Capturing likeness and character in a pet portrait

Capturing likeness and character in a pet portrait

Capturing likeness and character in a pet portrait

“Ask the artist” time – a chance to get your questions answered

Many people receive their portraits and are just amazed at the fact that the portrait really looks like THEIR pet. It is not only the likeness. But the big surprise is still the fact that it captures the character too.

Hi Kathrin, I got it today and I’m just blown away! It’s so much like her and it even feels like her. I don’t know how you did it. I am just overwhelmed.

owner of Puss, a very independent rescue cat

So yes, the question of “HOW?” keeps coming up. Well, let me try and answer it.
It really is a question that is easy to answer but maybe not as easy to comprehend. The secret lies in a single fact: you fall … just a little bit … in love with your subject.
Sounds ridiculous? Bear with me and I’ll explain.


By the time I have painted or drawn your pet, I will have spent between 20 and 40 hours gazing at it. Studying every strand of fur, the angle of its ears, each visible skin fold and mostly the finest details in their eyes. It is my job as an artist to capture it as correctly as I possibly can. And while I do this, I feel like l really get to know your pets looks. You know how you can pick your pet out from a bunch of lookalikes without a second thought? It’s a little like that. But while I spend hours with their photos, you get to spend a lifetime with them.


Before I ever put my pencil to paper or dip my brush in the paint, I want to find out more about your pet.
Is it a bouncy puppy, always getting into mischief? Or a quiet cuddle monster looking for snuggle time?
Is kitty a royal lady, living life on her terms? Or a stealth hunter, loving the cover of darkness?
Or your pony? Is it a free spirit, happiest in the fields or a brave companion loving to be ridden and fussed about?
If you could only tell one story about your pet, what would it be? Tell me, please. This story (or stories) will decide nearly half of the portrait work. These stories are like webs, woven into the fabric of your portrait.
You might not think it’s important. But I promise you, it will have a huge impact. But I tell you more and just why this is, in more depth in another post.

Capturing likeness and character

When you combine the information of the looks and the stories of the character in a piece of art, each enhances the other and nearly paints the picture on its own.
When I study your pet in so much detail, likeness and character, I build a relationship with it, a connection. And this bond is like I mentioned at the very start of this post. I fall (just a little bit) in love with it. Every pet I paint or draw, every animal, every human portrait, the memories of them, and the process of creating it, will stay with me forever. Just like a little bit of me will stay in your pet portrait. And this is how likeness and character come together and ensure that it is your pet in your pet’s portrait.
My big WHY (as in why do I paint and draw)

My big WHY (as in why do I paint and draw)

Why do I paint and draw?

“Ask the artist” time – a chance to get your questions answered

This is a question that gets asked in many different versions.

  • Why do you paint and draw?
  • How did you become an artist?
  • What drives you to create art?
  • Why do you specialize in animals?

They all boil down to the same thing though, what is the big WHY? The answer is pretty easy and complex at the same time. Animals make my world go round. I grew up around animals at home in Germany. Cats, dogs, rabbits, guinea pigs, mice, hamsters, cockatiel, budgies, sheep, pigs, hens and even a pony called Pedro. If you could own it, we probably had it, at some stage or the other. Growing up in the countryside made it possible. I started taking lessons in a riding school when I was 12 and was hooked from the very first moment.

I know, lots of people own pets and don’t become artists. But to me, it was never about owning the pets. It was a friendship with them. I wanted to understand them, look after them, help them and be with them. And this has never changed. This need for a deep connection with my furry friends.

Being an artist

But when you surround your life with pets and animals in general, the unavoidable happens too. You lose them. Sickness, accidents, old age, it takes on many forms but it always happens eventually. And I found this hard. I still do and I don’t think it will ever change. But I have to say, being an artist and painting pet portraits has given me a form of peace. Feel free to pop over to the portrait painting of Junior, my Labrador. He was painted for this very reason. And not only can I use my art to get this feeling for myself, but I can help others find it for themselves too. A painting or drawing will always capture something that a photo cant.

Sole focus

A photo is just that, a photo. But a piece of art has so much more. The focus is solely on the pet or animal. You don’t have the cluttered background (even if it is another pet photobombing lol) and you can even bring the focus to the part of the pet you want to highlight most. Those clear brown eyes? The fluffy fur? Or those alert ears? All of it? Would you rather your pet’s portrait to match the decor of your living room? No problem! The background color can be color coordinated. The choice is endless and all yours. Getting a pet portrait painted gives you all the choices. And I love being an artist because I can deliver a portrait you will love and be proud to display. THIS is my why. The need to make pet owner happy, to fill a void, to serve a purpose.

Pet portrait artist in County Cork

Pet portrait artist in County Cork

A pet portrait artist in County Cork

Pet owners tend to like keeping things local. A beautiful forest walk, minutes away from your front door. A great pet shop within a short journey by car. And of course, a vet that can be with you in a heartbeat if you really need one in an emergency.
I get it. I am the very same with my 4 legged gang. Less time spent traveling means more time for the important things in my life. Or to put it differently, the shorter the car journey for my dogs the better as they are not great travellers! And over time I have realized something else. Getting that all-important painting or drawing of a pet is no different. Having their very own pet portrait artist in County Cork is a fact my local clients love very much.

How I can help

They love being able to meet me. And I feel incredibly privileged to be there when they see their painting for the very first time. But that’s not all. Being local means I can come and photograph the pet should you need help with that. Or if you got proper photos instead of digital files, we can pick through them together. We can sort out the most suitable ones so you don’t need to send all of them by post. I love helping where I can. But the best days are the ones when I have the pleasure to meet the model for the painting or drawing. I mean, how fabulous is that!
My art studio is in my home, in a fab countryside setting near the east Cork town of Fermoy. I am a 25-minute drive from Cork city and only minutes from Fermoy.
While my art lives in homes all over the world, I know that my local clients appreciate the fact that I am right here with them.
By the way, if you are in the area, samples of my work can be seen in my local vets, DUNTAHEEN VET CLINIC FERMOY
pet portrait artist in county cork
One of my local “models”. Isn’t Toby just fabulous! I met him and took the photos for the painting.
pet portrait artist in county cork
And 2 more puppies I had the pleasure to meet. Once again, I assisted with the reference photo.

Boo , a German Shepherd mix

Boo , a German Shepherd mix

“Featured Pet” blog post

A memorial portrait of a girl called Boo

In 2008 I had the pleasure to draw this girl the first time around. I had only started my artistic journey at the time. Her owner had won an online auction for a portrait drawing, with the money going to a well deserving animal rescue in Cashel. Boo belongs to Aisling and was adopted by her from a rescue. The 2 were a match made in heaven and I was always looking forward to hearing and reading about their adventures together. Boo had a fabulous life, not wanting for nothing. She shared her owner with a Sheepdog girl called Amber. Amber is another one of my models and you will find her portrait by clicking HERE

In August 2013 this gorgeous girl passed away and her owner was deeply saddened by her loss.
Tracey Barlow, who owns Petography, is a mutual friend. She asked me to draw Boo again, a memorial portrait as a gift it to her owner, with the wish to ease her pain a little. 

This was the message I received from Aisling, the owner of Boo

Kathrin, Boo’s portrait arrived from Tracey last week. I could trace every familiar line of her beautiful face and re-imagine her soft velvety ears and what it was like to kiss her nose. It brought her to life for me in a way that the original photo never could. I will treasure it always. You’re a wonderful artist. xxx

Reading her message still brings tears to my eyes. The gift to touch people keeps giving me so much joy in return.

Boo- a memorial portrait  by Kathrin Guenther
12 inch by 8 inch
Graphite pencil on Bristol Board art paper
Private Collection

Bride and groom, wedding day

Bride and groom, wedding day

Bride and Groom

My first double portrait drawing and it was exciting and nerve-wracking in equal amounts. Don’t get me wrong, I loved every second of working on this drawing. But it was a bit of pressure too. You see, I am right handed and for that reason, I work from the top left corner of the paper to lower right. Graphite smudges and heavens forbid you have any amount of moisture or residue of anything on your hands. A drawing is ruined in an instant. So keeping the 12 x 17 inch sheet of paper in pristine condition is hard in itself. But making sure I wouldn’t get something wrong in the lower right corner after having done 2 portraits was a whole different angle of worry.

Wedding gifts

But to draw such a gorgeous dress with all its lace detail was most something to look forward to. I mean, doesn’t the bride look stunning! This drawing was a present from my client to the bride and groom. So you see, wedding presents don’t have to be a gift on the big day. The couple was well over the moon with their present. A lovely reminder of their day when everyday life had them back in its grip already. Art in every form is a great present. It doesn’t matter if it’s a lovely print of a landscape, a portrait of loved ones or a painting of the pet of the family. Art will never lose its value, you can hang it on a wall or displayed on a shelf or on a mantelpiece. And it will never get boring. If you change the style of your house decorations, change the frame of the artwork and it will look fresh and fit with the rest of the house. Simple! So next time around you are stuck for a gift idea …… art is ALWAYS a great answer.
A Happy Day  by Kathrin Guenther
17 inch by 12 inch
Graphite pencil on Bristol Board art paper
Private Collection