How Long Does a Pet Portrait Take?

One of the most popular questions we are asked, not only by clients but also budding artists and students is, ‘How long does a pet portrait take?‘. To be completely truthful, this is such a difficult question to answer, as there are so many variables. Every painting and drawing we create is completely unique. Sometimes the requests from our clients for pet portraits can be unusual too.

With this in mind, I thought it would be a good idea to write a blog post about our pet portraits and their timings. I will try to give a guide as to how long our pet portraits take us on average. This is just a guide and if you are an artist, your portraits might take you less time, or more time! Every pet portrait artist is different and uses different styles of drawing or painting in their own mediums.

If some of our readers have just stumbled upon our blog, both Nicholas and myself specialise in specific mediums. We have used most of the mediums over the years. However some are just more fun and more comfortable to use than others. So Nicholas paints his pet portraits in oils and I create all of my pet portraits in pencil.

Number of Hours Actually Drawing

I find it much more difficult to concentrate to draw for long periods of time than I did say even 10 years ago. I now draw on average for around four hours per day. My days are always filled with other daily tasks as well as drawing. So from a range of things – accounts and invoicing, chatting to clients, photographing artwork, packing portraits and writing this blog etc. I also work behind the scenes for the London Art College, so that takes time in my week too. Now I am little older, I try to have a healthy social life and take a number of weekly exercise classes. You can read our Pet Portrait Artists Time Management blog post, which might give you an idea of how our working week goes.

Nicholas and myself would be the first to hold our hands up to say we worked a lot in our youth. We started our business in around 1996ish. We seemed to have more time to dedicate to working and innovating back then. I guess we didn’t have so many commitments and distractions. We would work 7 days a week, public holidays, evenings, right up to Christmas Eve. It didn’t matter the time or the day. If we had a list of portraits, we would work as many hours a day on painting and drawing as we could.

However, as you age your priorities change a little and you don’t want to be working 24/7. To start with you don’t have the energy you once had. Life becomes more about making the most of your days and having some enjoyment, as especially as you get older, you just don’t know what’s around the corner.

How Long Does a Pet Portrait Take in Pencil?

So with that in mind, how long does a pet portrait take in pencil! From the outset my drawings are a lot quicker than the oils. I don’t need to worry about colour mixing, colour matching, or drying times. Both Nicholas and myself do have waiting lists year round of between 3 to 6 months so clients do have to wait, but that’s normal with most professional pet portrait artists. When we come to actually start the artwork the client can expect a general timescale of around 7 days for the smaller sized drawings and 14 days for the larger sizes or montage drawings.

As mentioned above, my drawing days aren’t always consecutive days. The 12 x 10 head study pencil drawing could be on my drawing desk for around 7 to 10 days. On average short haired pets are faster to draw in comparison to long haired pets. So for instance if the portrait below was a long haired spaniel, it might have taken more time with all the curls. There would have been no extra fee for this however, if the drawing takes a bit longer, it just does.

How Long Does a Pet Portrait Take?

The pencil pet portrait below was a 24×18 montage drawing so a pet portrait like this is going to take much longer than the head study above. With this particular commission, each of the smaller drawings around the edge were fairly large and detailed. So the way I designed it was to have 5 full drawings on the piece rather than a central study and some smaller sketches. The latter would have been quicker, but perhaps not as engaging. So this drawing would have been on my drawing board for at least two weeks.

How Long Does a Pet Portrait Take?

How Long Does a Pet Portrait Take in Oils?

Moving on to the oil paintings now and as mentioned at the start of the blog post, Nicholas creates all of the pet portraits in oils. We do find each portrait does vary a lot in the amount of time they take as they are all so unique, so it can be difficult to gauge timings. Nicholas, since having Long Covid for 4 years, is similar to myself in that he doesn’t work so many long hours in the day as he used to. He tires easily at long stints of concentration. He probably works about 4 to 5 hours per day on his portraits with plenty of breaks in between.

On average a 12×10 size would be on his easel for two weeks. Shorter haired dogs will be a lot quicker to paint than long haired dogs, just like with the pencil drawings. So if this was a spaniel with long fur and curly ears, I often estimate a two and a half week spell on the easel, however again similar to the drawings we don’t charge extra for the more time consuming pets, it would be far too complicated.

Head study oil pet portraits by Nicholas Beall

Painting Extras on Pet Portraits

Any additions to portraits, like collars, tags, bridles, dog coats and neckerchiefs, hats etc all add to the hours of painting. A horse with full tack will take much longer to paint than one without due to all of the leather, buckles and details. Imagine if the portrait below of Logan and his owner didn’t have the tack… the painting time would be much faster. Again though there will be no difference in price for tack or no tack, the portrait will just take a little longer.

I would have said the tack on Logan could have added two or three days extra painting. You not only have to paint the leather and stitching, but you need to make sure the shadows under the tack and around the buckles are correct too.

Timing for painting tack on a horse will take much longer than one without.

The pet portrait of Lucy in her Sombrero and little coat below took longer than average, due to all the fine details. Nicholas was absolutely thrilled to be given the opportunity of painting Lucy in her refinery. The way Nicholas has captured the textures of the pompoms and the straw hat is just beautiful. Look at the shadows from the pompoms onto the straw hat and the light filtering through in between them. This takes time, it can’t be rushed. Not to mention the actual painting of Lucy! This portrait was a 16×16 and took Nicholas around two weeks to paint.

Oil Pet Portraits by Nicholas Beall

How long Does It Take to Paint a Background?

I think if clients are looking to have a background they tend to opt for an oil painting rather than a pencil drawing. So Nicholas has the opportunity of painting backgrounds fairly regularly. Which is good, as his first summer job as a teenager was painting watercolour landscapes and harbour scenes in Cornwall. He sold them to the many galleries there for tourists. So he really is good at painting them.

Backgrounds can take a lot of time to paint, but of course it varies with the complexity of the requirements. Some clients like a simple garden grassy background which might not take all that long, and others perhaps want the full blown scenic view with trees, hills, lake etc which adds to the painting time. If clients would like more tricky scenic background then we will charge extra for this.

The oil painting below was created for a lovely family who wanted their dog painted in front of their home. The painting was a 20×16, so fairly large. Plenty of extra work for Nicholas and this portrait took him three weeks to complete. Here our clients not only have a portrait of their dog, they have a lifetime memory of their beautiful home too.

Oil Pet Portraits with full backgrounds

How Long Does a Pet Portrait Take in Other Mediums?

Both Nicholas and myself have been commissioned over the years in most of the other mediums. Watercolour, Pastel, Coloured Pencil and Acrylic, we have even used mixed media. For timings of each medium it of course all depends on how realistic or detailed your style is. However in the styles that we create our artwork in, pastel was the fastest of all of the colour mediums. You can really lay the pastel down fast and you have no drying times. Here is an example of a pastel painting which Nicholas completed.

Pastel Pet Portraits by Nicholas Beall

Coloured Pencil

We would say coloured pencil would probably be one of the slower mediums. It definitely takes more time to layer colours to build the three dimensional form. Artists these days do mix pastel and coloured pencil together which can speed up the process. It can also enable you to add fine detail onto larger blocks of colour which can be very effective and give lots of depth and detail.

We didn’t used this technique, as you can see from the drawing below, we just used coloured pencils. As you are probably aware, coloured pencils have become a huge medium in the pet portrait art world. There are an abundance of artists using them these days. Plus there is so much choice in brands of coloured pencils too. When we started we only knew of a handful of people using it as a medium. However it’s popularity has grown enormously. It wasn’t one of our favourite mediums and although it works well for portraits, we were happy to set it aside.

Coloured pencil drawing of two Labradors.

Do We Time Every Pet Portrait?

As I have mentioned earlier in my post, all pet portrait artists create their portraits using different styles and techniques. We all get to the end result differently and there is no real formula as every portrait is unique. Yes, you can be taught to draw and paint. However, ultimately when you are sitting at your desk creating a portrait from start to finish, you are on your own journey. It’s your decisions that are being made. From what areas you copy of the photo identically, which areas you decide to leave out, which you enhance or leave blurred, how detailed or sketchy you draw. All of these decisions have an impact on the time it takes to create your artwork.

Both Nicholas and myself are good at flaffing. Nicholas can over paint an area two, three or four times to get it exactly how he wants it. Some artists would perhaps have left it at the first rendering.

Take your time!

Ultimately a portrait takes as long as it does. There are no set rules. Our top advice if you are creating artwork for a commission would be… don’t think about time. Create the artwork to your best ability from start to finish. Only finish when you feel you have captured ‘That dog, cat or horse’ as well as you possibly can. The customer has to be 100% happy with the outcome.

Definitely don’t look at the clock and think… that’s it I need to finish as I have spent X amount of time on it. We have never done that. Your reputation is on the line. Your work is heading out there and will be seen by the client, their friends and family. That’s how you get repeat custom. Make the most of every commission, even if you have to go above and beyond. If it is your hourly wage you are concerned about, then that needs to be looked at. Maybe increased over time, to cover your time spent on the artwork. But perhaps that’s a whole other blog post….!

And Finally….

Thank you so much for reading our How Long Does a Pet Portrait Take? blog post. I hope that you have found it interesting and helpful. As always if there are any topics you would like us to discuss here, please drop us a line. Don’t forget to subscribe to our blog. We wish all of our artists friends the best of luck with their artwork and their time management of them!

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