But We Thought You Painted Pastel Pet Portraits?

So for a long to time I have had this overwhelming urge to paint in acrylics again, not in my traditional pet portraits style though, something a little more contemporary. I will save my realism for the pastel pet portraits. 

I don’t really know what I am doing or what I want to achieve with them, but a looser style is very clearly what I am after. I know these won’t be everyone’s cuo of tea, I don’t know if I will even like them, but I need to get this out of my system, and either bin the idea or take it forward! 

So with that in mind I bought some acrylic paints and palette knives along with some cheapish canvasses to practice on. I bought jacksons art studio acrylics as the seem very reasonably priced for a decent quantity. They can be purchased here. Since I don’t know how far I am going to take this I didn’t want to spend a fortune. I remember back when I used acrylics for my pet portraits and I used golden and winsor and newton and they can range from £6 to £15 for a 60ml tube depending on the colour. These Jackson acrylics are £5.50 for 200ml. They aren’t as heavy bodied as the golden or w&n ones but they seem very good for the money. Definitely worth investing in for the colours you use in great quantity. 


Anyway back to the painting. I am very interested with this in experimenting with complimentary colours and texture. It is a good lesson to learn how putting complimentarycolours together can make them seem more vibrant. I got a beautiful Phthalo turquuoise which I added some white to to make a more teal colour, and I paired this with red. They aren’t strictly complimentary as if you look at the colour wheel green would be complimentary to red, but they are what is called split complimentary colours. My subject chosen is a beautiful cow. I love cows. They make for really expressive paintings with their big dark eyes and eye lashes

I find it really hard to paint on a bright white surface. I do when painting my Jolly Splashes Pet portraits, but there is no realy way round it with watercolour painting. However with acrylic it is very different. Particularly in the style I am planning to use. With this in mind a red background was added and then the cheeky cow sketch out on top using a black pastel pencil. Willow Charcoal maybe better, but this is all that was to hand.

Once that was completed it was on to the background again. This where the palette knife was introduced. These are a relatively new tool for me. In fact I have only mucked around on paper briefly before heading for the canvas. I went for the turquoise I had mixed and it looked fantastic agaisnt the red. I picked up the paint with the knife after mixing the colour…..it was worth noting that it is much easier to mix paint with a knofe than it is a brush! Learning something new all the time!

On to painting the cow. I used a thick brush deliberately to make sure I couldn’t get to bogged down with details. That is something as an artist Ifind very hard not to do. As I am pet portrait artist that focuses in on detail it is somewhat engrained in me to work like that whatever the medium and whatever I am painting haha! The trick worked. I couldn’t fiddle too much and I used colours that weren’t realistic colours. However the more work that was done on the cows portrait the more I realised there was far too much teal in the background. More red was added, then the cow was revisited and finished, also making sure some of the red background was showing through. Again more red was added until the ratio of red and teal looked OK. This was purely judged my sight, nothing else. Also plenty of standing back from the painting. Despite it being a smaller painting comparitively, it needs standing back from to you can see how the brush strokes are working together. It is very different to working detailed as I am learning, even the Jolly Splashes which are loser in style.

.I did continue to fiddle, but I am still learning, but hopefully as I progress eventually I can give some more tips and talk about the process in a lot more detail for you. For now it has been a really, really fun learning process.

Kaleidascope Cow

Cow portrait in acrylics, paintied with a palette knife and thick brush. Reds, teal, blue and purples used and on deep edge canvas

I am so pleased with how she has turned out, and with what I have learnt. In the past when acrylics were used for the pet portraits I used them on watercolour paper and in a very different method. More like watercolours, so this whole technique, right down to working on a canvas feels very different.

After the success of the cow painting, by success I mean on a personal level I decided to make the leap of faith and jumo straight into pet portraits ins this style. This was no ordinary pet portrait though……. Can you guess what it was, who it is of……

Luke And Maggie, Double Dog Portrait in Arcylic.

I am pleased with how these two characters turned out! Considering it is only my second acrylic portrait in this style, on canvas and using tools I have never used before! As mentioned previously in my blog, there is still a lot to learn. Get a few more under my belt and they will be available as pet portraits! How exciting. It is great to be able to add more strings to my bow!

Here is the outline sketch for Luke and Maggie’s portrait. I can sketch direct to large canvas, but I felt that as I was doing two and it was to be quite large it maybe best to sketch on paper and then when happy with that use my projector to get it on the canvas.

I only have a cheap £60 one, and it is a little tricky to get it placed right, so if the large canvasses take off I will invest in a better quality one.

This whole piece was not really thought out. No idea of the colour background wanted or anything really. I just felt my way through it. Most of my pet portraits are so well structured and thought out it is so refreshing to be lead by my paint and creativity. 

The teal background with gold running through it was created. I love teal and again the focus is complimentary colours. I hasten to add I don’t know them off the top of my head. I do rely on a colour wheel to help. They are a worthwhile investment I think.


Pet portrait, acrylic on canvas. My two dogs Luke and Maggie

African Wild Dog Acrylic Portrait

I am loving the teal in these paintings, it is one of my favourite colours. It seems to work so well with most colours! In fact I am yet to find one I don’t like it with. So keeping in with my teal themed paintings I decided to paint another. In fact the background had been paint teal before the the subject had been decided! Eventually an African Wild Dog was settled on, otherwise known as a painted dog. Stunning animals and I had been wanting to paint one for a while. They are definitely on the pastel list!

As with the previous acrylics they have really taken on a mind of their own. I truly hope it stays this way, as I find when I think about them too much that is when my work can get tight, fiddly and end up over detailed. The looseness of this I really want to keep.

He was only 12×12 inches and I am delighted how the teal the background turned out with the splashes and marks of black and white. A palette knife and a brush loaded with paint and flicked. Easy peasy! Trick here again, is not to over work or over load the background with these, but then the beauty of these unlike Jolly Splashes is they can be painted over!

African wild dog portrait in acrylics by wildlife artist and pet portrait sarah leigh

Here is the result, and the best bit of news, apart from being really pleased with him is he sold in under 24 hours! He is winging his way to his new home, nameless, as we speak.

On to More Pet Portraits

My confidence is starting to grow with these now. I must not forget to get disheartened when one goes wrong. I recommend anyone starting out to work with cheaper art materials. It is a fine line to tread though. Use really bad quality products and your work will suffer, use high quality and you don’t get on with it, you have spent an awful lot of money for nothing. We all know art materials aren’t cheap. To keep expense down, I have used Jacksons Acrylics and Winsor and Newton Galeria range. You can feel the difference between those and say Golden or liquitex and winsor and Newton professional grade acrylics. The coverage isn’t so great. However for this learning process they are great and I pay my usual attention to lightfastness ratings and so on, so there is no concerns over the lightfastness of these works.

Dog portrait in acrylics of a springer spaniel by pet portrait artist Sarah Leigh

If you don’t already follow my facebook page do pop along. When I have spare time and particuarly when I am trialing a new style of pet portrait I will often look for reference photos which gives my followers a chance for them to have their pet portrait painted and a chance to buy it at a discounted rate. It always proves very popular and also gives me a chance to gauge the popularity of new styles.

Last night I painted the lovely Delilah. On a much smaller canvas at 8×8 inches. It was trickier, but the outcome was still better than I had expected and I totally loved painting her like all the others so far. The lady who owns Delilah was over the moon and I am delighted to say Delilah’s painting has SOLD! Yay.

Cid Poodle Pet Portrait in Acrylic

A previous client of mine, after seeing the recent acrylic pet portraits asked my to paint her boy Cid. She has two other poodles and a doberman. Her plan is to have all four painted to go in her kitchen in an Andy Warhol style. What a fabulous idea. I really can’t wait to do the others and see them all together. Each background will of course be a different colour, but the colour will be picked to reflect the colour of the dog. I chose a really deep red to compliment Cid’s white fur. I am delighted with the results. My clients delighted comments can be read here.

Border Terrier Dog Portrait in Acrylic

This gorgeous little border terrier is such a character, just a year old in her portrait here I really wanted to depict her cheeky character. She is also painted on 8×8 inch deep edge canvas. It is really helpful to have a bigger brush than normal to help me not get too tied up in fiddly details otherwise these pet portraits would lose their charm. The idea is not to get to caught up in detail with them and be more impressionistic. So far I have managed to acheive this well, but I have to be careful as it is so easy to get caught back in the trap of detail. Especially for an artist who has spent so many years, pretty much their whole life, focussing in on detail.