Occasionally I get asked to do a portrait of a pet or person who has passed away.  I will always try to be creative if photo reference is scarce and come up with something special for the client.  Sometimes a photo or lack of photos can be so poor I really can’t do anything but in most cases it’s possible to edit and improve the photo enough to work from.  Then your own colour choices can make the difference in the painting.

This portrait was done from a photo taken on a phone.  It was one of many photos given to me but all in similar low resolution format.  If I can see the eyes really clearly in a photo I feel a bit more confident about at least being able to get their gaze right.  In this case I did a little photoshopping to improve the light and also worked from other pictures taken in better light to see the colours better in her brindle coat.


The finished portrait, pastel on velour 12″x16″
Comparison between photo and portrait.
To improve the composition I’m adding a bit
onto her legs from other photos I have.  I’m also
adding a little bear she loved taken from another
photograph.  I tend to roughly Photoshop things like
this and then sketch from there just to get the scale
and precise angle of it correct.
The wooden floor provides a nice texture for
interest in the background and the shadow
area will really give her weight.  I’ve exaggerated
the shadow area as I’m going to exaggerate the light
in the picture too.
Working from the top down I try to follow my
own palette and substitute the warmer colours
I’ve picked for her coat.  For example, on the left side
of her face in the photo the highlights are very
cold.  I’ve substituted all the highlights on the lit
side of her face for a warm creamy yellow.  I’ve kept
the blue highlights for the shadow side of her face.
I do the same all over, picking colours within
the same tonality, but choosing warmer hues.
Brindle is a lovely coat to paint in pastel.  I
can literally just lay down that pattern in dark
browns or black and then bring the lighter stokes
in between those to create the brindle effect.
Keeping all my cooler shades for this shadow side.
Almost there.  It was quite tricky to add on that
one paw as the other photos were different poses.
I quite like that her other paw disappears as if
she’s just below you and her paw is out of your
eye line.
If you have a portrait you’d love but don’t have very good photo reference available it’s always worth asking.  I will never take on a job I don’t think I can do well.  But if I see something in your photo that I think I can enhance then you could well end up with something better than the original photograph.  It’s always lovely to be able to hand this type of portrait over to the client and know you’ve created something they will treasure.