Jaxx, Lyra, and Ollie
In November, I donated a custom pet portrait to a charity auction. The winning bidder asked if I would be willing to paint more than one pet, and I agreed. She requested that I paint her three dogs and sent me pictures. I was up for the challenge and even suggested upsizing the picture from 8×10 to 11×14 so I could better capture the three dogs.
I put off getting started, for several reasons. First, I told myself I wanted to get through the holidays. Several weeks went by, and I eventually started mid-January.
My first “draft” was a really good start. Typically, I’ll choose a background color and prepare the canvas. But I was inspired and also began the general outline of each dog. Many artists will use a pencil to sketch out their subjects, but I prefer to use a basic color like black or gray to make sure I have the subjects to scale.
The project felt like it was dragging on forever. I owed it to the buyer to finish the portrait, as it had now been a couple of months, and I had initially wanted to finish it by the end of December. I asked myself what was taking so long, why was I avoiding something I seemingly enjoyed? I thought about it a lot and realized, yes, it was a more complex portrait than I’d done before. Three dogs instead of one was an ambitious project, more than I had bargained for. But I also had to acknowledge that there was a mental block caused by self doubt. I wasn’t sure I could do it. I didn’t think I had it in me. But every time I painted, I surprised myself with what I could accomplish. I gave myself a pep talk and told myself I could do this. It didn’t have to be perfect.
My next draft was a couple of weeks later. I decided to focus on the first dog, as that was the clearest picture. I made a lot of progress on that dog and worked a little on the basics of the dog on the right.
The next day, I went back to the painting and worked on the middle dog. This picture wasn’t as clear, so I focused on shading in this session.
I was on a roll. I was painting three days in a row. I worked on shading in greater detail, but I was finding that, for some reason, I wasn’t quite getting there with this dog.
The following weekend, I worked on it again. I did a little more on the middle dog and started on the one on the right. This dog is a very different breed and a very different color, so I had to switch gears to a different approach.
Later that day, I revisited the portrait and decided I had to redefine the right dog’s face. He was a pointer, but the way I had drawn the mouth made him look more like a hound. So I painted over the bottom part of the face and gave his mouth and jaw more definition.
I had intended to continue working on the portrait every day until it was done, but I still couldn’t believe in myself, so I kept putting it off until the following weekend. I was determined to finish it that weekend, come hell or high water. I looked at the dogs with a fresh eye and decided I needed to look beyond the photos I had and try to see them how they are in natural light. I reworked their eyes, changed the shading of the middle right dogs, and outlined more in white, gray, black, brown, and cream. I was almost there.
Eighth and final draft
Later that day, I put the final touches on the dogs. While they aren’t perfect, I realized I have to lean into the painting process. This isn’t drawing, and it isn’t photography. Part of painting is interpretation. While I feel like the portrait captures the essence of each dog, I also brought my own style to the portrait. I think this is my best work to date.
The final result is the varnished painting. I chose a matte varnish, because a glossy varnish can cause too much glare, and in my opinion, isn’t the right finish for a portrait.
I’m packing up the portrait and shipping it off to the buyer. I hope she likes it.