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  • Writer's pictureMartha Iserman

Pet Portraits

Occasionally I get a commission to do pet portraits of people's beloved dog or cat. I'd like to explain that process so you can see if it's something you could be interested in.

What is a Pet Portrait?

That's dumb. It's a portrait painted of your pet, but you knew that because you're smart (you read my blog after all).

These two took their pose very seriously

I have yet to paint someone's bird, reptile, or rodent which is disappointing. I'd love to paint whatever animal someone throws at me (not literally, don't throw animals).

Seriously, if one of you has a companion pig or favorite raccoon feel free to contact me.

If you know someone particularly attached to their pineapple for instance...

I love all creatures great and small (except for cockatoos at the moment since they are in the process of eating our house and have tried to bite my toes).

Important Detour

Before we start, I know you're all thinking about how cute and wonderful your pets are but I need to say from the start that my cat is the best of them all.

Try and argue with this face, I dare you.

Her name is Bijou Bee and she has a rare condition called congenital hypothyroidism. When she was little she wasn't growing like her brother or the other kittens her age, and seemed lethargic and not really "all there".

Bijou with her brother, taking a rest in a picnic basket and hitching a ride in a cup holder.

Once she was diagnosed and prescribed daily medication to help regulate her hormones and growth, she perked up and grew- though she is still pretty small. She also never really matured into one of those cats who seems to know all the secrets of the ages, more of the cat who looks in the wrong direction when called and falls off of cat trees asleep. I think those few early months of being sick had an effect and let's just say she'll probably never join Mensa. She loves the sound of hailstorms on our tin roof and vacuum cleaners but is terrified of tortilla chip crunches. Her favorite food is iceberg lettuce. She also had an injury to her pelvis so now if she runs too fast her back end will over-take her front end and she somersaults across the house.

Here she is grocery shopping, taking a nap, doing yoga, and using her butthole to help me write this post.

So I'm sorry to tell you that as lovely as your pet is, it's no Bijou Bee. She is special, and smol and (shameless plug) you can follow her on instagram as @smallish_cat_bijoubee

Past Pet Portraits

I've mostly done paintings of dogs, and usually for friends. It works out best that way because most times I've met the dog I'm painting and it helps me capture the personality.

For instance. Sady was the elderly dog of my friends' Ariella and Janessa. They asked me to pet sit for her and their other dog Rosie, which I happily agreed to even though I was scheduled to have my gallbladder removed that week. I was able to muster enough strength to feed and clean up after them but spent the rest of the time on the couch with Sady's head on my lap so basically, Sady took care of me for a few days.

When Sady passed it was very sad and I wanted to capture the best of her, even though I only knew her briefly.

It's one of my favorite pet portraits I've done because I feel like even though she lived a long life, it captured her youthful essence.

There are different challenges that come with different pets. Tons of white fur for instance...

Or Goofy expressions, though with dogs that's usually the go-to expression.

Usually, it's all about finding the right photo that captures your furry friend in the right way so I can paint them in all their glory.

This is Moose and he is a good boy.

So how do you find the right photo to send me?

The Process

So you have a pet and you would like a painting of it, or you have a friend who recently lost their furry loved one and you would like to gift them an image for remembrance.

The first step is to gather photos. If it's your pet and you're like me, you spend most of your phone's storage on pictures of your critter. That's great because there are a few key things you need to look for in a great pet portrait reference photo.

1. Is it a quality picture in general?

Is it clear, high resolution, with even lighting and no blurry motion lines? Avoid pictures where the pet is in the distance, there are heavy shadows covering part or all of the pet, extreme angles (sometimes from above is fine, see the two dogs at the beginning of the post) or the pet is running away from the camera causing a blur.

These are all examples of photos that aren't usable as references for a pet portrait.

2. Is it a quality picture of the pet?

Is the animal featured being partially blocked from view by people or objects? Does it show the pet's face clearly, and with a pleasing facial expression (I'm looking at you pineapple)? Is the pet in a weird position or doing something awkward that is confusing to look at in a regular photo, let alone a painting from said photo? Most importantly, does the photo feel like it fully represents that pet's personality?

These also aren't great reference photos for pet portraits. Bee is either obscured, looking away, making a weird expression, or is in an awkward position.

You want a clear, focused, unobstructed view of the subject looking as much as themselves as you can capture on film.

I'll never get tired of that lil face.

Remember that I don't know your pet and will have to go off of the information I can get from the photos you send me. It might seem obvious to you that it looks just like Wilmer or Porkchop or whatever, but I can only go off of what I see.

I'd suggest that you send me as many photos as you can, at least 5 and I'd take upwards of 15 if you think that they meet the criteria above. I know this is hard if you're planning on surprising a friend or loved one with the painting as a gift, but honestly the better the reference photos the better the present so maybe skip the surprise and ask them to help?

So hopefully that was helpful for you if you ever decide to commission a pet portrait, from me or anyone. I charge around $100-150 for a 11in x 14in watercolor, but you can contact me at for any additional info or if you have questions.

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