Choosing a pet portrait artist is no easy task! You want the finished portrait to capture your pet’s personality and be a beautiful addition to your home. If you’ve never commissioned a piece of art, it can feel a little daunting. Not to worry!
With the help of several experienced pet portrait artists, I’ve compiled eight questions that will give you the confidence to find and choose the perfect artist. Once you’re ready, don’t forget to check out my Pet Portrait Directory with over 80 talented artists.
Choosing a Pet Portrait Artist – Questions for You
1│What kind of art do I like?
It’s important to pause and give this some careful thought. Your portrait should be a pleasing work of art that you and your family will enjoy for years to come. For many of us, we know what we like when we see it, but it’s difficult to put into words.
If you’re not familiar with different mediums, try searching by qualities — soft, realistic, bold, modern — and see what you find. You could also identify an artist you like and ask what materials they use – is it acrylic, oil, watercolor, graphite? That will help you find more artists in a similar style. Most portrait artists will be happy to talk more about their craft and explain what they can or cannot achieve within their medium.
Leah Davies points out, “If a potential customer is contacting me for a portrait, then I assume they’ve already done some research and have decided my style and the mediums I work with are best suited to their own aesthetics. But if not, I’m happy to share the mediums and methods I use.”
2│Do I feel comfortable with the artist?
Make sure you feel at ease from the beginning, especially if you’re uncertain about what you want. If you don’t feel comfortable asking questions, it’s probably not a good fit. Like any professional transaction, trust and openness are critical for success.
From your earliest interactions, pay attention to their willingness to work with you and their attention to detail. For example, if you ask for a recommendation on which pose would best show your pet’s markings and personality, do they appear to give a thoughtful, quality response that shows their expertise?
Look for testimonials that attest to the artist’s collaborative style and responsiveness. This is especially important if you’re not meeting in person.
Ashley Herrera (Before the Bridge Fine Art) says, “I think it’s very important that customers and artists have an open line of communication. You want to know if the client has a vision for their portrait. It’s their pet. But I also believe that when people choose an artist, they are picking that artist’s style. There has to be some freedom to do what the artist thinks would work best.”
Choosing a Pet Portrait Artist – Questions for the Artist
3│Can you meet my pet?
If this is important to you, ask this question as early as possible. Obviously, you’ll need to find an artist who lives within a reasonable distance to you, so that limits your options. This will require some extra coordination and it’s not something that every pet portrait artist does automatically.
If it’s not possible to meet and you really like the artist, consider taking a video of your pet (or sending a “classic” video from your family archives that shows their personality). This can go a long way in expressing your pet’s uniqueness and help the artist bring them to life.
Maria Gronlund learned the hard way that for some customers, meeting their pet is vitally important. “For one of my very first portraits, the client sent me a picture of her cat, and I created what I thought was a good representation. But when she found out it was already finished, she was furious because I’d never met her cat. She said I did not capture its essence. Now it’s always the first thing I ask!”
4│What pictures do you need? Can you use the pictures I have?
If you’re like most animal lovers, you have lots of photos to choose from! However, certain photos work much better as references for the portrait. Lorna Stannard offers this excellent list of three things to consider when trying to get a great photograph, which I’ve summarized below.
- Lighting – Take photos outside, with the sun behind you so it shines on the face of your pet.
- Perspective – Get down on the same level as your pet so you’re at eye level.
- Pose and Alertness – Try to get your pet to focus their eyes on something, not necessarily at the camera.
If your pet has already passed (or you’re giving the portrait as a gift and have limited photos), make sure you discuss their quality with the artist to make sure they can meet your expectations.
5│Can I see examples of your work?
Even if the artist comes highly recommended by a friend or has a long waiting list, you need to make sure their style and technical ability meets your expectations. Many artists will have a website or Facebook page with a portfolio. See if they have finished portraits along with pictures of the animal.
Cara Shanley also notes, “It’s important that the person commissioning your pet knows what to expect from your own unique style. You’re not just choosing someone to copy a photo; you’re choosing an artist who will capture the unique character of your pet and interpret them into a new piece of artwork.” There’s no wrong way to create a pet portrait, just be sure you know exactly what you’re getting.
6│Do you have testimonials from previous clients?
If you love the artist’s portfolio and have a great recommendation from a family member or friend, you’re on the right track. However, it’s still worth asking for testimonials. Depending on what’s most important to you, look for comments like:
- Asked a lot of questions to understand my pet’s personality
- Provided helpful suggestions to improve the reference photos
- Committed to creating a portrait that our family would love
- Delivered my portrait on time
- Open to my suggestions
- Professional throughout the engagement
- Responsive to questions
7│How long will the portrait take? Can I see the progress?
Every artist is different in terms of how quickly they’re able to produce your portrait. You’ll also have to factor in the time of year and the artist’s typical waiting list. Leah Davies recommends, “Ask about lead time and for the artist to explain their process. It’s very important for the customer to understand this in case they have a deadline or they’re gifting it to someone for an occasion.”
Aside from the timeline for completion, would you like to see the portrait as it comes to life? Or be surprised? Some artists have active social media accounts where they share the stages of their painting. Check out their feeds if this is something that’s important to you, or ask if they’d be willing to send photos.
8│What’s included in the portrait price?
Artists typically have a rate sheet on their website or a contact form to request a quote. Often, they’ll want to see your reference photos prior to making a commitment, especially if there are limited photos. Make sure the quote answers these questions:
- Do you require a deposit? Is it non-refundable?
- When is full payment due?
- What quality paper do you use? Is it archival and museum grade?
- Does the portrait include framing? Is that an option?
- How do you handle shipping? Is it included, or billed separately? How is the portrait protected during shipping?
- What forms of payment do you accept?
I recommend getting a quote with the above information in writing. This protects both parties. In some cases, a portrait can be a significant investment, so it’s important to clarify payment terms.
Your furry family member is special to you, and the decision to commission a piece of art is a reflection of that love. I hope these questions will help you in choosing a pet portrait artist! Best of luck in your search.
And thank you to the wonderful artists quoted throughout the article! Please be sure to check them out. If you’re a pet portrait artist, did I miss anything? Let me know in the comments so we can all learn.