In this tutorial we will primarily be discussing the process I use for painting Pet Portraits on Slate, but most of the techniques should work for canvas as well. I want to stress here that this is the tehnique I developed for painting portraits fairly quickly, since the price point on slate is limited, but you may wish to spend more time and paint higher end portraits on canvas. I also enjoy working on canvas, but this seemed to be a niche that I slid into while running a craft shop in The Great Smoky Mtns. in Tennessee.
– I use old roofing slate, cut to size, sanded and sealed for painting. I will write a seperate article about that process. I also sell prepped slate ready for painting.
– Use your favorite. For the base coat I prefer Ceramcoat Craft paint, as it’s designed for ceramics and stone. For the rest I use a mixture of craft paints and Artist heavier bodied Acrylics.
– This painting requires a very limited palette, and the truth is I prefer using as few colors as possible. White, Black, Raw Sienna, Raw Umber and Red works well here.
Brushes, Pens, Pencils
– A couple of liner brushes, a couple of rounds and a small flat is about all I used on this one. You want decent brushes, but I don’t use expensive ones, they seem to wear out about the same, no matter the cost. Make sure one of them is a little frazzled, helps with hair and fur.
– I use a piece of coroplast, a very inexpensive plastic substrate used in the sign industry. Acrylic paint will mostly peel right off when dry, and when the palette becomes worn, simply toss it and cut another. You can place the palette with wet paints into a small airtight Tupperware like container for storage. (Hint: A damp paper towel placed underneath the palette will extend the usable life of the paint while stored).
Container of Water
– For cleaning the brushes and thinning paint. Very important to keep the brushes clean, acrylic is permanent when dry.
Rags or Paper Towels
– Cleaning and drying brushes.
X-acto Knife and Cutting Board
In Photo 3 you can see where I uploaded the photo provided by the client into Photoshop, so that I can clean up the area around the dog in order to use less ink when printing. I will also keep the image on the screen as a reference while painting. Once the image is clean enough, doesn’t have to be perfect, I print the photo on heavy card stock using a draft setting. If you are painting on canvas, you can use regular paper and tracing paper to transfer the image, but that doesn’t work very well for transferring an image to slate.
Photo 4 and 5: Using an Xacto Knife and a cutting board, I carefuly cut around the outside of the image.
Photo 6: Here you can see where i cut out the eyes, collar and a few other places to help make a few reference marks.
Photo 7: I carefully trace the image onto the slate with a pencil or pen, then using the Ceramcoat White I apply the first basecoat and let dry. Be careful with ballpoint pens, as the ink will show through the dried paint. I applied 3 coats of white, making sure it was dry between coats.
Photo 8: Using the pattern, I traced the nose, eyes, collar and made reference marks as needed.
Photo 9: Here I began to add some basic details. In Photo 10 I continue to add more details, blocking out the black areas and adding some fur. When painting fur it is important to pay attention to the direction of the hair. Use the brushes you’re most comfortable with.
In Photo 11, I finished up most of the black areas, added some white highlights, warmed up the white areas and added detail and color in the mouth.
I decided in Photo 12 to add the collar. I had toyed with the idea of leaving it off, but I think it added an element of color and as it was a Dollywood brand collar, I figured it might be important to the clients.
So there you have it. After the image dried for a few hours, I sprayed on a coat of clear Acrylic, any brand will do. I tied a black Paracord to the holes in top for hanging and shipped it to the clients. They loved it. If you decide to get into Pet Portraits, I am sure you will find it very rewarding. People love their pets, and they appreciate when you take the time to make them something special. Pay attention to the eyes and the expression, capture the animal’s personality. Do this and photographic detail is unnecessary.
Thank you for reading, if you like my tutorial please share on the social media of your choice. Feel free to message with any questions.
Larkin Livesay, Jr.
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“Every Artist was once an Amateur.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson.