original art commissioned by Gretchen M.
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This is the most ambitious pet portrait I’ve done to date: five distinct cats, from completely separate reference photos, combined to appear to be sitting together. Arranging them in space isn’t too bad, and even shifting the gaze is pretty doable. The biggest challenge, by far, is lighting.

Lighting challenge #1: where are the light source(s) on each one? What’s it going to take to make them appear to be in the same space? It’s a little easier to combine when they mostly have light source above or in front of them. If they have a strong side light source, I might need to reverse one of them and then study their characteristics very carefully so their coloration and any other noteworthy details end up in the right place. A strong side light might also mean a loss of detail. I’ve painted enough cats and dogs that I have a decent sense of where detail ought to be, and how fur should look.

Lighting challenge #2: what are the colors? There are color shifts depending on where and when photos are taken. I look for objects, walls, or white fur to calibrate them as best I can first. Beyond that, it can be quite challenging to figure out what’s happening with fur color. Some patterns, especially tabbies, have a brownish root base that ends in white or black tips. It can be difficult to gauge whether it’s a gray or orange tabby sometimes (or a torbie, a mix of the two). This is where I usually need to (1) ask, and (2) cross-reference with other photos.

I enjoy the range of personalities of pets. Sometimes their personality comes out loud and clear, and other times it’s more subtle – so it helps to hear what they’re like. I found this amusing to work on because it would be darned hard to get a group together like this..! The photos we keep (because they really capture their look) are often snapshots that have weird lighting and distracting details. It’s gratifying to extract the good parts to use as the basis for a piece of art.