Who’s the best pet parent in the whole world? Is it you, goodboy? Do you get a treat?
Hold up, do you have a portrait of your pet displayed prominently in your salon? If not, then you’re clearly slacking in your fur-baby obsession. Lucky for you, it’s easy and affordable to hire the perfect graphic artist to capture your cat/dog/horse/iguana’s unique je ne sais quoi.
Why pet portraits?
Pets are more than just animals, they’re members of our family. They have their own personalities; they enrich our lives; and we love them unconditionally. It’s been common for hundreds of years to display portraits of ourselves and our loved ones, so it’s not a big leap to show our artistic appreciation for our scaly or furry friends.
Many people have pet portraits commissioned as a way to memorialize a pet that has passed. Others just enjoy hanging unique, personalized artwork in their homes. A few years ago, I commissioned a portrait of my parents’ aging dog as a Christmas gift for them. Since then Cheyenne (who I guess would be my dog sister?) has passed away. My parents have her portrait hung in their kitchen as a loving reminder of their favorite daughter (who am I kidding?).
Whatever your reasons, you want a pet portrait that expresses your style and your animal’s personality. Let’s take a look at the options.
Different types of pet portraits
Often when you think of a portrait, you imagine an oil painting, or perhaps a colored pencil sketch, hanging in a gilded frame on a wall. This is a lovely option, but is far from your only choice in pet portraits.
If you’re thinking of getting a pet portrait, consider all of your options. Maybe you want to tattoo your cat on your ankle (their favorite spot to rub against), or maybe you want a laptop decal of your dog, or perhaps t-shirts for the whole family?
Pet portrait inspiration
I have one cat who sits on the arm of our couch like she’s a monorail. I have another who licks the paint on my dresser when he’s feeling anxious. I’m going to guess your babies are just as quirky as mine in their own ways. Highlight their uniqueness in a pet portrait by choosing the right style. Here are a bunch of ideas:
Keep it real, keep it classic
Even if you like the classic look, pet portraits aren’t one-size-fits-all. Perhaps your gerbil is best represented by deep, thick oil paints. Or maybe your maltese is better suited to the sketchy, light lines of colored pencils.
Embrace your inner artistic-cat
Art is about more than the subject it depicts, the style itself tells a story. From the visible, movement-filled brush strokes of the impressionists, to the bold in-your-face colors of pop art, you can depict your purr-ball or pup’s personality by picking the perfect style.
Too dog-gone cute
What percentage of the photos on your phone are of your pets? Face it: your pets are insufferably cute. Definitely way more adorable than any other garter snake and hedgehog pair out there. You’re really not sure why their instagram account isn’t getting more followers… Sounds like you’re in the market for a cute, cartoony or otherwise aww-inducing pet portrait.
Bad to the bone
It’s sometimes hard to remember that our pets were originally bred for practical purposes, like herding sheep, catching mice or hunting badgers (you do know that’s what dachshunds are for, right?). Maybe you want to celebrate the more badass side of your bone-chewing buddy. If so, we’ve got some inspiration for you, too:
Pets are people. Literally.
You swear your parakeet has feelings—he was totally crying when you accidentally yelled at him that one time. And your conversations with Mr. Pickles are most definitely not one sided. Pets are people. Bring that out in their portrait. From whimsical plays on classical portraiture to posing animals in playful anthropomorphic settings, we’re loving this pets-as-people portraits trend.
Snuggle up to the weird
Things you didn’t do before you had pets, but you now consider to be totally normal: pick up poop, buy music for cats or consider the validity of pet psychologists. These weird balls of fuzz (or feathers) change us. Why not embrace that weirdness in your pet’s portrait?
How to hire the right artist for your pet’s portrait
Whether it’s on your walls or on your body, any art you display should make you happy, especially if you’re commissioning custom work. There are two good ways go about getting a pet portrait created:
Host an illustration contest
If you’re not sure exactly what style you’re looking for, a design contest is a great option. Here’s how they work:
- You fill out a creative brief explaining your style and needs (and uploading a couple of photos of your pet as reference).
- Designers from all over the world submit ideas based on your brief.
- You rate the designs and pick a few of your favorite artists to work with as finalists.
- Finalists make tweaks according to your feedback.
- You pick a winner (or multiple if you just can’t choose)!
When I got a portrait done of Cheyenne, this is the route I went. I knew I wanted something that was an homage to one of my parents’ favorite art styles, but I wasn’t sure exactly what. In my brief I gave designers a list of styles:
- Posters by Toulouse Lautrec
- Rembrandt paintings
- The Impressionists (especially Van Gogh)
I got back dozens of amazing ideas, here were three of the finalists:
We ultimately chose the impressionistic style by lofosparalogos as our winner, and worked with the designer to add a tennis ball (one of Cheyenne’s favorite things) into the finished piece.
Hire an artist or designer
If you have a pretty clear idea of what you want, or if you find an artist whose style you love, you can hire them directly.
Earlier this year, one of our colleagues left 99designs. As a parting gift, we had a portrait of her cat, Miss Kitty, commissioned. We chose an artist whose quirky style fit our colleague’s personality. We then added a bunch of personalized details and inside jokes to make it something that would be truly special (and force our colleague to remember us long after she left).
How do you find the right artist for you? You can search for a freelance illustrator on 99designs, browse Etsy or Pinterest or look at local artists in your area. Take some time to look through portfolios. It’s also highly recommended to ask if they’ve done pet portraits before.
(As a pro tip, we’ve linked each of the examples in this article to their artist, whether or not they work on 99designs. If you see something you like, click to see their profiles and inquire about rates.)