How To: Colourful Pet Portraits In A Realistic Style

colourful pet portraits

Colour in Pet Portraits

I’ve painted hundreds of paintings of pets over the years, but until I introduced brightly coloured backgrounds, almost everything I painted was a shade of brown.

And while these muted portraits look great in some rooms, what about when you want your custom painting to provide a splash of colour to your decor?

One option is to make the subject colourful. I see that a lot online, and for some people it works. But I’m a huge realism fan. And I love the natural colours of dogs and cats!

Fortunately, backgrounds offer lots of room to play with colour. Below, I’ll show you how to make a colourful pet portrait—without breaking out of realism.

And if you’re interested in getting your own custom portrait made, check out my main pet portrait site!

How to Paint Pets Realistically

I’ve written several helpful articles (with videos!) about how to paint dogs and cats. If you’re learning to paint pets, hopefully these will help you nail the realistic style you’re looking for so when you add colour it looks just right.

  1. How to Choose the right Reference Photo
  2. How to Paint Light and Dark
  3. How to Paint Fur
  4. How to Draw and Paint Dog Eyes
  5. How to Paint Dog Noses
  6. How to Paint Cat Noses
  7. Complete dog painting demo in oil


Once you have realism down, adding colour is fun! Even a splash of colour in the background can make a big difference.

colourful pet portrait painting change

Colourful Pet Portrait Speed Painting

First off, let’s take a look at how adding colour changes the feel of a painting. This client, fir example, decided partway through that she wanted something brighter. Maybe something blue!

On the one hand, it was quick to brighten up the piece. But on the other, (of course being oil paint) the painting took a lot longer to dry.

More Colourful Pet Portraits

White, black, and brown pets look particularly good with coloured backgrounds. For example, these rich greens and blues bring the outside, inside.

And for this kitty, pale green brings out her eyes.

As you can see from many of these cat portrait paintings, a cat’s eyes are often the most colourful thing in a portrait!

colourful colorful pet portrait cat

The rich reds in this German Shepherd painting make the whole piece feel warm and robust.

German Shepherd Dog Painting

Pastel Colours in Pet Portraits

Depending on your decor, maybe a lighter colour would work better. Light backgrounds work with most pets, even light coloured ones!

Pinks and warm browns often find harmony with the fleshy tones in ears and around the muzzle. Meanwhile cool blues and purples make the subject pop forward.

colourful pet portrait pink chihuahuad og
Colourful pet portrait purple lab dog

Colour in Representative Painting Backgrounds

Another way to add colour is to put the pet portrait subject in a colourful place, like water, snow, grass, bushes or even bright sand. To see how these backgrounds compare to the more neutral ones, check out my Pet Portrait Gallery.

Silver Running Wolfhound Beach Painting

Get Creative!

Do you have a pet portrait idea that makes use of colour? I’d love to hear about it. If you’re interested in getting a portrait of your own pet, check out my Pet Portrait Gallery for more art, or the Commissions and Pricing Page for more infomation.

If you’d like to see more, subscribe to my monthly-ish newsletter below.

Thanks for stopping by,


Picture of Zann Hemphill

Zann Hemphill

Zann Hemphill is a practising pet portrait artist, writer, and video producer.

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Pet Portrait art of a dog and kitten by Zann Hemphill

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