Every once and a while I'm commissioned to create a pet portrait, often to be given as a gift to a friend or loved one. Since my day-to-day illustration work is often heavily stylized and/or vectored, it's nice to change gears and work on a realistic style with painting elements.
After a consultation with the client (and lots of cooing over cute photos of the cats snuggling together), we discuss her vision for the portrait, including size, the personality of the cats she wants captured, and possible background options.
Step 1: Layout Thumbnail Sketches
First, I start out by sketching (very roughly, I may add) the client's two cats in different positions and compositions. The client liked the one on the far right, so right away I began the next step.
Step 2: Grayscale comp
Next I work on the grayscale painting comprehensive. After finishing this step I send it for the client for feedback, and she asks for me to change a few things. I like sending a more fleshed out comp because I can fix any problems without too much trouble. This is my first time trying to draw or paint a cat realistically, so I really wanted to make sure I had the anatomy of each feline down before I started painting.
Step 3: Final Painting
AKA: The tedious part!
Whew!! The final painting itself always differs from pet to pet. I find that the texture of fur is always the varying factor, and I'm always trying to perfect my method. After a lot of experimentation, I find Kyle Webster's Oil Painting brushes (specifically Oil Flat Wonky, Oil Lush and Oil Detail) to work the best for painting realistically.
In the case of this painting, I took great lengths to add realistic details to the fur. There's no way to cheat just painting each individual hair. My suggestion is to pour yourself a glass of wine, put on a couple of podcasts or an audio book and enjoy the ride.
For this portrait, I also decided to try something new: incorporate an actual painting element for the background. All I did was take some of my gouache and scan it in. From there I just messed with the levels a little bit and voila!
In the end, client was very happy with the end result, and so was I!