top of page
  • Writer's pictureAmy Elizabeth Fine Art

The Life of a Pet Portrait Commission

I thought it would be helpful to write a post on the whole process of commissioning a pet portrait from start to finish, so here it is! Once you have decided you want to immortalise your pet in the form of a piece of artwork, there are a few steps you need to take before I can start bringing the piece to life.

The first step is finding a suitable photo for me to work from. This photo wants to be clear, in good lighting, with the colours of the eyes visible. They say the eyes are the windows to the soul, all I know is they can make all the difference in getting a portrait to really capture a true likeness of an animal.

There are a few things you can do to help getting the perfect picture. Going outside so there is ample lighting is the first step. Then getting down to the height of your pet (or bringing them up higher by sitting them on a chair). Once you've got the angle right, you then get them to look in the right direction by holding a treat where you want them to look. Follow those rules, and make sure you are close enough to a get a clear picture that fills the entire frame you will be most of the way to getting a great photo of your pet!

You can find more details (including a step by step guide) on getting the perfect photograph to work from in my "how to take the perfect photo" page.

If you've got more than one photograph that is suitable, we then have to decide which one you would like me to work from. There is often no right or wrong answer to this, its down to personal preference and what you feel represents your pet best. Is your dog always grinning with his tongue out? Or usually got a bit of a dopey look on his face? If so choose one that shows this. Otherwise, its just what you like the look of best, a portrait of your dog facing the camera straight on will look different to them looking directly to one side. Neither is better than the other, its just about what you like! Of course, I will be here every step of the way to help guide you in this process.

Here are three pictures of the same dog, all are absolutely perfect for a portrait. Which would you choose?

Next, once we have chosen, I move on to drawing out the initial details and start to fill in the colour.

In this image above you can see I have the main outlines of all the major features of the dog outlined. The vertical and horizontal lines are used as a reference, along with the same grid positioned over the reference photo to help with getting everything just right. You wont see them on the finished piece!

I like to first get the eyes and nose filled in first. These will give a good idea of "tone", by which you can judge the colours of the rest of the piece. They are also a major aspect of the portrait so I like to get them done early.

I tend to work working one area to a level of near completion before moving onto another area. Coloured pencil is a medium that tends to look a bit ugly when it is half completed, so you have to be quite patient.

Here I have continued to work fully on various areas. I don't tend to work in a particular direction, for example right to left but instead which ever area I feel like doing next.

It looks like this portrait is nearly finished but there is still a way to go.

A first glance this looks finished, as all areas have been covered. However, there is still I few things than need to be done. First, I look at the piece as a whole to check I like the range of tones. To get a realistic portrait you need the dark areas to be dark enough and the light areas to be light enough. This creates a range of colour that produces the most realistic and 3D results.

I next have a final check that everything looks right in comparison to the reference photo, all the colours are right and any little details are in. Have a look at the reference photo above and the current stage of the portrait, what do you think needs to be changed or added?

So here we have it, a scan of the final piece. Doesn't adding his whiskers make all the difference? I have also darkened up near to his mouth and an area on his neck. Once a piece of art work is completed, I like to display it for a day or two so I can keep checking that everything is absolutely perfect and the work is ready for its new home!

Interested in commissioning your own pet portrait? Email me at for a no obligation chat.


bottom of page