Commissioned Portrait: Lassie

portrait of collie in park
“Lassie”, pastel on prepared board, 23″ x 16″, 2009 © B.E. Kazmarski

The two main reasons I decided to go ahead and start pet blogging was to give myself another place to share my writing, and an easier, more interactive way to share my artwork, especially commissioned portraits. I was working on Lassie’s portrait when I initiated The Creative Cat, so she was the very first portrait-in-progress I featured just about four years ago. From the time I was little I loved this breed, not really because of the TV show “Lassie”—that was in black and white and a tiny image and even then I wasn’t a TV watcher—no, even better, a neighbor had two lovely, friendly collies, and I could never get enough of petting all that silky hair and running my hand down those long narrow noses, and getting face licks.

Lassie was with her mom for 15 years and had just passed when her mom first called me. She was in nursing school and would graduate in the spring, and would like Lassie’s portrait for her graduation when family would be in town. A very special collie I could see by her photos, the two of them side by side from childhood, into the college years and off to a new city.

Her person knew all the details of Lassie’s personality that were most important to her, but most important was Lassie’s head tilt, and that certain knowing expression of communication were most important. This face is the expressive, intelligent face her mom always remembered, when Lassie knew just what she was thinking.

detail of portrait of dog
Detail of Lassie’s face and expression

Lassie’s mom decided she wanted to remember Lassie in the outdoors so the portrait would have a scenic background, and its final shape would be determined by the scene. She didn’t have a photo of a favorite place, but they both enjoyed visiting parks and trails, not at all an uncommon request for a canine portrait. From looking over the photos I was provided I could see that I had plenty of photos of places like the ones they’d visited. I began designing with autumn backgrounds; colorful and familiar, they are very popular in canine portraits and I’ve added my autumn scenes to several other dog portraits (see Cassie and Tyler, for instance).

photo of collie in park
One of the autumn ideas.

However, Lassie kept blending into the background colors because her fur is primarily amber to brown, the same as the leaves we see, so I chose a late summer background of a rocky little stream and a row of trees in the background. The deep green of late summer grass shows off her fur to perfection and the glow of evening sun warms the scene. There was originally a tree in the near background, but I needed to get a little more detail on Lassie before I could find the best placement for the it so it won’t be distracting, and in the end we decided to leave it out.

Painting portraits of animals is fulfilling and enjoyable, but my other favorite subject is my local landscapes, the trails and woods and fields I’ve wandered since I was a child. Not only have I worked for years to learn my palette and techniques for fur and wet noses and the specifics of feline and canine eye color, but also for the trees and grass and rocks and water and even the quality of sunlight of my familiar surroundings here in western Pennsylvania. Here was a painting that would be exciting in both respects, a landscape, and an animal.

But whether the background be autumn leaves or summer sun or snow or a grassy field, it still had to work as the backdrop to Lassie, and to the memories her human had of the times they’d spent together.

Here is a detail of the strip of woods from the top of the painting.

detail of portrait
Detail of edge of woods.

I thought I’d include a progress photo where the background is half done, moving from left to right, and Lassie will need her last details done, but that will be after the background is completed. Working in pastel, the colors dust over each other, especially with heavy coverage like this background and the contrasting colors.

Lassie’s portrait, second proof
detail of painting
The rocks in the stream on the left.

In addition, here are two detail areas that I particularly like, the rocks on the left, and the rocks and grass on the right; while the evening sun shone across at a low angle, the clear blue sky reflected blue straight down onto the wet rocks and rippling water.

While the original portrait may look completely detailed in Lassie and in the landscape, a close-up look shows that many of the details are literally sketchy, just soft indications of light and shadow that when viewed together appear as they should.

By “prepared board” I mean one of the drawing surfaces I’d prepared myself on illustration board. I typically use a heavy paper that has a surface of fine grit applied much like sandpaper. In some cases I use heavy drawing paper or illustration board and apply one of the preparations I have on hand, various coarseness of grit sometimes mixed with gesso for texture or a pigment to give it color.

In this case it’s a more textured surface where I mixed the grit with gesso and blue drawing ink so it was tinted sky blue and brushed it on in horizontal strokes. You can see the strokes in some of the detail shots.

detail of portrait
Detail of rocks and grass at right.

I often use a complementary color beneath a heavy coverage of another color, or to complement the overall tone of a painting. Pastel, like most media, is not entirely opaque, and the eye can perceive layers of color in a painting and mingle them in the same way it mingles the tiny dots in offset printing or in digital printing. If you look at blue and yellow separately they are simply individual colors, but if you put them side by side you can see that each color looks richer, brighter and darker or lighter than you originally perceived just by the visual influence of the other color. When my first portraits and paintings looked nice but kind of lifeless I suddenly understood what I’d learned about underpainting and gave it a try with the very next thing I painted in pastel, and that was indeed the final touch to giving life to one of my animal subjects. Layering the color complement underneath in this way gives the portrait more depth and dimension. Because this portrait is primarily in warm yellowish tones I used the complementary shade of blue to enliven all that yellow and yellow green, and the amber and orange tones in Lassie’s fur.


Take a look at other portraits and read other stories

Read articles here on The Creative Cat featuring current and past commissioned portraits.

Read about how I create commissioned portraits.

Commissioned Cat Portraits

portrait of black cat on wicker chair
Samantha, pastel, 1994 © B.E. Kazmarski
Commissioned Dog Portraits

portrait of two dogs
Sophie and Ellie, pastel, 2009 © B.E. Kazmarski
Portraits of
My Cats

pastel painting of cat on table
After Dinner Nap, pastel, 1996 © B.E. Kazmarski

Visit my website to see portraits of my cats, commissioned cats, commissioned dogs, people and a demonstration of how I put a portrait together from photos.


Download a Brochure

cover of brochure
My Portraits Brochure

My brochure is an 8.5″ x 11″ two-page full-color PDF that half-folds when it’s all printed out, showing examples of portraits with an explanation of my process and basic costs.


Purchase a Gift Certificate

sample portrait certificate
Sample Commissioned Portrait Certificate

I offer gift certificates for portraits in any denomination beginning at $125.00, which is the basic cost of a portrait; the recipient is responsible for any amount the portrait costs over $125.00.

The certificate itself is 8.5″ x 11″ and features a collage of portrait images with the recipient’s and giver’s names, printed on parchment cover stock. The whole thing is packaged in a pocket folder and includes a brochure, a letter from me to the recipient and several business cards.The certificate package can be easily mailed or wrapped as a gift and shipped directly to your recipient.

I can also make it downloadable if you’re in a hurry.

Portrait certificates are a minimum of $125.00 because that is the minimum cost of a portrait.

Certificates are good for up to one year after issue.

You can purchase gift certificates on The Creative Cat, on my main website, or from my Etsy shop if you are also purchasing other animal-inspired merchandise.


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Subscribe to The Creative Cat e-newsletter for specials on exclusively feline-themed art and merchandise.

All images used on this site are copyrighted to Bernadette E. Kazmarski unless otherwise noted and may not be used without my written permission. Please ask if you are interested in using one in a print or internet publication. If you are interested in purchasing a print of this image or a product including this image, check my Etsy shop or Fine Art America profile to see if I have it available already. If you don’t find it there, visit Ordering Custom Artwork for more information on a custom greeting card, print or other item.


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Inspired by felines you know! Visit Portraits of Animals on Etsy.
Inspired by felines you know! Visit Portraits of Animals on Etsy!

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