How to paint a pet portrait

Updated: Oct 2, 2019

hunter digital painting ophanap

I'm going to walk you through the process for my latest digital pet portrait painting which can be seen below! I'll describe the basic steps I use when making a painting like this and a few tips that can save you time when painting your own.

If you'd like a full video tutorial in the future so let me know and I'll do my best! Had planned one for this and my Rembrandt study but ran into a few technical issues. You can reach me through my Instagram or email at

What You'll Need:

Krita (FREE Download here) This is the software I have been using the most recently, It functions a lot like Adobe Photoshop it but seems more geared towards painting rather than photo manipulation, though both programs do them well!

Drawing tablet. I use an XP-Pen artist 15.6 currently, a little pricier but worth the investment if you're serious about digital painting (Link here). I started on a smaller, screen-less tablet, however, the Wacom Intuos S which is still perfect once you get used to looking at your monitor while drawing, which if you're anything like me you're already doing (Link here).

A reference photograph. Generally, I will use photographs I have bought from a large set made by an artist or photographer when I am working on longer, concept pieces. My favourite so far has been the sets produced by Proko, a Youtube artist and teacher, as they cover a wide range of poses, are very well lit (Very important for reference photos!), and are generally of very high quality. You can view their packages here they're not the cheapest as you'd expect from quality, though they are on sale fairly often. If you're looking for free reference then there are a number of other sites you can use, such as Pexels, Canva, Google images, Quickposes, Line of action, some times I'll save images I like from Instagram, Pinterest or while browsing the web and keep a folder on my PC for later. If you do this however it's good practice and courteous to ask for permission or reference the source of the image.

1. Sketching

First of all, I begin with sketching out the outline and features of the subject, in this case, my beautiful Akita/Doberman mix!

Hunter ophanap

There are a few methods used traditionally to sketch portraits (For example, the Bridgman technique) that can be used as a good starting point for a pet portrait sketch. The basic premise is the same when drawing either a human or a dog portrait, you'll want to start with a circle for the head and then sketch out the box shape of the jaw.

I find that it helps to squint in this initial sketching out phase at it aids you in seeing the abstract shapes that you'll need to block in.

The video above starts just after this initial sketch stage where I have cleaned up the lines to make them as accurate as they need to be to start the painting.

2. Blocking colour

I then move on to block in the mid-tones.

For this, it may help you to add a separate layer to your painting for the colour palette. You can do this to the best of your ability if you have experience doing so, however, if you're not comfortable doing so you can use the colour picker tool to select 3-5 colours from each area of the subject. I recommend sticking to only a few colours from each if you're using this method as it'll help you learn how the colour wheel and blending work in small increments if you rely on colour picking everything you'll need miss out on learning this as you practice.

Using a circle brush with the pressure sensitivity turned off I paint the mid-tones of each area of the painting on a different layer. Doing this means I will have a strong foundation to paint on and saves time painting back and forth using a softer brush, it also means that you can use the layer settings later on to paint only on the areas where you've applied paint which makes it easier to rework specific parts.

3. Adding values

After you've blocked in the mid-tones, you can move on to adding your range of vales. Usually, I will use the tones closer to the mid-tone first, saving the darkest and lightest for the very end, by doing this you will have an easier time mapping your tones to the original image.

In terms of brushes at this point, I'll swap between the following; circle brush with pressure sensitivity turned on to blend and mix values, bristle hairy brush to mix and and break up the texture, my custom fur texture brushes to begin painting the texture of the fur in the correct direction, and a few other custom brushes here and there to touch up smaller areas of the piece.

4. Adding detail

Now is the fun part! Adding the details. This will include the sharper textures of the fur, using a smaller 'hair' brush you can imitate the look of real fur by adding strands of hair in different directions, much like it would be in real life.

Hunter process GIF ophanap

Using a thin bristle brush I also add the dark strands for the whiskers that taper to a fine point at the end, note however how the light reacts through the whiskers on the other side of the face, as light passes through the hair and is contrasted through the darker fur behind you actually get a much lighter looking whisker!

In this phase i'll also start adding a slight texture to the tongue, giving it a rougher look to represent the bumpy taste buds. Then I added the bubble texture to the drool by using a soft brush and circling in small motions.

A lot of my painting technique involves a close representation of realism, a stylistic choice, but one that also saves incredibly repetitive painting that comes with a photo-realism approach.

For the collar and name tag I used the same method as above, however, the text was created using a rudimentary text feature in Krita (my software of choice) and then using the transform tool to force the perspective to match the direction of the name tag.

5. Finishing touches

Now to make that painting pop. I add the deepest tones from the reference subject to the lips and eyes, and then the highlights to the top of the eye, the eyelids, the nose, the tongue and the fur. After this, I take a minute to check over each area of the painting for possible improvements and then flatten every layer down into just one layer and tweak the colours slightly.

And That's all. Let me know if this has been helpful for you, I love hearing your feedback! Would you like a deeper tutorial on this? Let me know in the comments below.

I'm also open for pet portrait commissions too! You can reach me at for a quote or through my Instagram page. All the best, Dan

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