A pet portrait collage is a great way to show the different ages of a pet on one canvas. My client had several photos showing her Golden Retriever at different ages and wanted to know if it was possible to combine these references into one painting. A pet collage can be painted digitally or with oil paints and the main difference will be the texture on the actual canvas. What is really important in a collage is the canvas size. A canvas that is too small means that all the details of the painting get lost. My client opted for a 16x20in digitally painted collage on stretched canvas. I am showing details of the actual painting so that everyone can see that even my digitally painted portraits are hand painted and are made to look as much like a traditional oil painting as possible.
A collage can be created in a variety of ways. You can use each photo as is and place them in any configuration on a canvas. You can cut out the pet and arrange each cut out. They can be placed side by side, random or even overlap. However the challenge remains always the same, which is to create a layout that has a cohesive look and is pleasing to look at.
Often backgrounds of photos do not match in color and show the pet in various poses and sizes.
In this digital painting, I went ahead and made all the backgrounds unrecognizable. Then I asked my client what her preference was for the overall background color. Since she opted for a dark blue the objective was to create backgrounds for the different pet portrait vignettes that would work with blue. When I first played around with the mock-up, I had two photos that showed this Golden Retriever in sizes that did not match the rest. By adjusting the sizes and further removing distracting elements such has the owners hands and buildings in the background the vignettes started to look better when placed side by side.
In this case it just happened that there were a set of two photographs that showed the Golden Retriever at similar age stages. Since I also had 6 photos to work with I chose a round vignette look and placed each stage side by side. This created an orderly and cohesive look for the overall painting. I could have filled each round opening with an extreme close-up of the pet's face, but I liked this look better. There is really no right or wrong when filling up the space in the round openings. It's just a personal preference and since my client liked the mock-up based on this layout that's what eventually got painted.
Many of the photos also showed the dog wearing a collar with a name tag. I chose to only show the name on one of them and blurred out the details in the other vignettes. By doing so the emphasis stays on the faces, yet there is one vignette that clearly identifies the pet by it's name. For my artist friends out there, who are still learning, remember that not every minute detail has to be included. Repeating the pet's name 6 times is not necessary and would really be distracting. Doing it ones however leads the viewer in to have a closer look.
Lastly I like to talk about the painting medium. As I mentioned before this is a digital painting. It was created with very sophisticated computer software that mimics traditional artist tools. As a traditionally trained oil painter I know the characteristics of oil paints and use digital tools that come as close to traditional paint and brushes as possible. Since everything is hand painted and colors are mixed just as I would on an actual palette, there is randomness in application and of course imperfections. Do I hear a gasp?! Imperfections? Yes that's what makes this a handmade work of art. Every stroke I put down is a judgment call. Do the hairs move this way or that way, is the color lighter or darker? Should something be emphasized or deemphasized? As a realistic looking artwork each vignette has to resemble the pet as close as possible, however how that is achieved is a series of decisions made by the artist. The only difference is that the end product is a canvas print of this painting. Unlike an oil painting the surface will be flat to the touch and some of the details in the very dark and very light areas might get lost during the printing process. Overall the print will look just like the painting and that at a fraction of the cost of the price of an oil painting of that size.