The Story Behind My Dog Portraits + A Peek at Crosby’s

The Story Behind My Dog Portraits + A Peek at Crosby's - roomfortuesday.comIt’s funny- I get SO many questions and messages about my dog portraits. I’m pretty sure they were more popular than my actual One Room Challenge reveal- the laundry room. Ha! I really did enjoy painting them though and now they’ve become incredibly special and sentimental to me (remember this Domino article?)… especially after losing Finn, our giant schnauzer, last year. The portraits honestly stemmed as a result of poor planning on my part- a “happy accident”, if you will. I was in a time crunch for the ORC and the reveal date was rapidly approaching. I didn’t have art and needed something quirky, classical, and the right size to kick my laundry room up a notch. I hadn’t painted in years (since art school) and what started as a fast and “easy” idea to source artwork for my ORC space turned into something I’m really proud of and will never part with. Click through to hear more about the pieces, get a glimpse into my process, and see my newest portrait (Crosby!).

The Story Behind My Dog Portraits + A Peek at Crosby's - roomfortuesday.comThe laundry room was the designated dog area… it is where Finn & Cash had their meals, would sleep, and all of our dog related items were stored in that particular space. It only made since to install dog-related art. Besides, there was no hiding the fact it was a space for our pets- especially given the custom integrated dog kennel.

The Story Behind My Dog Portraits + A Peek at Crosby's - roomfortuesday.comI really wanted to create a classical looking piece of art that was serious and comical at the same time. It wasn’t until I stumbled across a pet portrait online that I considered capturing the personalities of our dogs.

The Story Behind My Dog Portraits + A Peek at Crosby's - roomfortuesday.comI can’t tell you how happy I am that I ended up going that route- even though it was more time consuming and difficult. I obviously had no idea that we’d end up losing Finn months later. It’s now something I’ll cherish forever and the happy memories come flooding back each time I look at it. In my opinion, the best artwork makes you feel something. Whether it’s a memory or simply just a feeling… that’s special.

The Story Behind My Dog Portraits + A Peek at Crosby's - roomfortuesday.comI really tried to capture their true personality. Finn was always the big, muscular, mysterious guy. He was smart, loyal, and would always find a way to get what he wanted. His portrait definitely reflects that. I selected darker colors, gave him a hat, a coat, and opted for a profile view… because he was always giving us that “side eye”.

The Story Behind My Dog Portraits + A Peek at Crosby's - roomfortuesday.comCash (named after Johnny Cash), on the other hand, is probably nothing like the actual Johnny Cash. Haha! Emmett and I just grew up on his music. Cash (the dog), has always been the brains of our dog duo. He’s smart, quick, witty, and the star pupil. He is eager to please and is always by my side looking up at me. His portrait kind of depicts that! His gaze is upward, he’s wearing a sport coat and bowtie that somehow makes him seem smart, and the color palette is so friendly and warm… just like our favorite wire fox terrier.

The Story Behind My Dog Portraits + A Peek at Crosby's - roomfortuesday.comI took this shot with my iPhone while I was painting Cash’s portrait… I tried to add realistic details in the eye area to really embody our dogs, their eyes, and expressions.

The Story Behind My Dog Portraits + A Peek at Crosby's - roomfortuesday.comThat brings me to my next topic… the process. I’ve been asked numerous times to share a DIY tutorial on this. I kind of have mixed emotions about that… on one hand, I’m incredibly flattered. You know I get SO much fulfillment in sharing DIY projects and seeing friends complete them. That means you all trust me enough to try new things- and that’s an amazing feeling!

On the other hand, I graduated from art school. I have years of fine art classes under my belt, and it’s not something I would be able to “teach” with a single blog post tutorial. Unlike “How to Refinish Hardwood Floors“, for example, there isn’t a mathematic and or step-by-step guide that will lead you to a very specific, beautiful outcome. I hope that makes sense. I’ve been referring friends to my bestie Laurie Anne. She teaches multiple online art classes via video and does an amazing job (I’ve certainly learned a thing or two)… I just think that would be much more helpful! I’d recommend starting there if you want to learn. I did want to share my process with you though, in hopes that it might inspire or be interesting, at the very least.

The Story Behind My Dog Portraits + A Peek at Crosby's - roomfortuesday.comBefore I pulled out my paints, I grabbed my camera to photograph the dog. With Crosby, that required lots of treats to get him to pose how I had envisioned. Then I searched high res images on Google for the “body”. For Cros, I wanted him to have a Mr. Roger’s friendly, lovable, teddy bear sort of vibe.

Required fields are marked *Hours later, I found a vintage Ralph Lauren ad. A man was sporting a yellow casual bowtie and cardigan. It felt right for his personality! I changed the bowtie to yellow because Crosby is our big ball of sunshine, happy-go-lucky guy, then photoshopped his head onto the body. After that, I printed the photographic image to work from and look at while I painted.

The Story Behind My Dog Portraits + A Peek at Crosby's - roomfortuesday.comI start by sketching the subject with charcoal on the canvas… it’s just easier for me to work that way because I’m terrible at proportion. Sometimes I’ll even trace the shape. Next, I block in the basic colors. Then I’ll add detail and texture. I like to mix gel with my paint to give the acrylic brushwork more depth and a glossy look. It’s the same concept I used for this DIY painting (this diptych actually is an easy painting DIY I’d recommend)! Hours and many coats of paint later, this is how he turned out…

The Story Behind My Dog Portraits + A Peek at Crosby's - roomfortuesday.comDon’t they feel like a fun family? I love each and every one of my fur babies! I’m looking forward to having Crosby framed. Now- as promised, a quick FAQ about these guys:

  • Do you take commissions? No, I’m sorry… I just don’t have the time, nor do I enjoy painting THAT much. Haha! I did find someone who replicated this and does a great job though- check out my new friend Andrea.
  • Give me the DIY tutorial! I kind of addressed this in the middle of the blog post. It would just be too difficult to cover and would take multiple complex videos. If you’re interested in learning to paint, I’d highly recommend these online courses taught by my best friend, Laurie Anne.
  • How long did these take you? Each one was different. Cash was the quickest and Crosby took the longest… ranging anywhere from 1 day to 5 days. Probably at least 12 hours.
  • What type of paint did you use? Acrylic and gel gloss.
  • What material are these painted on? Canvas. Cheap canvas… I probably should’ve splurged for the good, sturdy stuff.
  • Where did the frames come from? I had these framed locally in Salt Lake City. The frame material was actually leftover scraps from another custom order and they pulled it out of the trash for me. I just loved the thick, gold frame! It will be interesting framing Crosby though since they no longer carry this material. I’d like his frame to be different anyway.
  • Who can make something like this for me? Check out Andrea at Vintage Paintbrush… she tackles custom pet portraits in a similar style.
  • What made you think of this idea? I wanted a classical looking piece of art that would look great with my gallery light- and it needed to be dog-related.
  • What do you love most about these portraits? Painted portraits really immortalize the subject. I realized just how special they are and the memories they evoke after Finn passed away. It feels like he is forever with us and apart of our home.
  • What type of paint tools do you use? I used to have nice painting supplies in art school, but I only kept a few things… that’s the reason for using the lid of a food storage container as a palette (see below)! Ha! Trust me- you do not want my recommendations. I just bought what was cheap for this one.

The Story Behind My Dog Portraits + A Peek at Crosby's - roomfortuesday.comSo that is basically how the dog portraits came to be… from my mind, through the camera, to the computer, to the canvas, to the laundry room.

The Story Behind My Dog Portraits + A Peek at Crosby's - roomfortuesday.comTo wrap things up, I’m incredibly excited to frame Crosby and install the three dogs in our new home. They’re currently living in the prop closet until I find a place for them. Of course we’ll renovate the laundry room eventually (but I’m pretty sure it won’t be this year), and again- that will be the “designated dog room”, but until the time comes, I hate to keep them locked in a basement closet.

The Story Behind My Dog Portraits + A Peek at Crosby's - roomfortuesday.comI’d love to hear your thoughts on the newest art addition in the comments below! It’s going to be the craziest week as we have family coming into town in a couple of days. I’m pretty sure this painting was procrastination at its finest. Hope your week is off to a good start!

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  1. Aaaawwwww! He’s wonderful! Those big brown eyes, the eyebrows, the wet nose! You really captured him beautifully. I can imagine the number of treats required to keep him still for a hot minute. The picture of him putting his paws on you is precious. Our breeder said poodles are very “handsy”, and that is definitely true of Joe. Sweet work, Sarah. It will be fun to see all three portraits up in your new home. If this is the week your family arrives, does that mean we have antiquing with grandma stories to anticipate?😉 (Also, my procrastination never looks so beautiful or productive!)

    1. Thank you Peggi! Oohhh yes- he had LOTS of treats. You know how it goes. Haha! He is definitely “handsy”- he’s constantly using his paws to get our attention… it’s so funny. I didn’t realize it was a poodle thing. I bet he’d be best buds with Joe. I can imagine the chaos. You have a great memory- this is the week my family arrives. I’ll definitely share some grandma antiquing stories if she’ll let me :)

      1. If you’d like to meet Joe, take a look at “our” feed. @portiaderaphael

  2. Love these. And wanted to say that I thought you approached this post really well. DIYs are great but an artist’s skill and time must be recognised! And you were both nice and helpful to readers to direct them to friends. Well done

    1. Aw thanks Victoria! I just figured people would get more out of a video course if they want to learn since it’s a “different” kind of project…. and on the contrary, if they’d rather not mess with a DIY, I was happy to have found someone who could create something similar. Thanks so much for the comment and for reading :) xox

  3. Melanie T says:

    It’s so true that each new pet comes with a unique personality, and a dog is never just a dog. We have had cats (although I love dogs) and are on our 5th now. They all have had their personalities, quirks and eccentricities. So fitting you could capture that in the garments for their portraits! The first thing I noticed about them was the realistic sparkle in their eyes. Such a gift to be able to capture that.

    1. They really do! Pets are just part of the family- cats and dogs. It was so nice to hear you liked the way I painted their eyes. I feel like they tell a big part of their story and really show their personality. xo

  4. THIS IS AMAZING!!! I am so in love with this idea. You are so talented.

    1. Aw thank you Katie :) xo

  5. Even though I have no art training, it’s SO interesting to see a little bit of what went into your creation of these portraits (and I think it’s perfect how you referenced your art school background to explain this). I love hearing the sentimental side too and what you wanted to portray with each precious boy’s portrait. Really fun post!

    1. Everyone has a different process and I’m sure there are so many ways to create something similar… that’s just what I do :) They really are special pieces to me because I love those crazy dogs so much!! :)

  6. Emily Villejoin says:

    Thank you for referring someone who can do a painting for those interested, but terrible at art.

    What size canvas do you use?

    1. Of course!! I didn’t want to leaving anyone hanging after saying “I don’t take commissions”. haha! That would just be cruel :) I’m so glad to have connected with Andrea. I used 11 x 14 size canvas.

  7. Laurie Anne says:

    These are some of my very favorite paintings EVER!!! Crosby’s turned out beautifully!! He’s such a ball of sunshine and the best brother for cashy pooh!! ❤️

    1. Eventually I’ll have to paint Hazel for you to return the favor for all of the art you send me…. because that’s what best friends do ;) I channeled my inner Laurie Anne for this one! Hopefully you can see it in person sooner rather than later?! xox

  8. Michelle Simpson says:

    I love Crosby’s portrait!! It looks like a real picture and not paint! That’s how good you did! I have two great danes and you have inspired me to do this! Next weekend’s project. Thanks Sarah for sharing your life with us.

    1. Thank you so much Michelle! I can’t wait to hear how your great dane portraits turn out- I love hearing that I inspired a project :) xox

  9. Sarah, I love these!! You did such a great job capturing their individual personalities, and I love the richness the dark background provides. I’ve always loved and been inspired by Finn’s and Cash’s portraits, but Crosby’s portrait turned out beautifully, too! Also, because you did all of them in rich neutral tones, they look fantastic grouped together. I’m so glad they turned out the way you hoped and that you have such sweet memories to go along with them.

    1. Thank you, Julie! I can’t wait to see the 3 of them installed in the same room someday. They definitely have so many memories associated with each one- that’s the best part :) xo

  10. Absolutely beautiful. You’re amazing.

    1. Thank you so much, Renee!

  11. Wenda Scott says:

    Totally awesome. Your talent is incredible.

    1. Aw thank you Wenda :) xo

  12. Kylie Wakeley says:

    Sarah! I just absolutely love these!!! You’ve captured all your puppies so beautifully. I have a little kitten called Freddie Mercury and once he’s grown I’d love his portrait painted with him wearing an iconic Freddie outfit. Animals in clothes is one of the cutest things. Ha.

    1. Thanks Kylie!! I LOVE that your kitchen is named Freddie Mercury. Obviously I’m a fan of musician names (Johnny Cash, haha). Animals is human clothing has to be the funniest / cutest thing. PS- Emmett and I just watched Bohemian Rhapsody and now I love Freddie Mercury even more.

  13. You are sooooo talented. These really are amazing. You captured them so welll. They are both elegant and quirky. Just Awesome.

    1. Liz- thank you!! I really appreciate that. I can’t wait to renovate the laundry room now… just to hang them all up. Haha! xo

  14. These are so beautiful and while I appreciated the how-to I completely agree that a DIY is not going going to fly with an average person like me with no art background. You are so talented and these portraits are beautiful!

    1. Thank you so much Carley! xox

  15. These are so special. I absolutely love them!!!

  16. I LOVE the paintings of your three dogs and how you captured each one’s personality. So glad that you have the good memories when you look at Finn’s portrait. They always leave us too soon, and it is great to have those memories.

    1. Thanks Becky! It’s true… they always leave us too soon. Happy to have something beautiful that brings the memories of him flooding back. xox

  17. SO CUTE!!! Thank you for sharing your process! I had dog portraits commissioned and they mean the world to me.

    1. They’re just so cute! I bet yours are equally as special :) xox

  18. Your talent is absolutely incredible, Sarah! My work could NEVER even come near yours.

    Keep up the great work!

    /Yet Another Pet Portrait Artist

    1. Thank you so much Nabil!

  19. Lori Riddle says:

    I am looking for tips on how to frame and arrange photographs and artwork. I would love to read your suggestions.

  20. OMG I love these portraits so much! we just adopted Skallywag who looks just like your giant schnauzer! We are not sure what he is – just big and full of love.
    I love your paintings! and your dogs

    1. Sarah Gibson says:

      Thank you, Dianne! Skallywag sounds so adorable. What an amazing and lucky dog to have been adopted by you. They’re the best, if he is a giant schnauzer. We miss our Finn terribly, but are lucky to have had so many good memories with him. xo

  21. OH god… I am so sorry. I just read that you lost Finn. Thoughts with you