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Bandit - Cat Portrait

This is a portrait of Bandit, a stray I took in last spring. He now lives with my brother and SIL in Virginia.

Constructive criticism is always welcome. I am new to pet portraits and looking to improve. Capturing likeness is challenging on an animal. So any pointers are welcome!



  • I will leave the experts to give you pointers, but I must say, I think you achieved a tremendous likeness. We are owned by 4 cats and each cat has its own personality. I think you 'cat'ptured it <3
  • Hi @Norquist, you definitely captured the likeness. The composition is a bit problematic with the paws cut off. One of the things I see often with pet photos/portraits is the angle at which the photos are taken. The dog or cat is sitting on the ground and the person taking the photo is standing which leads to a less than ideal pose. Check out @jen_art on Instagram - she does a lot of pet and other animal portraits with interesting compositions.
  • Cats all look alike to me so I'm not one to give good advice. The painting is nice though. Maybe slightly darker shadow value under the animal's face might dive it more depth and a better shape definition.
  • A very good likeness but I think you need to put more detail into the fur if you can. 
    You’ve definitely captured the likeness though. 
    And Bob , cats are NOT all alike !! 😊
  • great likeness! i like the background too!
  • edited March 26
    She's lovely, @Norquist! you sure got her likeness. I agree with @Boudicca re the front paws. But the eyes are awesome. And the background works well, too. :)
  • My apologies to all cat owners and cat lovers. I've been bitten more often by dogs than cats but I still have this unreasonable prejudice against the felines. I like painting furry things except cats and I generally try to avoid them. I know they are intelligent, clean, loyal, brave and reverent and make good pets. I know they are not all alike. I've never had a happy experience with a cat and the owners I've encountered can be difficult and demanding.
  • SummerSummer -
    edited March 28
    BOB73 said:
    My apologies to all cat owners and cat lovers. I've been bitten more often by dogs than cats but I still have this unreasonable prejudice against the felines. I like painting furry things except cats and I generally try to avoid them. I know they are intelligent, clean, loyal, brave and reverent and make good pets. I know they are not all alike. I've never had a happy experience with a cat and the owners I've encountered can be difficult and demanding.
    I hope you will come and join us watching many experiences with cats and their owners on YouTube.  I have completely healed from my unfortunate experiences with cats that happened early in my life simply by watching YouTube videos about them.  Amazed at my own transformation.  Better than traditional therapy.  I worry about their safety in a real artists studios, though. 

  • edited March 28
    Good work, not an easy photo to work from. I like the eyes
  • Really wonderful painting @Norquist. I appreciate how much care you’ve taken over the background, and puss is wonderful. My only real comment is the obvious ‘photo-ness’. It’s partly the angle, but mostly the fish-eye lens distortion. That’s not really a criticism as it depends on your intent, but for a more painting-like look requires a more natural perspective. I think your balance between detail and looseness in the brushwork is spot-on. 
  • @Roxy Thanks!

    You know I've never really given photo-distortion much thought. Isn't it inevitable to an extent when working from photos?

    I consider myself as a developing artist as I have no distinct style... yet. So I am always curious to hear perspective and intent as I continue to develop my own. 

    Do you mind sharing a little more about your thoughts on photo-ness in paintings? Does it cheapen art or look amateurish? 

  • PaulBPaulB mod
    @Norquist, I have some feedback on that:

    A camera is a flawed device.  We think of "photographic proof" as though it represents truth, but it doesn't.  Especially these days.  Cameras suffer from several problems.

    Depth of field: Depending on the aperture size, a camera has a well defined and limited depth of field.  The flower in the foreground may be in focus, but the background is not.  Bokeh effects are a more extreme example of this.  When we look at a scene, our eyes move around ad focus on everything we look at, which gives us the impression that everything is in focus.  So by simulating depth of field in a painting, we are emulating the camera more than we are the eye.

    Distortion: Lenses are not perfect, and contain distortions.  Using a fish eye lens, say 28mm, creates images that do not reflect what the eye sees.  Long lenses reduce that effect.  If we paint from a short lens photo, we replicate the distortion.  The photo is a highly distorted view, and if you painted that, it would be obvious that it is from a photo.

    Focus: A camera cannot focus on multiple objects at different depths, unless the depth of field encompasses them all.  Look at Bandit's tail, it's out of focus.  But you painted it in focus, to the same degree as his head.  Bravo, you didn't replicate the camera flaw.  Now you get to choose whether to darken, blur or desaturate the tail to simulate distance, but that's your choice, you didn't just do what the camera did.

    Black: Cameras have a tendency to exaggerate black in shadows.  When you paint shadows in black, you indicate that the reference may be a photo.  HDR compensates for this.  It is very difficult to find a reference photo (that is not yours) that represents color accurately.  Most are highly manipulated and exaggerated.  They don't look real.  This photo shows the tree on the right as black, and that is simply wrong.  The camera has stretched the value range to increase contrast.  Maybe the photographer did too, but it makes the point.

    Detail: A camera records everything at maximum detail.  Paintings can omit detail for effect.  If you paint detail everywhere (I am more guilty of this than most), then it's clear that a photo was the reference, and that no abstractions have been introduced to steer focus/attention.

    Opinion: painting by copying photos is way, way easier than painting from life, and the results are more machine-like and less human.  I think that is why copying photos is thought to be lower art.
  • @PaulB ; That is an excellent description. I will save that for reference. Thank you.

  • Wow thanks for the explanation @PaulB !

    I think that is a very fair assessment and I agree.

    In my current situation I am trying to streamline and generate income. So I don't mind continuing to paint "photo-ness" because my customer demographic is not worrying about it. They want a painting of their beloved pet and I want to create a viable business with a quick turnaround. 

    With that being said, that is not how I define sucess as a painter. It's important to me to keep that distinction. I want to continually get better.

    Anyway, I'm laughing now because my current painting is a perfect example of painting the "photo-ness". I made an effort to paint the distortion! haha XD 

  • PaulBPaulB mod
    Well said @Norquist, the customer wants a large oil painting memorial of a beloved pet, from that particular photograph.  And you'd better do just that, while getting the eyes and face right..  It's what they will be focusing on.  That's looking really good already.

    Entering a competition would require something different though.  Then you're trying to please a judge who cares about other things.  Unknown things.  But almost certainly not something that resembles a selfie.
  • @PaulB, an excellent and enlightening breakdown, thanks.
  • Great example @Norquist of why its perfectly acceptable to create a painting from a photo, warts and all. In your case servicing the wishes of the customer is the #1 priority. Its already looking like a great pet portrait, with some real character shining through.

    So no, I don't necessarily think painting from photos cheapens the art: its just a different approach, with a different goal. Having said that, you won't find paintings in galleries that have any of the obvious  'photographic signatures' that @PaulB describes above - probably because the artist used the photo just as a guide, not to be slavishly followed (or alternatively painted from life or imagination). Have a look at @tassieguy's paintings for a good example. Rob uses photos as the primary source, but greatly augments that with his own artsitic flair. The results are paintings with an air of 'painterlyness' about them, with no hint at what the underlying source was.
    In PaulB's list of the things to watch out for if you are striving for a more 'painting-like' feel, I think the easiest one to take account of is the shadow issue. The most difficult is lens distortion, and for obvious wide-angle distortion probably not much can be done to correct for it, and its better to find another source. Moderate distortion (e.g. a slightly bowed horizon, or sloping vertical lines that should be straight) can be fixed in most image editing software, using 'lens distortion' adjustment.
  • edited March 29
    Looking good, @Norquist. He's got a real cheeky look and the eye you've done looks great.

    I agree with what's been said above by yourself, @PaulB and @Roxy.  There's nothing at all wrong with painting for your market. Some painters have no choice if they want to make a living from their work. If a client wants to pay good money for a painting of a photo of their pet then who are we to argue!  Our job is to do the best we can with the source they give us.  If we do that and the customers are happy then it's a good deal all round. I guess that type of work is what I'd be doing if I were not already retired and if I needed to make a living from painting. BTW, thanks, @Roxy for the thumbs up re my work. I'm lucky in that I can paint what I want. But I doubt I could do what I do without the help of photography and image editing software. But for me, photos, as shot, rarely, if ever, make for a good landscape. I had one guy ask me to paint his farm and house but I had to decline.  The place was a mess visually and I couldn't use his source because it was aesthetically awful to me even though for him it was beautiful because of his emotional attachment to the place.  I have to move posts, trees and even mountains around to get something I'm happy to paint and in this case I couldn't have done that. However, if I had to earn money from painting, I would have painted that guy's place because it would mean at least I could continue to paint and that is what I love doing. So yeah, it's what works for folks at the time. To hell with the arty farty academic critics.

    As pet paintings go, yours are great, @Norquist . That kitten is gorgeous and the dog looks as though it's going to make his master happy. So show us more as you do them. :)
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