog photographed, she suggests training him to hold his position while you stand, sit, kneel, somersault or crawl on the ground – it will prevent him from breaking the pose and investigating the photographer when he or she moves.

“Each breed needs a different trick of the trade to get the best shot,” Mary adds. She recently did a photo shoot with five off-lead bloodhound puppies, as yet untrained; she recruited eleven helpers to herd and recapture any escapees.

Brush work

Dog trainer Liz Palika of Kindred Spirits takes a lot of dog pictures for training purposes, but for her Australian shepherd, Dax, she wanted something different. “Dax was my husband’s dog and she was a warrior,” Liz says. She turned to artist Sheri Wachtstetter for a painting. “We met and Sheri took several photos of Dax. She got Dax’s expressions, spirit and the fire in her eyes, as well as the softness.” Sheri finished the watercolor in time for Liz to give it to her husband for Christmas.

Along with oil canvases of animals, artist and animal lover Ann Marie O’Leary of Annieo’s Pet Portraits also paints collages, plates and “little easels”, which include a decorative easel that can bear the animal’s name or a special quote or saying.

dog portaritsArtist Paul Boddum has seen a steady increase in business since he began painting commissioned pet portraits in 2002. While many of his portraits are gifts, he says some of the most touching stories come from the in-memoriam portraits. “I allow myself one good cry before I begin, and then put that aside to do the honor of memorializing a special animal.” Paul paints from photographs and strives to make each painting as unique as the dog or cat. “What drives me are the experiences, and the personal stories of deep bonds and love. I have done portraits of dogs with their heads out of car windows, dogs in a boat, and a dog in a tuxedo who was part of a wedding.”

Working in pastels from photographs, Bernadette Kazmarski likes to meet the cat or dog and take her own pictures to highlight his best qualities, such as a super-fluffy tail or foldover ears. If a meeting is not possible, she gathers details from a number of pictures, adding toys or de-cluttering the background to remove distractions. For one cat family, Bernadette combined individual photos to create a pastel of five cats, and added a bay window setting. “In the end, any portrait means I work closely with my customer, sometimes at an emotionally difficult time,” she says. “A portrait is not just a picture of the subject’s physical characteristics; it captures his emotional and spiritual traits too.” Artist Terry Albert learns a lot about dogs and cats through pet sitting, fostering, boarding and training. Her art is done in watercolors, pastels and/or colored pencils. Working from photos, she creates a head or full body portrait with a solid color or scenic background. “Close-up photos of your dog or cat work much better. Get down at eye level with her and try for straight-on photos instead of looking down.”

You can even have your dog or cat’s likeness recreated in glass. Working from a photo, artist Carl Pawlik hand engraves pieces of glass and affixes them to a wood base. He uses no lasers, computers or chemicals. Depending on the size, two or three lights are inserted in the base to highlight detail. Clients may also add a name, dates or a short saying.

Whether you’re commissioning a portrait for yourself or as a gift for someone else, it’s important to gather some photos of the animal and decide what kind of pose and background you’d like. If you’re ordering the portrait for a special occasion, be sure to allow enough time for its creation. Combining photos and translating the essence of your dog or cat into art is a process that can’t be rushed. Know what you want and communicate it clearly to the artist or photographer. And be open to his or her suggestions – their experience is as much a part of their art as their talent. As Florrie discovered, the resulting portrait will be a lasting remembrance of love shared.

Animal portraitists

Bernadette Kazmarski,
Mary Fish Arango Photography,
Paul Boddum,
Ravetta Photography,
Terry Albert,
Toronto Pet Photography,