Know Your Model

Painting Animals in the Right Environments

A cat painting by UK artist Celia Pike.
Domesticated cat painting by UK artist Celia Pike.

It always makes me smile when I see an artist who loves a pet so much that the drawing or painting they do of their four-legged companion comes out a little like a tall tale, where Snowball the pet cat is drawn like a wild lion prowling the grasslands. It makes me giggle, but it also reinforces what I know. Namely, that when painting animals you have to match your model to its environment if you want the final drawing or painting to be taken seriously.

A pet portrait is one thing. If you are thinking through how to draw a dog, choose the setting that the animal actually lives or spends time in. Most dogs are domestic, so having him on the couch or lying in a dog bed is going to reinforce the narrative you are setting up. If the dog is more outdoorsy, giving a sense of the yard where the animal plays is a good idea.

If you are painting animals that are a little wilder, you may be working from photos, which is fine, but keep in mind that most of those photos were likely taken outdoors, so maybe do a few natural-light studies to get the atmosphere just right around your wildlife model. Also, the pose you settle on should probably be less “sit, stay” and more natural for a wild animal.

Painting animals: Daniel in the Lions' Den by Sir Peter Paul Rubens, c. 1614/1616, oil on canvas.
Daniel in the Lion’s Den by Sir Peter Paul Rubens, c. 1614/1616, oil on canvas.

If you want to delve more into painting animals like a pro, then consider Johannes Vloothuis’s upcoming live workshop, Essentials of Painting Wildlife. You are guided through the painting process with plenty of tips and sound advice along the way on how to position animals in the landscape and make your subject come to life. And this workshop is recorded so you can view it whenever you want from the comfort of your own home or studio. I hope it is the right resource for you! Enjoy!





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Courtney Jordan

About Courtney Jordan

  Courtney is the editor of Artist Daily. For her, art is one of life’s essentials and a career mainstay. She’s pursued academic studies of the Old Masters of Spain and Italy as well as museum curatorial experience, writing and reporting on arts and culture as a magazine staffer, and acquiring and editing architecture and cultural history books. She hopes to recommit herself to more studio time, too, working in mixed media.