Commissioned Portraits: How I Actually Put One Together

"Ripley, Murphy, O.G., Veda and Missy Kitty", 20" x 30", pastel, 1998 © Bernadette E. Kazmarski
“Ripley, Murphy, O.G., Veda and Missy Kitty”, 20″ x 30″, pastel, 1998 © Bernadette E. Kazmarski

I’ve discussed plenty of portraits here but for the most part you’ve only seen finished works, and aside from a few notes on some of the more complicated portraits you’ve not seen how I actually put a portrait together, start to finish. I had prepared the presentation of this portrait, painted in 1998, for my original website and it’s a good example of a pretty complicated portrait with several subjects and a scenic background, plus it’s five rescued cats, what could be better?

The process is different for each portrait depending on what’s needed, and this portrait needed just about all the tricks I have in my little bag. I had the opportunity to visit their home and meet each one of them, and so spent about two hours talking to their mom about each one of them and following them around, photographing them in their habitat and with their habits even though their mom also had plenty of photos.

Organizing the photos.
Organizing the photos.

Being able to photograph them myself gives me the best visual information—after all, would you photograph just your cat’s tail anticipating that someday you might need that photograph? I can do that if I feel I need it.

Their mom adopted each of them individually either from shelters or from rescues, so each had a story that added to what I gathered about their personalities. We talked about where the portrait might be hung to help determine size and certain elements of the design, but she left the details up to me.

Depending on the complexity of the portrait and how many photographs I have to combine to get the scene, I may simply begin the drawing with no preliminaries or will create a pencil sketch to size. However, it’s a rarity that I don’t combine fewer than three pictures, and for this one I lost count of the number of pictures I combined. I used to have to sketch it out, even enlarging and cutting and pasting on a copier but now I use PhotoShop, scan the photos or use the digitals provided and combine them into a final finished composite.

Composite created from individual images and even bits and pieces of images.
Composite created from individual images and even bits and pieces of images.

For this portrait, I created two composites which I liked equally, and so did my client, but in the end the spot over the fireplace made the decision for the long narrow format. Each of the subjects is a composite of at least two photographs for face, paws, tail, eyes, ears, etc. I had an idea to use the bay window with windowseat for them all because the light was so beautiful and each of them visited this spot regularly, plus I enjoy painting architectural details.

O.G. loved everyone while Veda was a little skittish and Miss Kitty kept to herself.
O.G. loved everyone while Veda was a little skittish and Miss Kitty kept to herself.

So I made a composite image of each cat, then combined each of the individual composites, added the window in the background with enough of the windowseat included for placement, and sent it off to my client for approval—on paper.

A composite like this also means I have to equalize the lighting, make up shadows and highlights and the lay of the fur when I get down to the final drawing and when designing the posture and setting, which can be tricky but also one of the ways my cats have earned their living as I model them into the pose and lighting I need…sort of.

I always try to place the subjects against a background area which will complement their looks. But it’s not all about their looks—in combining multiples like this, I try to pair together animals which are friendly with each other and keep the “enemies” far apart.

When I began work, I enlarged the composite to the actual size of the finished drawing, printed it out, covered the back with a dark shade of pastel, and transferred it onto my drawing paper, which is an archival quality, 600-grit sanded paper.

After generally filling in the actual colors in the drawing and checking to make sure that everything was in proportion and in proper perspective, I was ready to work the actual drawing at my easel, with all the reference photos near.

Ripley and Murphy were buddies.
Ripley and Murphy were buddies.

I usually work the background first, then work one subject at a time, keeping the whole work at about the same level of detail. I may go over a portrait three or four times this way, each time working more color and detail into the work. In this case, because the window is a large portion of the work, I wanted to make certain all the structure and detail of it wouldn’t compete with the subjects, so I left it with less detail and color than the subjects and the surface they’re resting on.

The final pass adds the highlights in the fur, the whiskers and the sparkles in the eyes. When they look back at me from the drawing, I know it’s done. But it’s not really done until my client reviews it to make sure I’ve gotten everything right—after all, they are your companions, and I’d be just as fussy about mine. In this case, Veda was just not right—she’s a very tiny, slender cat, but shy, and the only clear picture I had gotten of her was of her hunched up a little scared under a table. Even though the image was accurate, it just wasn’t Veda, so my client sent me a few more photos of just her and I reworked that area. Since I had to slim her down and make her a little taller, and Veda is primarily black against a pale background, I had to actually lift quite a bit of pastel off of the paper and start over in some areas. If you compare the finished portrait at the beginning of this article with the sketch below, you’ll see the difference in Veda’s image.

The portrait is nearly done.
The portrait is nearly done.

Working With My Customers

In the end, any portrait means I work closely with my customer, often at an emotionally difficult time, and we’ve found this can actually help with grief. I can stop at any point if it’s too painful, or carry on if it’s working well. I’ve developed lasting friendships with many portrait customers, even long distance, hearing about new adoptions and losses, and several have returned for another portrait. It’s the part of this process I enjoy almost as much as creating a piece of artwork.


Read about other current Commissioned Portraits and Featured Artwork

I also feature artwork which has not been commissioned, especially my paintings of my own cats. If you’d like to read more about artwork as I develop it, about my current portraits and art assignments and even historic portraits and paintings, I feature commissioned portrait or other piece of artwork on Wednesday. Choose the categories featured artwork.


Take a look at other portraits and read other stories

Read articles on The Creative Cat featuring current and past commissioned portraits.

Read about how I create commissioned portraits.

Commissioned Cat Portraits

portrait of black cat on wicker chair
Samantha, pastel, 1994 © B.E. Kazmarski
Commissioned Dog Portraits

portrait of two dogs
Sophie and Ellie, pastel, 2009 © B.E. Kazmarski
Portraits of My Cats

pastel painting of cat on table
After Dinner Nap, pastel, 1996 © B.E. Kazmarski

Visit my website to see portraits of my cats, commissioned cats, commissioned dogs, people and a demonstration of how I put a portrait together from photos.


Download a Brochure

cover of brochure
My Portraits Brochure

My brochure is an 8.5″ x 11″ two-page full-color PDF that half-folds when it’s all printed out, showing examples of portraits with an explanation of my process and basic costs.


Purchase a Gift Certificate

Sample Commissioned Portrait Certificate
Sample Commissioned Portrait Certificate

I offer gift certificates for portraits in any denomination beginning at $50.00, which is the basic cost of a small monochromatic portrait.

The certificate itself is 8.5″ x 11″ and features a collage of portrait images with the recipient’s and giver’s names, printed on parchment cover stock. The whole thing is packaged in a pocket folder and includes a brochure, a letter from me to the recipient and several business cards.The certificate package can be easily mailed or wrapped as a gift and shipped directly to your recipient.

I can also make it downloadable if you’re in a hurry.

Certificates are good for up to one year after issue.

You can purchase gift certificates here or from Portraits of Animals if you are also purchasing other animal-inspired merchandise.

I prefer to look over the work and price the portrait according to how much work will go into it, as described above, but you can either set a budget or get started by purchasing a certificate for yourself or as a gift.

How to Order

  • “Certificate A” is for a minimum-size 8 x 10 black and white or monochromatic portrait with one subject.
  • “Certificate B” is for a minimum-size 8 x 10 color portrait with one subject.
  • Choose “A” or “B” depending on whether your portrait is black and white or color.
  • If your portrait will be larger or have more subjects, add $50 or $100 or more to your certificate value with the drop-down below.

CERTIFICATE A $50.00

  • Size: 8 x 10
  • Subjects: One
  • Color: black and white media such as charcoal, pencil, ink, or monochromatic media such as one color of pastel, watercolor, colored pencil, etc.
  • Background or objects: none but shading or colored paper

CERTIFICATE B $100.00

  • Size: 8 x 10
  • Subjects: One
  • Color: full color media such as pastel, watercolor, colored pencil, etc.
  • Background or objects: none but a color or colored paper

Add to your certificate purchase

You can use the second drop down to add $50.00 or $100.00. For amounts over this we’d probably have a conversation and I can set up a custom certificate for your purchase.

You only need to enter an address if it is different from the address I’ll receive when you order. These are often surprise gifts and need to be shipped away from the home address to make sure they are a surprise.


Gifts featuring cats you know! Visit Portraits of Animals

AfterDinnerNap-Etsy

Fine ArtPhotographyGiftsGreeting CardsBooksCommissioned Portraits & Artwork

Great Rescues Day Book:
Portraits, Rescue Stories, Holidays and Events, Essential Feline Information, All in One Book

day book with cat portraits
Great Rescues Day Book

Each month features one of my commissioned portraits of a feline or felines and their rescue story along with a kitty quote on the left page, and on the right page the month name with enough lines for all possible dates, with standard holidays and animal-themed observances and events. Great Rescues also includes a mini cat-care book illustrated with my drawings including information on finding strays or orphaned kittens, adopting for the first time or caring for a geriatric cat, a list of household toxins and toxic plants, or helping stray and feral cats and beginning with TNR.

Each book includes also 10 sheets of my “22 Cats” decorative notepaper with a collage of all the portraits in black and white so you can make your own notes or write special notes to friends.

The portraits in this book, collected as a series, won both a Certificate of Excellence and a Muse Medallion in the 2011 Cat Writers’ Association Annual Communication Contest, as well as the 22 Cats Notepaper mentioned below.

Read more and order.


Copyright

All images and text used on this site are copyrighted to Bernadette E. Kazmarski unless otherwise noted and may not be used without my written permission, although links to your site are more than welcome and are shared. Please ask if you are interested in using and image or story in a print or internet publication. If you are interested in purchasing a print of an image or a product including it, check my animal and nature website Portraits of Animals to see if I have it available already. If you don’t find it there, visit Ordering Custom Artwork for more information on a custom greeting card, print or other item.


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© 2018 | www.TheCreativeCat.net | Published by Bernadette E. Kazmarski

Weekly schedule of features:

Sunday: Essays, Pet Loss, Poetry, The Artist’s Life
Monday: Adoptable Cats, TNR & Shelters
Tuesday: Rescue Stories
Wednesday: Commissioned Portrait or Featured Artwork
Thursday: New Merchandise
Friday: Book Review, Health and Welfare, Advocacy
Saturday: Your Backyard Wildlife Habitat, Living Green With Pets, Creating With Cats
And sometimes, I just throw my hands in the air and have fun!

 
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Bernadette

From health and welfare to rescue and adoption stories, advocacy and art, The Creative Cat offers both visual and verbal education and entertainment about cats for people who love cats. From catchy and creative headlines to factual articles and fictional stories, The Creative Cat provides constant entertainment and important information to people who love cats, pets and animals of all species.

2 thoughts on “Commissioned Portraits: How I Actually Put One Together

    • January 22, 2019 at 11:55 am
      Permalink

      They could Tabbies! One of the things I love about portraits–we can always see cats we know in them, even if they are someone else’s cats.

      Reply

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