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.
Is there a perfect pose for a pet portrait?

Is there a perfect pose for a pet portrait?

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

Is there such a thing as a perfect pose for a pet portrait?

Good question! The answer is straightforward, no, there is not. But there are a few requirements to make your pet portrait painting the best it can be. I will write a complete blog post on the topic of reference photos soon. So I won’t get into the whole photography tips subject right now. Let’s get back to the question of posing.

The best pose for your pet portrait painting is the pose you love or know the best for YOUR pet. Take a minute and just think of your pet. What do you “see” in front of you? If your pet is an older animal, it might be that he/she sleeps a lot and you have that picture of him or her snoozing in their bed in your mind. Or on your couch lol If you got a young and energetic puppy and you picture your pet, you might imagine him bouncing towards you. Or if nine times out of ten you find your cat looking down at you from the top of the cat tree, well that’s what you will probably picture when you think of your cat right now.


A little story about a dog called Boo

You see, we all think differently when we think of our furry friends. I remember my first time drawing Boo, the German shepherd mix. Aisling, her owner, send me the photo she wanted me to draw and all I could think of was “Why?” All the typical “tips and advice” posts on the internet tell you to take a photo from head-on, on the same level as the pet and so on. Boo’s photo was neither and I couldn’t figure out why would anyone want this particular pose as a drawing. Let’s just say, I was very new to the whole commission business and this had thrown me a bit. So I did what I knew best, I asked my client. “Aisling, why did you pick this particular photo?” I knew Aisling was a talented photographer and I had seen lots of gorgeous photos of Boo, much more standard pet portrait material. So why this one?

Her answer was so simple. Every time they were together, Boo would sit or stand beside Aisling and look up at her, expectantly. The tilt of the head and the eye contact, that was what Aisling thought of every time she thought of Boo. So, of course, it made perfect sense to draw her pet portrait that way too!


I learned so much from this simple question I asked back in 2008.  You know your pet better than anyone. Imagine your dog loves nothing more than playing with a tennis ball and everytime you think of him you see him with a tennis ball in his mouth. Chances are you will either have already a ton of photos of him with his ball or at least it will be easy to get one. A pet portrait with his tennis ball will feel like the most natural thing in the world to you. On the contrary, if your cat hates to sit on the purple sequin cushion in your living room and avoids it like the devil lives in it, you probably won’t want your cat’s portrait to include the purple sequin cushion! Your mind can’t see the connection.

So as a simple guide to posing your pet ….. don’t do it. Try and capture what your pet loves doing best and what you love about your pet best. You will both have a better time taking photos and the resulting photos and of course the resulting pet portrait will have a much deeper meaning for you.

Acrylic vs oil paints (why I prefer 1 over the other)

Acrylic vs oil paints (why I prefer 1 over the other)

Acrylics vs oil and why I prefer one over the other

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


One of the big questions I hear is “Why don’t you paint with oil paints?” I know those comments are usually well meant. Coming from my friends, supporters and also my clients. In a way, you would assume that is the next logical step too. Oil paintings are generally twice as expensive (at the very least) as a comparable acrylic painting. And everyone seems to hold oil paints in high regards. Of course, there are the oil paintings of the old masters. Like Rembrandt, Vermeer and Da Vinci, paintings everyone knows and admires.


Acrylics – no patience needed

But I am not drawn to oils for so many reasons and I love acrylic paints for the very same. Did you know that Oil paints don’t dry? Instead, they harden due to oxidation, usually in about two weeks. And they are ready for varnishing in roughly six months. However, sometimes it takes years for an oil painting to fully harden! I am a patient person for all the right reasons. But how could I let my clients wait for 6 or more months AFTER I completed their commission? I wouldn’t want to wait this long and I wouldn’t expect my clients to wait this long! Acrylic paintings are easily varnished after 24 hours and are ready to ship the day after that. Much better I would think.


 Oil paints and pets

The long drying time has another knock on effect I couldn’t live with. I love having my dogs with me in my studio. They are my friends and companions. And they clear up any biscuit crumbs that may fall to the ground during my coffee breaks lol. I can only imagine the nightmare it would be to try and keep any loose pet hair of the always wet oil paints on my palette or the painting itself. Torture! Acrylics are dry within minutes, sometimes seconds after applying them to the board. If my dogs feel the need to jump up in a flurry of legs, sending a whirl of pet hair in the air because the doorbell rang, it’s not a big deal at all.


 And of course, there is the cleanup process. Brushes used in oil paintings need cleaning with solvents. While acrylic paint brushes get cleaned with water. So, considering I got pets in my studio, do I prefer a container with water or a container with solvents around? It’s a no-brainer to go with water. 


Why I love acrylic paints

 But I guess the main reason why I paint my pet portraits in acrylics is that I love using acrylic paints! I love the versatility of it. Thin washes looking like watercolors. Opaque layers with not a single brushstroke in sight. Or even thick layers looking like oil paint. You can even add extra textures to the paint. Glass beads create effects such as air bubbles in water. Sand texture gel gives the feel of sand and iridescent medium to give a pearlescent effect and many more. I personally prefer the flat smooth layers without brushstrokes or textures. But should I want them, I know I can add them at any time.


I love the speedy drying time too. I can paint over any parts of the painting in minutes without a trace. Or if I change my mind or a client changes their wish, changes are made easily and quickly. I love the endless colour mixing possibilities too. From vibrant to mute, every colour under the rainbow. Shipping a finished acrylic painting is never an issue either. But it can be with oils due to drying time or pastels with its fragility.  Verdict : What can I say, I love my acrylic paints and their endless possibilities. Every time I set up my palette with fresh piles of paints, it’s like opening a box of chocolates. Endless possibilities in every painting and always something new to learn and discover. What’s not to love about acrylics.




My favorite commission piece (and why its hard to choose just 1)

My favorite commission piece (and why its hard to choose just 1)

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

A lot of the time I hear the question if I have a favorite piece of art. Or a favorite commission piece.

Now to tell you the truth, this is hard to answer.

My artworks are like children to me. Ok, maybe not QUITE like children. (You wouldn’t sell your kids lol) But nearly. I always feel a personal connection with the animals in my pieces. You learn so much about them when you paint or draw them. So while I can honestly say I love each and every one of my works, I do have some that would feature on my favorite commission list for one reason or the other.

One of my favorite commission pieces

As commissions go, I loved painting the portrait of Sadler’s Wells. Such an icon in the thoroughbred world! But not just that. He was a true character and most definitely knew his worth. I remember virtually holding my breath every time I got to meet him. I was in total awe of him. And yes, I guess I loved him for his magnificence.

When I was asked if I could paint him for my client, I was glad that I had my own photos of him. Non quite matched the impact he I had on me in real life, but I knew this wouldn’t matter. Because I had known him.So many of my memories of him got trapped in the layers of paint. It was a labor of love. Was I glad when I was finished? No. Because it meant handing it over, letting him go. But I knew the painting would go to someone who knew and loved the horse. A man who had looked after him for a long time. And I knew his portrait would be the pride of place still.






Cliffs of Moher

Cliffs of Moher

An Irish seascape

I still remember my very first visit to the Cliffs. No-one ever forgets their first visit, but every time you leave you will be looking forward to your return. No visit is ever the same as another. The weather plays a big part in this. But also the time of day, time of year or the simple fact of how prepared you are on the day.

I love being at the cliffs and I was delighted to receive a commission to paint them. The request was for a sunny day on the Cliffs of Moher. Now that was a challenge. Most of the time the weather on the Irish west coast will be at least a little wild anyway. But I have visited so many times, I built myself a little reference library of photos I could rely on.

Irish seascape paintings are not something I paint every day. So I wanted to bring myself into a really good mind for it, making it as authentic as I could.

A little help

When I paint a pet, I always ask for some stories about the pet. Something to bring the character alive in a pet portrait. So for this seascape painting, I wanted something to bring me that feeling of being there. When you are inside the visitor center, nestled right into the cliff top, you will hear the sounds of pipe music. It is so fitting for the place, taking you back in time and leaving you with an even deeper experience. So on one of my visits, I tracked down the exact CD of this music. It is Davy Spillane’s Pipedreams. The song MIDNIGHT WALKER is the song that I connect the most with it. You can have a listen to it by clicking the link to the song on YOUTUBE 

So while I painted this famous Irish seascape, I listened to my CD. It was as if I could still hear the seabirds screaming in the background and the wind catching my breath. I will share some words from the website of the Cliffs of Moher with you and a link to the site too. If you are ever in the area, treat yourself to a visit. You will not regret it.


Step on to the edge of the world and into an awe-inspiring view that dreams are made of – at the Cliffs of Moher you will encounter nature in its wildest, purest form – see the rugged cliffs facing the mighty ocean, taste the salt air, hear the birds cry, feel the ancient rocks beneath your feet, smell the wind. Decide today to grant your highest wish to visit Ireland’s most spectacular natural wonder at the heart of the Wild Atlantic Way – the Cliffs of Moher Visitor Experience.