Becoming a Pet Portrait Artist in the UK

Drawing has been my passion since early childhood but I hadn't considered the possibility of art being a wonderful and successful career path for me. Instead of studying art as a degree I decided to become an engineer.

Whilst working as an engineering consultant and living in a small apartment in the middle of Winchester, I hadn't room for many art materials so I decided to explore colour pencil as a small and easy medium to use. At the time I wasn't very familiar with colour pencil brands, paper types and colour techniques but gave it a go. After ordering my first pack of 'Derwent Drawing' pencils I realised they were the perfect colours for drawing natural fur and animals. The consistency of the pencils is waxy which allows for even blending and creating depth.

 'Jenny' Cat Portrait, Size: A3, Medium: Derwent Drawing, Colour Pencil, White paint.

'Jenny' Cat Portrait, Size: A3, Medium: Derwent Drawing, Colour Pencil, White paint.

The image above was my first attempt at drawing a cat with colour pencil. I really like the composition and the lighting and drawing the bunched fur was a challenge. I discovered that the white pencil didn't cover the many layers of pencil when drawing in the whiskers, so I decided to use white Winsor & Newton Gouache paint. It is normally used for watercolour paintings so there is no worry of smudging or blurring. In this case, I needed the white to be as vibrant as possible and also the little reflections in the eyes.

The following are a few summarised points I had learnt so far:

  • The larger the portrait, the easier it is to draw detail in the eyes and facial features.
  • Fur direction is very important for creating a realistic portrait. Draw from the skin of the animal to the tip as if you were brushing its fur.
  • Layering colour pencil is a great way to add depth and create different colours like mixing paint.
  • Contrast is the difference between having your portrait look like a nice drawing to having it look like a real animal that could leap off the page.

Taking these techniques into consideration I draw my first pet portrait for a customer. A wedding present for my sister in law and her husband of their dog Boris. They love Boris like a family member and they really wanted a portrait of him to hang on their wall of their first house.

 'Boris' Dog Portrait, Size: A3, Medium: Colour pencil

'Boris' Dog Portrait, Size: A3, Medium: Colour pencil

The Derwent drawing pencil pack doesn't contain many blacks and greys so I had to buy some separately. There are an enormous amount if different colour pencil brands and it's so hard to know what would be right for a particular piece you are doing if you have never used them before. The Derwent Drawing pencils are an oily consistency so I thought it best to try a different type that would help with the layering of colour without muddying the picture.

The discovery of Faber Castell  Polychromos took my portraits to the next step entirely. By using both types of pencil together I was able to layer and add fine detail whilst still creating the depth and contrast I needed, to make Boris look real. The polychromos draw over the oily pencils really well, therefore my new techniques were to use the Derwent drawing pencils for the base colour and shape, then draw the fur over the top with the Faber Castell pencils to create the fine detail and fur direction.

Boris the Dog lead to my first pet portrait commission of Jack and Tess. In drawing Jack and Tess's portrait I discovered, even more, techniques on drawing black furred animals. You can learn about this in my next article.

Thank you for reading.


Hello and welcome to my blog. My name is Sema Martin and I am a realism pet portrait artist based in Wales, UK.  I specialise in color pencil as a medium and have created many pet portraits for customers in the US, drawing from their reference photo sent to me by email. The high-quality brand of colour pencils used is a mixture of Faber Castell Polychromos and Caran D'ache Luminance on extra smooth Bristol Board paper.