Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Commissioning a Pet Portrait - How you can help create a portrait you'll love!

With me, my clients are as important in the process as the subjects!  I really want your portrait to be exactly what you envisioned, and something that you will love forever.  So I work hard to try and get at what it is you envision.  And sometimes, that's not that easy for a non-artist to verbalize.  I understand that.

Of course, the first thing is I need some photos.  I find that some people who would love a portrait hesitate because they don't have a perfect photo.  That is okay.  In fact, that's one of my strengths, imo.  Animals are HARD to photograph in a way that shows their "true colors".  Some of them are hilarious when you get the camera out.  I can never "catch" Otto indoors, he's too aware of my every move (always hoping yet another car ride or walk is on tap!) and my precious Gussie (who crossed that bridge 2 years ago), thought she was a runway model.  Any time that camera came out, she posed...and it was like the kid with a phony camera smile, it just didn't look like her.  And outdoors, forget it.  There's just so much going on!

So I know first hand how hard it is to get one great photo.

What I like is if you can send me several photos and we can decide together what will make the best portrait.   Of course, sometimes we get lucky and one is all we need!  But if not, we can work together.

There's 5 technical elements that I can put together for you:  Pose, Face, Coloring, Background and Foreground.  But the most important element to me is your telling me about their Personality.

Personality????  Absolutely.  Say you're purchasing a gift of your mother's precious pooch for Christmas.  She's a maltese.  I want this to look like Mom's maltese, not just any maltese.  Is she shy? Bossy? Outgoing? Curious? Loyal? Bratty? Naughty? Goofy? Queenlike? Serene?  Silly? When I know something about the personality of the animal, I can bring it out.  How?  I have no idea!!!  I just know that it comes through the details. 

My past customers have told me that I "caught her personality".  I have one golden retriever that looks...annoyed.  Her human told me that she is one of many in the family and she kind of sits to the side watching the other goofy animals with a superior, annoyed expression on her face.  Now if I made her look silly, that wouldn't be her, would it?  Her human loved her portrait...it was "her"!

Then, the technical aspects:

First, is the pose:  Is it the one of her lying on the rug?  Or is it that one, of her sitting ...but that kitchen trash is in the background?  Say you just love this one of her sitting but her front paws are cut off in the photo. Very common. I can work with that.  Numerous photos will show us her paws, and if it's a memorial portrait, I'll take a look at the paws of that breed and match it up.

Second is the face.  Very often the cute portrait pose is not the best expression that reveals their personality!  I can almost always combine the expressive face photo with the pose we decide works best.  Another aspect is getting the all important facial details.  I find a great place to get close details that I can use is outdoors in the car!  They are distracted enough to get in close and get that shot.  It doesn't have to be the right expression, but if I can see just how that nose is shaped, and just how far apart those eyes are, I can incorporate it!  Whatever I can do to make it look just like YOUR pet, is my goal.

Third is coloring.  Indoors shots are notoriously misleading colorwise.  Flashes bleach out coloring and give those eyes that bizarre green glow.  No matter!  A shot outdoors at any time except midday shows the coloring unique to your pet.  I don't care what they're doing outdoors, as long as I can see colors.  I might ask you for exact eye color, as well.  For most dogs, it's black coffee? black tea? a chocolate bar?  For cats, there's that whole range of light yellow to golden to greens to blues.  We'll get it right.  The eyes are all important...

Fourth is the background.  Ultra closeups call for something simple, but I do enjoy portraits that have the pet in a meaningful setting.  I really don't understand why so many portrait artists are afraid of backgrounds. Putting the pet into a real setting turns it from a "Sears" type portrait to a portrait that is meaningful to you and makes the art worth viewing in its own right!  On the couch?  On the oriental rug? Outdoors in the grass?  On top of a motorcycle?  Let's discuss!

Fifth is the foreground.  Often, the foreground...the bottom edge of the portrait...declares itself from the background choice.  But sometimes, it's flipped!  It is the most important "non-subject" part of the painting and the background sinks in importance.  For instance the pose of a dog lying on the edge of a rug with a wood floor showing that fades to a very dark background. 

And Sixth, which I forgot to mention earlier in my list, is working with multiple photos of a family of pets to make sure they are in the correct proportion to each other and are included in a creative composition that brings out the personality of each of them!

Some commissions are relatively straightforward.  From the array of photos, we quickly come to a consensus and the photos tell me all I need.  Sometimes, we need to work more.  I might ask you to photograph his tail or you might want to take a photo of the drapes you want in the background.  Or the favorite toy or blanket.

Email makes it really easy to communicate and I have enjoyed getting to know the fabulous pet owners who have commissioned portraits over the past 8 years.  I think the reason I have so many repeat gift orders is that my clients know I will go the extra mile to make that pet portrait that's a gift as detailed and personality filled as I can possibly make it! 

But I need YOUR input; otherwise, it's just like a little art factory producing breed art.  I want your portrait to be so unique and full of personality that nobody will say, "that's a pug".  But instead say, "that's MY pug!" 

Thanks for visiting my blog!  I'm Portrait Artist Robin Zebley, with over 8 years experience creating portraits of pets, now also offering portraits of children!  Many of my commissions are shown here, for more, and for ordering information and pricing, please visit my website: http://robinzebley.com/.  Questions? Ready to order?  Just click HERE.  I work commissions in the order I receive them and your deposit saves your space on my list.  I am looking forward to working with you!  Robin

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