A great animal portrait is the sum of it’s parts…


 Tips for creating Dynamic Animal Portraits

CONSIDER ALL of the following…

#1 Get the anatomy right

#2 Capture the spirit

#3 Tell a story


“The Dance” watercolour 18” x 24” ©Crystal Beshara

“The Dance” watercolour 18” x 24” ©Crystal Beshara

Unless your goal is to simply capture movement and abstract expression is an intentional choice… it is integral to have your animal drawn correctly. This means their proportions, muscles and joints, right down to the fur texture has to honour the uniqueness of the animal in question. If drawing is not your strength, keep practicing the same animal over and over… use tracing paper to identify specific shapes, the skeletal confirmation and the way that animal moves. Try to avoid accidentally anthropomorphizing your subject by giving them human eyes, or legs or knees that bend the wrong way etc… study your subject thoroughly. Whichever artistic direction you choose: BE CLEAR with your INTENTION .


 #2 CAPTURE THE SPIRIT   (Connect with the heart)

“Lean on Me” oil on canvas 24” x 24” ©Crystal Beshara

“Lean on Me” oil on canvas 24” x 24” ©Crystal Beshara

“Alert” watercolour 22” x22” ©Crystal Beshara

What does that mean? HOW do you do it?

  • START WITH : A great photo or even better, several photos… ( be sure to acquire permission first if not YOUR photo)

  • ATTEMPT TO RELATE:Connect with the emotion in the animal: alert, proud, fierce, suspicious, timid, leader of the pack or wallflower?!

  • LOOK FOR: The way they are holding their head, the line of their neck, tension in the mouth, ear positioning etc… Look at their eyes: What “Mood” are they in? Are they hungry? Hunting? Resting? Sunning themselves? Vulnerable? Afraid? Are they wide open, rolled back, softly closed, partially closed? Also identify unique characteristics (markings, scars, freckles, colour, asymmetry …) what makes that animal draw us near. What makes us want to learn more?


  ( Be an Art Director!)…

“A Gentle Hand” 22” x 30” watercolour ©Crystal Beshara

  • It’s Your Design ( Set up the scene):

·   Invite us in through careful editing

·   Cropping: (zoom in or out )

·      Decide: Portrait style or full body?

·      If you are going to crop: How much can you lose while maintaining the integrity of the animal and the story?

·      Don’t zoom too much or we lose the sense of the shape of the animal – keep a few edges / key anatomy in tact.


  • Your Shapes & colour (consider the following ) :

·      Curves in body

·      Line of neck line of spine

·      Interesting shapes

·      Make conscious choices to Enhance or subdue / merge or isolate

·      Lighting

·      Colour

·      Contrast (lights and darks, highlights / shadows)

·      Contrasting temperatures

·      clarity of subject and background… will you blur edges? Blur background?

“Napo” watercolour 22” x 30” ©Crystal Beshara

“Napo” watercolour 22” x 30” ©Crystal Beshara

What’s in the Background:

How crucial is the background? Is it necessary at all?

Simplify as much as you can UNLESS your goal is to intentionally camouflage your animal in it’s environment for context: mist, fall foliage, lush rainforest, snowfall… A scene that has an animal slowly emerging from its background can be magical. Make an intentional decision one way or the other and link through analogous (if you want a subtle harmonious relationship) or complimentary (if you want to make them pop) colour and texture .


FREE DOWNLOADS ( *PLEASE NOTE * for educational purposes only. Not to be used for sale)

Below is a gallery of step by step images that give you a bit of insight into my process. I hope you find these photos helpful!

CLICK ON THE IMAGES TO ENLARGE and read some of the finer details.

~Enjoy and Happy Painting!