How to Select a Pet Portrait Artist

Our pets are family so thinking of having a portrait painted of one, or all, of them is only natural. Who wouldn't want to immortalize their best friend with a beautiful piece of fine art? Pet portraits can be expensive, so choosing the right portrait artist for you is key to ending up with a work of art that you will both enjoy and cherish forever. Luckily for us the Internet has made it easier than ever to find amazing portrait artists all over the world. Artists are creating pet portraits in all mediums, all styles, and for every budget. This article will help you understand the in's and out's of the pet portrait business, give you some key things to think about while looking for just the right pet portrait artist, and provide answers to some questions that you may have.

1. Finding an artist - Pet portrait artists are not as common as one would think. Many artists are completely intimidated by the idea of representing someone's loved one, even if it is 'just a dog.' Portraiture, whether it is human, dog, or horse, is a specialized field and most artists will not attempt it. So, your first step in finding a portrait artist is to confine your search specifically for artists positioning themselves as pet portrait artists. Don't ask Aunt Mary to paint your dog if you haven't seen any examples of Mary's attempts at dogs or you may be stuck with a painting that you hate and that Aunt Mary expects to see in the place of honor when she comes for a visit. It doesn't really matter whether or not your artist of choice lives near by or even in the same country. Most professional pet portrait artists work with clients from around the world, so don't let the artist's location worry you too much. We will talk about shipping internationally later.

2. Looking at their portfolio - an artist's portfolio is a collection of examples of their work. As you find artists online their websites should have images of past work. When looking at a portfolio of work you want to keep a few things in mind:

  • Do you like their style? Can you imagine their work in your home?
  • Do they have plenty of examples of portraits? 2 is not enough...20 or more is a good start.
  • Are they consistently good across their portfolio? Or are some works great and others so-so?
  • Do they use colors that you like? Many artists stick to a particular 'palette' so if you like bright colors and the artist only uses browns and grays and blues, keep looking.
  • How well do they do the animals' eyes? (the eyes are the windows to the soul...bad eye, bad portrait!)
  • Do they have testimonials? This is a nice-to-have, but it helps to know that other patrons, such as yourself, have been happy with the overall experience of having their pet portrait done.
  • Do they work in a medium that you like, ie. watercolor, oil, or charcoal?

TIP: If you like an artist's work, but not the medium that they work in, you might ask if they work in the medium of your choice, but if they don't, I wouldn't suggest commissioning a work from them unless you have seen examples of their work in that medium. Getting good at one medium takes practice and time. If the artist hasn't ever worked in that medium, keep looking.

3. How Much Does it Cost? - a good pet portrait can be had for somewhere between $200 and $1000, depending on the size and medium. Oils typically cost more due to the extended process and expense of the materials. Pencil and charcoal are often the least expensive, with acrylic and watercolors rounding out the middle. Bigger pieces of art are, of course, more expensive.

4. The Commission Process - every pet portrait artist runs their business differently, but typically, there are a number of things that will be the same:

  • Your Budget: commissioning a work of art from a pet artist might feel intimidating at first, but it can really be very simple. Pet portrait artists are professionals who work with people just like you every day - people who love their dog or cat, and who love art. But, at the end of the day, you still need to pay for that work of art. Determine how much you can afford to spend on your pet portrait either before, or as you, start looking for artists. Many artists will have their price lists easily accessible on their websites. In some cases, you will have to contact the artist and ask them about their pricing.
  • Initial Contact: when you find a pet portrait artist whose work you love (and that you can afford), the first thing to do is to contact them to discuss your project. Email is usually a good place to start. Some artists may prefer the phone. Either way, it is up to you to make the first move. Tell them about your pet, even include a digital photo, if you like.
  • Reference Photo: I don't know any pet portrait artists that ask your pet to 'sit, stay!' while they paint! They all work from photo references. A pet portrait will only be as good as the reference photo, so this is a key part of the process. You will need to supply a couple really good shots of your pet to the artist for consideration. You can take the pictures yourself, if you are good with a camera, or have a friend do it. Some people even hire a local professional photographer to take the photos. How ever you do it, high resolution digital images are required. If a pet is deceased and all you have are print photos, ask your artist if they can work from them.
  • Deposit: Since this will be a custom work of art for you of your dog, cat, horse, or hamster, most artists require a deposit to start work. This will get you on their calendar, especially during the busy season before the Holidays, and will be a commitment on your part that you are going to purchase this portrait when it is complete. Expect a deposit to range from 20% to 50% or more. Most artists take credit cards, PayPal and money orders. When you contact your artist, ask them what sort of payment methods they accept.
  • Production: This is where the pet artist produces your work. Expect good artists to have a backlog of work and that you will be put into their queue. It might be a few weeks or even more, before you get your portrait, so keep that in mind. The artist will typically email you a photograph of your portrait when they have completed it for your approval.
  • Approval: Every artist that I know wants more than anything for you to be happy with your portrait, so be sure to ask the artist about the approval process. If you are not happy with the work, you should not have to purchase it. Some artists may ask that you forfeit your deposit, but most artists will work with you until you are happy with the finished result.
  • Payment and Shipping: most artists expect to be paid in full before they will ship you your portrait. Packing and shipping costs are typically paid by you, so talk about that with your artist before you commission a work. Overseas shipping and customs costs might make it prohibitive, depending on your budget, so look into that before you say 'yes'. Large works will often be rolled in a tube to save shipping costs, but this adds some work on your end. If the work is on canvas, you will have to take it to your local framers to be 're-stretched' and then framed, if you wish.
  • Receiving Your Art: most artists will ensure that your portrait is 'ready to hang' when you take it out of the shipping container. If your portrait is on canvas, it should be pre-strung with a wire for your convenience. Be sure to ask if your art will be 'ready to hang' when you get it. Art that can't be hung easily and right away is like a battery-powered toy for Christmas and no batteries!

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