There was something strange happening as I created this portrait of my late cat Zeke for the dedication in the book I’m working on. I was drawing and painting from a photo I took not many months ago, in little Zeke’s old age. Well, ‘old’ is relative, I guess, because he was only 13 when he died, and I know cats can live much longer than that. I wish we’d been together longer, but I’m grateful for the time we had, and also that he had a forever home from the time he was a small kitten at a shelter.
But back to the subject at hand, which is something odd which has happened to me a few times when I’ve been painting pet portraits. And that is that the pet takes over.
In this case with Zeke, I was trying so very hard to make his expression happy and friendly, but it just wouldn’t work. I think Zeke was insisting on being himself, or at least his sometimes self - distant. Often, it seemed he disapproved of what I was doing. In this case, he may have noticed (as I do now) that his eyes aren’t at the same level and was disgusted with my ineptitude. I apologize, dear Zeke. I really tried, especially with the eyes. I knew something was amiss, but didn’t know what it was.
Often, in this type of situation, I’ll cover different parts of the drawing to discover which one doesn’t work. But in this case, it wasn't effective. Each eye, with the other one covered, looked fine, but they just didn’t work together. Anyway…
The other times I remember pets taking over their paintings are more positive. In all three cases which I can recall, the pet had passed, and I hadn’t known either him/her or the owner. I was simply working from one of the owner’s photographs, often lacking in one way or another so there was something to fill in.
Several times as I was working I remember feeling so not up to the task. But what I’d do was call on the pet to help me. I’d tell the pet that I was painting his/her portrait for the pet’s mom who missed her beloved companion so very much. I’d sit quietly for a while, then ask the pet to guide my hand.
And, in all three cases when I presented the portrait to the owner, she teared up, saying how perfect the likeness was, even better than the photo. It was so satisfying, and I was so grateful for the pet’s help, for that’s exactly what I believed happened.
Has this ever happened to you? I hope so, because it’s a wonderful feeling.
But back to Zeke for a moment. I wondered if I could correct my problem with Photoshop, so I gave it a try. First, I decided it would probably be more successful to try to move Zeke’s right eye (from his point of view) than his left, so I isolated it.
Then I placed it back over the original image, moving it slightly downwards.
Here’s the result. It’s better, but you can see some duplicated pattern now above the eye. I think I could probably fix it, but I’m not that good with Photoshop Elements. I may dedicate some time to it before I use the image in the formatting of my book. That’s a long way off, as I still have around twenty drawings to paint.
He doesn’t look happier, but at least his eyes match better!
By the way, if you don't use Photoshop, you might want to give it a try. I find it very helpful for correcting exposure, color saturation, bringing up whites, and more. But I actually use Photoshop Elements rather than the full Photoshop. It has all the function I'd ever need and it's inexpensive. You can find it on the Adobe website.
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