Dog Portrait Process Feature: Fudge
Fudge’s dog portrait is a great example of how pet paintings from photos aren’t limited by their photo reference. In this piece, the reference photo did a great job of showing me what Fudge looks like. But the lighting was only so-so. Using the reference material and some painterly lighting tricks produced a piece of art with a lot more visual appeal!
Let’s take a look at what went into the composition.
Changing the Lighting in a Pet Portrait
Sometimes the challenge with painting pet portraits from poorly-lit photos is just getting enough information to capture their features.
But if the reference has enough detail and just lacks oomph, I can really play with the lighting.
Using the principle of dark on light/light on dark to make portraits pop is something I’ve talked about before.
But for Fudge’s portrait I wanted to draw on a lighting style that would give the piece a particularly classic look. The directional natural light used here is inspired by “Rembrandt Lighting”, who often lit his subjects from one strong natural light source that would reflect within the room to create a secondary light source.
Rembrandt lighting works for all sorts of portraits (including pet portraits) for two reasons.
1. Natural Light Looks Good
Sunlight comes from up. Simply by making the top of my subjects lighter than the bottom, I can suggest the direction of light. One strong light source from up there somewhere feels more natural than multiple sources of light coming in from all over.
Sunlight is “parallel” because it comes from so far away. Shadows will be a perfect cutout of their object, with no distortion. This is different than how light behaves from sources nearby, where the shadow looks huge.
Natural light comes from one place. We all know that bright sunlight makes razor-sharp shadows. But even soft overcast light is bright enough that you can really see where it isn’t. Have you ever wondered why photos taken inside can look “flat” compared to photos taken outside? Part of the reason is that indoor lighting comes from a bunch of dim sources instead of one bright one, so the shadows are weak and conflicting instead of strong and unified.
2. Contrast Between Subject & Background
Getting the Details in
With the portrait’s composition and lighting set, I can move on to painting the actual fur and texture on our dog subject. And what beautiful fur Fudge has! As a long-haired Dachshund, her coat is long and soft, with lovely colouration.
This video shows how I use highlights to catch the light on wisps of fur around her ears and face.
If you’d like to commission a portrait but you’re not sure about your reference material, I’d be happy to take a look at what you have and offer some suggestions for portrait layouts that can work. Just send me an email at [email protected].
If perfect reference material just isn’t available, that’s OK!
I can also work with several different photos to make sure the portrait turns out right. It may take longer, but it’s worth it to get a perfect painting of your pet.