What to Consider When Ordering a Pet Portrait

Pet portraits are a great way to celebrate or commemorate a beloved animal.

Being a nation of pet lovers, it’s no surprise that people love pet portraits! Commissioning a drawing of a pet can be a lovely way to celebrate your love for them. It’s also the perfect way to commemorate them once they’re gone. Most of the animal portraits I do are actually for gifts for various occasions such as Christmas, anniversaries and birthdays; and very often, they are memorial gifts. So what do you need to consider when ordering a pet portrait?

What size do you want?

The first thing to consider when commissioning a pet drawing is what size you’d like. A few things will determine this:

What’s your budget?

Obviously, this is the crucial first point to consider. Most artists will offer a variety of prices and sizes to suit different budgets so you should easily be able to find something that will work for you. If your budget is a bit more flexible, you can move onto the other points below to help you make a decision on size.

Where will the piece be going?
Where will the portrait be displayed?

This is more something to contemplate if the portrait is for yourself. For example, is the portrait going to be a large feature piece above the mantelpiece or sofa? Or would you prefer something a bit smaller to go on the bedside table or a bookshelf?

Is it for an extra special occasion?

Many commissions I complete are for a milestone occasion such as a 30th birthday, wedding, or anniversary. People tend to have a larger budget to play with in these circumstances as the gift is a one-off. And sometimes several family members are teaming up to order the drawing together.

What’s your timescale?

If you’re a bit short of time, a larger drawing may not be an option. I’ve always got a portrait on the go and subsequently tell my customers to allow at least 2 months for their portrait to be completed. Having said this, I will always strive to meet a deadline; it’s worth having a chat with the artist to see what they can do for you.

What kind of photos do you have?

One of the considerations of ordering a pet drawing is the quality of the photos you have. If ordering as a gift, you may find that you are limited in your choice of photo; good quality images can sometime be hard to get hold of without ruining the surprise for the recipient. Or sometimes, the pet in question may have passed away many years ago and there weren’t many photos taken of them. This can leave the choice of photos rather limited. I was once asked to draw a portrait from a physical photograph that was 20 years old!

The photos you have will determine the quality of the final piece.

When it comes to drawing pet portraits from photos, the higher resolution the photo, the finer the detail will be in the finished article. If your starting photos are less than sharp, you may be advised to opt for a smaller sized portrait. I will always do my best to work with any available photo my customers have; there are ways to enhance photos so if you are stuck with something less-than perfect, don’t despair.

If you are in the fortunate position of being able to take a photograph especially for the commission, there are a few guidelines to follow which will ensure a more professional looking finished piece:

  • Take the photo in natural light – a slightly overcast day always works best
  • Avoid using a flash where possible – it will result in red-eye and wash out crucial details
  • Try not to crop out parts of the animal e.g. ears
  • Set your camera to as high a resolution as possible
  • Don’t be afraid to include a prop if it reflects your pet’s character, such as a favourite toy or treat

Find some more pet photography tips in this article.

Do you want one or more subjects in the portrait?

It may not just be the one pet you want immortalised; I’ve received pet portrait orders for two, three and even four animals. They could be together in one portrait, be in a number of individual frames or in separate portraits within a multi-aperture frame. Just bear in mind that when putting pets together in one portrait, the size and detail will be lessened with each animal added.

It may not just be the one pet you want immortalised; I’ve received pet portrait orders for two, three and even four animals. They could be together in one portrait, be in a number of individual frames or in separate portraits within a multi-aperture frame. Just bear in mind that when putting pets together in one portrait, the size and detail will be lessened with each animal added.

Do you want more than one pet in the portrait?

As I’m sure you can imagine, it’s often tricky to get a photo of two or more animals together where they’re all looking at their best! This has only happened a couple of times for me. Normally I end up using separate photos of each animal and then putting them together in the portrait. In this situation, I always create a digital mock-up of the portrait for my customer to approve. This ensures that the proportions etc are correct.

Do you want a head or full body portrait?

A close-up head shot can give an opportunity for real depth of detail and character.

Another important thing to consider when ordering a pet portrait is whether you want a full body drawing or just the head and shoulders of the subject. I find that most people prefer the latter because it allows for more detail, and therefore character. However, in certain situations, the pet in question may have unique markings or features that my customer wants to convey in the drawing. For example, I once did a portrait of a horse named Bebe; my client felt that the markings on her body made her “her”, so we decided that a full-body portrait was the way to go.

I did a full-body portrait of Bebe the horse to show off her unique markings.

What type of portrait do you want?

This is something that people often don’t consider but it’s so important to the overall feel of the finished drawing. Do you want a majestic, elegant portrait of your pet? Or perhaps a sillier, more characterful portrait would reflect them better? One of the portraits I created was of a black labrador called Otta who had an extremely long tongue. I was told that Otta was known for this feature, so it therefore made sense to reflect him in this way! On the other hand, some pets have a more regal air about them (normally cats!) such as Rameses the Egyptian Mau cat; he was a very handsome, majestic sort of character so I wanted to his portrait to express that.

Do you want specific features or props included?

Cooper the French Bulldog with his bowtie!

There may be a special feature that you want conveyed in the portrait, such as a favourite toy or treat or defining physical characteristic. Here are a few examples I’ve been asked to include in pet drawings:

  • A chewed bone
  • A tennis ball
  • A bowtie
  • A soft giraffe toy
  • A defining notch in one ear

Are you considering ordering a pet portrait?

Hopefully these tips will give you a good starting point if you’re thinking of ordering a pet portrait, whether for yourself or someone else.

If you have any questions about pet portraits or would like to order something special, do feel free to get in touch with me or have a look at my pet portrait website. I specialise in drawing animals in charcoal pencil and have over 19 years experience of creating beautiful custom drawings for pet lovers.

I’ve been drawing pet portraits as special gifts for over 19 years.

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