Pet Portraits

Having a special dog who brought me so much joy regularly was quite wonderful. I did drawings of him all the time, especially as he slept. Other people liked my drawings and asked for portraits of their pets which I happily did. In the past few years, I had not taken many pet commissions due to the passing of my wonderful Red Heeler, Australian Cattle Dog, who was my main sidekick. He inspired me daily and went on every hiking adventure I trekked in the United States and Canada. Most of my outdoor memories are with him. Creating portraits for others was very hard after his passing.

Now, I have a blue heeler, 2 years old. He has helped me bring my focus back slowly by sketching every now and then, and creating canvas paintings again. Being asked to be a part of a person’s memories is an amazing feeling. I try to understand the feeling a person has about their pet and ask certain questions so I can place these emotions into the brush strokes. Getting a color scheme from clients is also an enjoyable part of the experience. I start with the eyes of an animal and focus on their expression or how their person described the pet’s character.

Once the eyes are painted, I develop the nose and mouth with certain details in mind. People message me about what their favorite memories are involving their pet’s mannerisms. Acrylic allows layering and a build up of texture with an emphasis on fur or hair to show expressive traits. I like using soft backgrounds to bring the image of the animal forward. If I choose to add details to the background, I also add highlights to the animal in order to bring the focus back to the subject.


I prefer to use a 12” x 12” wrapped canvas over stretcher boards. I like this size because it is the same space as a wall calendar’s image. The square shape is also intriguing to the eye. This space allows me to focus solely on certain attributes of the face to ensure each person’s happiness with their animal’s appearance. I was very pleased to work on this pug portrait recently because the lovely eyes of the animal fascinated me with their soft glow. He was a very special part of his family and I was happy to paint him.

I fully understand wanting to capture a loved one’s memories in a portrait that can hang on a wall and bring a smile to one’s heart every time it is seen. When I finish a painting, I hope I brought a moment to life such as how a person’s animal always made a certain face, or a tilt of their head. Reliving a happy memory is a marvelous feeling. Being asked to commemorate someone special to a family member is an honor. I am grateful for being blessed with two magnificent friends and the memories shared with both are timeless. 

-Karen Hilliard