Today’s submission comes from artist Autumn Martino. She has completed this boxer portrait in acrylics and pencil. You can view more of her work at her website I love the contrast that you’ve gotten in this painting! Your drawing is pretty close to the reference photo, but in a more stylized way that fits with your other paintings I saw on your website.



Autumn had a situation that I think ever pet portrait artist can relate to. She was provided with a very poor reference photo. She had to find another photo to use in place of that one.


The photo on the left was what the client provided her with. She ended up using the photo on the right because that dog looked similar.

This is something as pet portrait artists that we have to do a lot. If you are going to change the position of the dog as done here, double check with the owner after you draw your outline that they like it before you start painting.

Now this newer reference is a HUGE improvement on the one provided…but it still isn’t great. Dogs with a black mask, or with black fur in general need better lighting so that their faces have dimension. Just doing a quick google image search I found this one. This is a much stronger reference photo based on the lighting to go by, which would make your job even easier.


Head Wrinkles

For the wrinkles on the head, watch that you don’t just have a line of light and a line of dark. The wrinkles will fade from the darkest point to a mid range then the light. Really watch how the wrinkles are shaded otherwise they come out looking very flat and unnatural.

Fur Color

The color of the fur is the next thing I want to look at. Yours is very yellow. Even yellow labs aren’t going to be actually yellow. You want to soften that up by using a more natural fur tone. For a fawn boxer I would probably mix burnt sienna with a bit of black and some unbleached titanium white to get the majority of colors I need. I do love how you’ve used the blue for your highlights, that looks great!!

Angle and Legs


For the position, the legs sticking out sort of draw the viewers attention down. You can actually just continue the neck/chest there given the angle of the head, then you don’t have to worry about where the back end of his body is or his legs drawing the viewer down.

Magic Fairy Dust of Art

The last thing I want to bring up is that in the submission you said your goal was realism and to “capture the dog’s essence”. This can mean a lot of different things depending on the person. It can be as simple as making the painting look like that dog, or it can be something that I’ve seen turn into a problem for the artist in the long term,  so this tangent doesn’t necessarily apply to you, but it brings up a very important message for artists.

When we paint in realism, especially when we are moving towards photorealism, we are rendering what we see, and making adjustments in color/contrast to hopefully improve on the photo as needed. It is actually a very logical process. The creativity portion of art is mostly used when we come up with our designs, but the execution of the painting is pretty skill/technique based.  Obviously right? Well, it’s not to many people and that fact holds many artists back.

The reason I bring this up is that  I’ve seen artists who focused so much  on capturing the subject’s spirit/essence etc that they generally did not achieve much in their art careers or progressing in their skill levels. Why? They were trying to make portraits some fantasy world of fairy dust and incense. If they connected with the spirit god’s they would make the best art ever.  No seriously, one burned incense and potpourri and other items, then mixed it into her paint to better capture the subjects “essence”.  I saw one pet portrait artist who claimed she needed to see the pet’s favorite toy, to know what he liked to do during the day, his favorite spot to sleep…really needed to “get to know the dog” in order to know the dog’s “spirit” so that she could properly paint him. She was so caught up in this that her artwork never improved. It stayed at a very VERY beginner level even though her goal was photorealism. I’ve seen this SO. Many. Times.

Now I think that this sort of thing could be used in marketing. It may be fun for the client to share this info and to feel like it’s making a real difference in the end result. I don’t do it because it’s a bit of a gimmick, but I can see where some may think it’s a fun addition to their business model. The problem comes when artists really believe that they need this info to paint well. They don’t. This stuff has nothing to do with the skill and end result.

I get it, the act of creation can be a very spiritual experience for people. If that is your end goal then great. If, however, your goal is to improve your skills and technique, let go of your dream of fairy dust, incense and moon alignment and spend more time painting and drawing. That is what will cause you to improve…not wishful thinking and spiritual connections to a photograph.