How to Paint Pet Portraits for a Family Gift

There are an increasing number of pet friendly homes throughout the world. Gone are the days where a dog is just a dog or a cat is just a cat. These days, families are including their pets in family outings, vacations, and even for short trips to the store. The love of our pets equal to our love for our human family and when it comes time to give the pet lover in your life a special gift, consider painting them their very own pet portrait. Here are some tips on how to paint pet portraits for a family gift.

Think on Color Composition

Before even putting a brush to canvas, you need to understand the color composition you wish to utilize. In understanding how to paint pet portraits for a family gift, you must first understand how the portrait will be incorporated into the person’s home. Simply splashing on some paint can be a disaster especially if the person you will be giving it to has a particular home décor style. In the event you forge ahead without heeding this warning, you risk the painting being stored away rather than prominently displayed in the home. Spend time examining the person’s home and if this is for a family member, it should not be that hard to pay a small visit and see what their décor is all about. You certainly do not want the color scheme of the painting to clash with the owner’s home’s interior design.

Have a Picture to Work From

Even the best portrait painters have something to work from. Painting any image of a person or even an animal requires a photograph or the subject themselves to gather information from. It is impractical to simply use the animal as a subject. Like children, animals can find it difficult to sit still for long periods of time, so expecting them to sit for hours while you paint their portrait is not in the realm of reality.

Instead, start with a photograph and work from that. Try to get various angles of the animal to help emphasize muscle tone and overall body structure throughout the painting process. The portrait can be painted from one image, but the more angles and various poses you have, the better equipped you will be to make a high quality pet portraits for a family gift.

Which Type of Material Should You Use?

For those unfamiliar with the various types of mediums used in painting, getting the right materials can be a bit of a stretch. Generally, you have a few options to choose from…

Oil Paints

Among the more traditional mediums used by painters is oil paints. These paints are derived from natural oils and pigments and brush on remarkably smooth. They provide endless opportunity for blending and arranging colors on the canvas. Additionally, the texture provided by oil paints is unmistakable and classic. However, there is a downside to painting via oils, they do not dry. A painting painted with oil paints will set somewhat, but will never fully dry, so the portrait will have to be preserved very carefully and placed where hands will not smudge or smear the paint.


Acrylic paints are widely used in the art world today. They are essentially one of the easiest mediums to use and available in virtually any type of art store. Acrylic paint is one of the more water resistant varieties of paint and can hold up substantially well for pet portraits when they are displayed in an area where they may be touched.


Watercolor paintings have been a traditional form of painting for many years. Watercolors are pigment activated and spread by water. The water allows the paint to spread and many of the imperfections found in watercolor paintings can be spread into the background to become a true part of the piece.

Drawing and Placement of Pet or Pets

In learning how to paint pet portraits for a family gift, you will first have to understand how many subjects will be in the portrait. If the family has merely one pet, this should not be a problem, but if there are multiple pets, consider doing a full composition of all of them. Draw out the basic design of the pet being painted. You can use a standard pencil if the colors you choose are dark, but you may want to opt for a light blue colored pencil for the initial drawing as it will blend into the background easily once you begin painting.

Next, paint the primary color of the background for the painting followed by the subject with their primary colors being on display. Take a break and let the painting dry before moving on to any details. Slowly add details of the animal and background to bring the image to full fruition. Take your time with the painting as the recipient will be able to tell if painting was rushed. Before too long, you will have the perfect image of your family member’s pet or pets ready for gifting.