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How I Create Your Pastel Pet Portrait

If you are not artistically minded and have never commissioned a pastel pet portrait before, you may be interested in learning about how I create your pet portrait. This may also help in getting you to understand what is needed from a pet portrait photograph. 

Once we have worked together to choose a suitable photograph: one that represents your pet both in looks and personality and chosen your portrait size, it is time for me to get started. In the case of this labrador pet portrait, my client already had a photograph that she loved. It was the perfect representation of her dog. It is incredibly important you have a photo that you already love before it is turned into a pet portrait.

The first thing I do is draw out the basic outline of your pet's portrait. I always send this over to you via email so you can check it is how you had imagined. Once you have approved this, it is time to start filling in the detail!

Creating a pet portrait in pastels

In this photo, you can see how the portrait has the main features mapped out. The green tape around the edge is sticking it to the drawing board. The overall size of this pastel pet portrait is just slightly bigger than the aperture of the mount it will fit into. 

I often work on dark grey pastelmat paper. This is sandpaper textured paper, the texture gives the pastel something to grip to, so I can build layers of colour up. I the colour the background whatever colour you would like. For this pastel portrait of a black labrador, it was decided to have a light grey background that would work nicely with the light grey highlights on his fur.

Pastels are a lovely medium to work in. I like to draw in the main features of the pet. In this case the dog's eyes, nose and mouth. Whilst these are not 100% finished, they are a good way to being finished and give me a good idea of how they look before I add the fur. I feel that a pet's eyes and nose are quite important in making sure the final pet portrait is a true likeness of the pet. 

At this point I like to add a little halo of the background colour, this means the change between the dog and background is seamless and I can draw the fur slightly overlapping the background. 

creating a pastel pet portrait
Creating a pastel pet portrait
Creating a pastel pet portrait from phot

Once the start of the pastel background is in I start on the fur. It is in drawing the directions of the fur that I can create the three-dimensional shape of the dog. This is one of the reasons having a high quality, clear image of your pet for me to work from is very important. It is in the hair direction that the flat shape becomes more lifelike. 

In this black labrador portrait, there is some black and lots of grey. When creating a realistic pet portrait, it is important to include the full range of colours in the portrait. The darkest parts need to be dark and the lightest parts as light. It is in including a full range of tones that it looks realistic. 

Even when laying down the very first layers of colour I like to ensure I am using the direction of the fur. Whilst these layers of pastel will probably be covered in later layers I feel it is best to ensure things are done properly from the start. This means the later stages are bound to go right and look perfect in your finished pet portrait. 

As you can see as the pastel pet portrait progresses, I am building up layers of colour. A black dog is not just black! You can also see how the lines that are the direction of the fur change. See on top of his head it curves each side, with the curve getting tighter nearer to the eyes and straightens out towards the centre of the head. Below the eyes is another area where hair direction plays an important role in creating a realistic pet portrait. The direction changes several times under the eyes to the cheeks.

Pet portrait in pastels dog

When commissioning a pastel portrait of your pet with their mouth open, it is incredibly important to have a high-quality photograph for me to work from. Mouths are complicated structures, with their tongue, teeth and gums having quite complicated shapes, colours and textures. Trying to work this out from a blurry photograph is very difficult.

I liken the process of creating a realistic portrait in pastel to playing a game of spot the difference, only I am creating one side of the photograph. You start off with the big differences and then get more and more detailed until you are putting in the most minute of details. Therefore, in having a high-quality photo of your pet, the more detail to spot, the more detail to put into the pet portrait.

Pastel pet portraits from photos - proce
Pet portraits from photos in pastel

Once the portrait is in a fairly late stage I then fill in the remainder of the background. As you can see, this labrador no longer has his halo! I like to do this towards the end so it stays nice and clean. It is very important to check what the portrait looks like, not only close up but from a distance. Portraits can look very different from varying distances.  

Pet portraits will most commonly be viewed from a few feet away so it is important to make sure it looks just right at this distance. 

Below I have linked a timelapse video of the whole process from start to finish. I hope that you will find it interesting!

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