How to capture a pet

One of the best things someone can draw is their or someone else’s  pet. But drawing pets is different from drawing normal animals if you want to do it successfully. If it is your pet, it probably doesn’t matter what you do. But as for a commission, you have to do it correctly; think, what does the owner like about their pet. Is it play times, personality or just appearance?

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My first picture of my dearly departed budgie, Bailey shows this. The posture seems forced and the face cartoony even though it was based entirely on a photo of him. The picture is bad for a pet portrait as Bailey wasn’t hyperactive so would rarely look like this. So along with the problem of composition the portrait was unsuccessful in portraying a pet.

What I loved about my pet was his personality, he was always listening to you, relaxed, chirping or generally friendly and I tried to capture his friendly nature in my next picture of him.


This picture was successful to me as although it was an average budgie drawing to someone else it reminded me of Bailey. He always was relaxed like this and looking at me while I talked. This is replicated in the portrait.

It is for that reason alone that you have to follow the rule of capturing what someone liked in their pet when drawing them. As without this rule, it is not their pet just a normal animal that looks similar to them.

Some suggestions for other things people may like and what to do because of that are : if they are active, have them interact with something or running and leaping about, if they are curious, have them study a “mysterious object” or if they are beautiful then pose them like some regal beast.


How to save a photo

There are times when we take great photographs of our subjects in a variety of poses and there are times when we have that one photo of our subject that is blurred or ruined. I like to draw from my own photographs but when it came to the blue throated macaw I was not very lucky. The bird was behind glass and this blurred all but one image I took That image was spoiled by dirty glass. These birds are rare in zoos, so I could not get another photo anytime soon. But then I thought of something: why don’t I save the image by drawing it instead. This post will show several stages of how I went about “saving” the photograph.

  1. This was the photo I was attempting to rescue, it was of a pair that was trying to be bred by keepers to bring up the population. According to their website the pair was unsuccessful but at least I got to see these beautiful birds in real life (even if they were behind glass). As you can see it wouldn’t make a good photograph because of the dirt/ scratches on the window but the birds themselves are quite clear.

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  1. Using my tablet I uploaded my photo onto a free grid maker app called Proportion Grid Maker. You can click on the picture to add or take away lines. I don’t usually use a grid on my pictures but because of artist license I did not want the birds in an enclosure but wanted them in the wild. The way the bird on the right looks over the fence and onto the wood gave me the idea that these birds could be at a nest site looking out from the tree. As a result I wanted the birds placed onto the page correctly so a grid was a way to make sure this happened.

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  1. Happy with the grid on the tablet, I proceeded to draw the grid on the page. I used the grid lightly to add the birds in the correct places but did not follow it like law. The lines on my page was not identical to the tablet grid lines so some parts of the bird was inevitably different to the grid maker photo. This was alright as long as the bird was accurately proportioned/sized and placed roughly in the same place. To help with placing the birds’ wings correctly, I drew the outline for the wing feathers.


  1. I carefully erased the grid lines. Using the line from where the bird looked out from the fence from the photo, I created the tree. I looked into many references of nest holes for these birds online. It was very important for it to be nest holes for these birds as they are smaller than some macaws and live in Bolivia, not Brazil like other macaws. I roughly indicated markings on the tree as it is very likely when colouring, that they would be placed differently than the guide.


  1. I then coloured in the tree and background. The tree and background could not be too detailed as they would not be in focus from that distance, so they were quite simple in design, with not extra detail. It took a few colours to get the colour of the tree, mostly reddish browns and greys and the hole itself had beige in it. originally when I did the hole it was too bright so it had to be dulled down by rubbing it out and reapplying it until the tones faded into the background enough. Using the eraser, I also created the patterns on the tree. These greyish and reddish tones were important as they would make the blue and gold birds stand out even more.


6.Although hard to see, I have replaced all my pencil lines now with colour. I always tackle the picture in the same order, the dull tones first then the colourful feathers of the bird. In previous backgroundless portraits, this meant tackling the beak, face and feet before the feathers. But in this picture it was done in the order of tree, sky, skin (feet and face) and beak then finally  feathers. These stages are very important to me as it usually takes two days to complete a picture for me. The light where i live, fades significantly in the morning to 10/12 o’clock and this means accuracy with colour becomes difficult. I do not need to pay too much attention to colour for backgrounds and beaks etc. in my pictures as the bird’s feathers are the main focus. So prioritizing the feathers to last, where I will have fresh light and most of the day to focus on the colours is very important to my pictures. I also changed the background foliage as I thought this one suited it more and being less uniform made it more realistic.


  1. Having finished all the background and gray tones of the birds the day before, I now have the whole morning to focus on getting the correct colours for the blue throated macaws. There are multiple layers in these feathers to make them as intense as possible. The gold has three colours and the blue several. If this was a close up I would have had at least three whole layers of colours built up over the entirety of the feathers. Usually the first two are too dull but in this picture the layering it just fine as the birds are further away.

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  1. The picture is now finally complete. What I achieved was that the birds had come from a man made environment to the wild and that I had turned a poor photograph into a reasonable art piece. What I need to improve on is backgrounds; the tree and greenery needs a lot more work and it will probably take many art peices before I can successfully create a background with coloured pencils.

Easy mistakes in coloured pencil

When I first started using coloured pencils I was very young and did not feel the need to read up on how to use them. As a result there were many problems with the art pieces; I will be addressing some of them in this post. These are easy mistakes and hopefully this post will help those who are new to the media.

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I am going to use two of my own art pieces to help illustrate the issues. The one above is an old piece I did many years ago and there is much to improve with it.

The biggest problem with this piece is that I have not rubbed out the pencil outline. Why’s this an issue? It is an issue because not only does it stand out and is unrealistic as no animal has a bold outline real life , but if you were to colour the picture the coloured pencil is likely to mix with the graphite in the pencil. This would result in an unwanted muddy colour.

A second problem is that I have not placed the subject in the correct place on the page. Rules in composition state that if you are doing a scene you should have the subject in one quarter of the picture (top or bottom). That would allow the viewer’s eye to wonder through the background as well as looking at the subject. However, this would not apply to an average portrait like this. the average portrait is often situated in the center of the page, some say there should be a space at the bottom so it does not appear to drop off the page but In my opinion that depends on the picture.

A third issue that I continued to do with many of my pieces is labeling it in big words on the paper. This usually is not needed but if you really need to label your work there are many tasteful ways to do so. Some of my favourites include: having it written neatly and small placed few centimeters near the corner the work at the bottom of the page and having a mount on the frame that has a piece cut out of it so as to reveal a section of the picture in which the words would sit, it could also be done by sticking the label carefully on the mount.


To help show the difference the next problems can make if fixed, This is one of my newer pieces. The bird is situated well on the page and has no pencil outline. It was originally drawn with a pencil outline but these lines were replaced one by one with coloured pencil before I started to colour in, removing the risk of it blending in with my colouring.

The picture also illustrates how shading can greatly enhance a picture but most of you already know this.

There is one last easy to see issue on my old picture and it is that I tried to capture the detail with the pencil and not the coloured pencil. This is shown where I outlined the feathers on the wings and chest, it not only smudges the graphite into the picture but it looks horrible too. The best thing to do is to do all the detail inside your picture in your coloured pencil even if you have to map them out in pencil then rub them out and replace them with colour before starting your picture.

There is a lot  more I have to learn with coloured pencils, But I hope that I have helped some of you with your art by helping you avoid the mistakes I made.