Animals are my joy and consolation. If I’m struggling to concentrate, cramped by artistic angst, or simply need to warm up my drawing brain before starting work, it’ll be a bird, a dog, a horse, or sometimes a cat. (Cats are so much harder and it drives me round the bend sometimes.) But especially, it’ll be dogs. By the time I’ve scribbled half a dozen, my brain has usually caught up with my hand, (or is it the other way around?) and I’m ready to tackle a forklift or a crane… Who am I kidding? Never a forklift or a crane. Please don’t ask me to draw a forklift. Probably not a corkscrew. (Forklift authors, you know who you are.)
Anyway, when I noticed a little fundraising event coming up called Bad Pet Portraits, that raises funds for an organisation called Pets of the Homeless, my first thought was ‘I wonder if they would accept an erratic and occasionally good pet portraitist.’ Because this was for me!
We work to help keep vulnerable people and their pets together by alleviating the burden of providing essential pet care during times of hardship. Pets of the Homeless.
Happily, they didn’t seem to care at all what kind of pet portraitist I am, and I was signed up for a few hours of manic pet drawing. I’ve participated in two of their fundraisers now. The first time I attempted to make my portraits ‘bad’ or at least a bit funny, with mixed results. But really the stars of this show are the people like Phil Heckels whose pet portraits are pure magic and I can’t compete with that. So the second time around, I decided to just draw pets the way I draw pets, with the simple rule that I would draw them quickly and not fuss over them. In this I mostly succeeded and you can see some of the results below. (I did 23 in total, including a goat and several cats.)
This giant pooch, (a Great Dane mix perhaps?) died the day after my portrait was submitted and the owner was very grateful to have the portraits. (I did two of that one.) I felt so sad for the owner, but so glad I had drawn the dog.
Then artist Liz King-Sangster asked me if I’d draw her muse and beloved dog Gypsy. And here she is below. She has the most excellent ears and a happy face with a soft expression. I did fuss a little over Gypsy. Liz sent me the below photo as reference, with Gypsy lying on the ground looking very angular and with her front paws on the pebbles. I will not lie. I found the foreshortening somewhat challenging and the first time I drew her, I mistook her knee for a tail, and her tail for a very long foot! After lightening the photo, I discovered the truth. But ultimately, this pose defeated me. I couldn’t capture her expression, or her front feet! I have several sketches that demonstrate my struggles, but you will not be seeing them here. The most successful of them made her look cross-eyed.
Not to be a quitter, I decided to look through Lizzie’s Instagram feed for more pictures of Gypsy to warm up on, and found this gorgeous photo of her looking slightly damp and full of joy. I can’t say the foreshortening was any less significant, but it worked okay this time, and I seem to have accidentally de-magnified her nose!
This next photo features Gypsy on her throne with a royally amused expression. My second attempt got closest to the humour, but I still haven’t nailed it. It’s all in the eyes. And true to form I drew it on the bottom corner of a bit of paper, so that I had to squish her royal highness onto the page.
Lastly, I found this rather hilarious photo of Gypsy with her squishy rugby ball, squinting her eyes in a very knowing way. The resulting drawing may not be Liz’s favourite of the images, but it made me smile. Fittingly it has returned to the true Bad Pet Portrait ethos.
I hope I get to meet the real Gypsy one day.
For anyone who is interested, the next Bad Pet Portraits event is in March 2022.