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How to draw the perfect portrait of your pet


Ruby’s portrait
Ruby’s portrait. - Contributed

Jenna MacIntosh grew up on a dairy farm in Port Morien, N.S., and has been an animal lover all her life. Recently, she has combined her love of animals with her love of art to develop her latest hobby — creating personalized pet portraits.

It all started in 2018 when MacIntosh was brainstorming a creative wedding gift idea for a childhood friend. MacIntosh knew her friend and the husband-to-be, owners of a beautiful Australian shepherd named Deeks, would appreciate a gift featuring their beloved pup. MacIntosh got to work creating the detailed portrait of the dog, bringing each strand of fur to life with her coloured pencils.

“I really love watching the portraits come together. It’s many layers of work, so from the beginning when it’s just a rough sketch, to the emergence of that life-like portrait, it’s an extraordinary journey,”

            - Jenna MacIntosh

The couple gushed over Deeks’ portrait, proudly displaying it in their home in Prince Edward Island. The pair were honoured to receive something so special and unique. After seeing their appreciation and excitement, MacIntosh realized others might be interested in commissioning a portrait of their own furry friends. She began sharing progress photos of her artwork on both her Facebook and Instagram pages, quickly gaining the support of the local community. “Everyone has been so pleased so far and really amazed with how life-like the portraits are,” says MacIntosh. “I always receive so much love on my social media posts.”

Special bond

A pet owner herself, MacIntosh understands the special bond between a person and their pet. Whether it’s a dog, cat, horse, or even a fish, pet owners reach out to MacIntosh because she understands the level of importance these animals play, and why their owners are so eager to have them captured on canvas. She says her motivation is being able to give people a treasured piece of artwork that represents what their pet means to them.

“Our time with our pets is so fleeting, even if they live a long and full life,” says MacIntosh. “I think what is special about these pet portraits is that they memorialize our pets and signify the place they hold in our lives and hearts.”

Creating such life-like pieces of art is no easy task, and MacIntosh says the most difficult part of any pet portrait is the eyes. In order to capture the personality and liveliness of the pet, she says, you have to get the eyes just right. That’s why it’s so important for MacIntosh’s clients to send high-quality images of their pets, allowing her to capture every detail. Working side-by-side with the original photograph, MacIntosh brings the illustration to life from the perfectly contrasting background all the way to the tiniest detail of a whisker. The depth she brings to her pieces is truly incredible.

‘Find your own joy’

 Jenna MacIntosh’s pet portraits have plenty of personality. It’s all in the eyes, she says. - Contributed
Jenna MacIntosh’s pet portraits have plenty of personality. It’s all in the eyes, she says. - Contributed

Although MacIntosh has been drawing as long as she can remember, a tragic loss caused her to become more focused than ever on her art. “My mother passed away in March of 2018 and I think I started taking my art more seriously after that because it’s a way for me to heal,” she explains. “A loss like that makes you realized how short life is, and that you need to find your own joy in each day.”

For MacIntosh, that joy comes from creating art. Art is therapeutic for the 25-year-old, who loses all sense of time when she gets into the flow of creating a piece. She’ll put on some background music, or one of her favourite true-crime podcasts, and get lost in hours of drawing.

“I really love watching the portraits come together. It’s many layers of work, so from the beginning when it’s just a rough sketch, to the emergence of that life-like portrait, it’s an extraordinary journey,” she says.

When she’s in the zone, you’ll find MacIntosh in her newly renovated art-nook. She’s not picky about where she spends her creative time, but says having a space that is comfortable and aesthetically pleasing certainly helps the process. For MacIntosh, that means a space with plenty of light, inspiring quotes, greenery, and light colours. She recently painted a cheery yellow accent wall and has been finding a difference in her mood already. “The colour psychology of yellow really fits in an artistic space,” MacIntosh explains. “It brings warmth, energy, and attention.”

Pet portraits are personal

“I think what I love so much about creating pet portraits is how personal and sentimental it is,” she says. “Pets truly are members of our family, and there’s something so special about capturing a pet through art.”

MacIntosh’s advice to those hoping to develop their skills as an artist is to simply start creating. “Make art even if you think it’s terrible,” she urges. “No one is perfect from the start, all it takes is practice.” To improve her own skills, MacIntosh watches artists like Minnie Small and Katie Jobling on YouTube, gaining inspiration and encouragement from their videos.

She’s a true believer that being creative is a great way to decompress and get out of your own head, regardless of whether or not you feel confident in your artistic skills. “I think creating art brings you back to your childhood in a way,” says MacIntosh. “When things were easier, and you didn’t have the stresses of day-to-day life that you have as an adult.” MacIntosh plans to push herself out of her own comfort zone in the near future, experimenting with additional mediums and techniques.

In the fall, MacIntosh will be heading back to StFX to pursue a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology, but will continue creating her pet-portraits on the side. To check out her work, you can find MacIntosh on Instagram at @artbyjennamacintosh or on Facebook at Jenna MacIntosh Art.

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