How to Choose a Reference Photo for Pet Paintings

It’s quite a task to choose a select few pictures you’ve taken of your pet when ordering a pet painting. If you’re anything like me, you probably have hundreds! Do you want to choose the one where your pup is wearing a bandana or the one where he is posing with his tongue out?

Here’s the secret - You can choose BOTH!

Yes I can combine photos to make a cohesive composition, in fact I prefer having a nice selection of photos to reference from!

What makes things difficult is when there is only one photo to reference, and if the reference photo isn’t the best… it makes the process a little tricky.

Here’s what NOT to send for a pet commission:

These are a few photos of my pal Winston, he’s a handsome boy but unusual angles and close cropping don’t help showcase that.

Of course it would be possible to make these photos into a painting, but they’re not ideal. The painting will be a lot like the photo it’s referenced from though. Here’s why:

  1. If the angles are not straight on, the pet’s proportions are off and may look like a different size than in reality

  2. Blurriness makes the details like fur and facial features harder to paint accurately

  3. Filters that are unnatural looking can be tricky in getting the colors exactly right. Also if you want only your pet in the painting, don’t send a selfie with your dog unless they are in the majority of the photo.

  4. If the photo is too zoomed in or cropped, I can’t see what the rest of the pet’s body looks like

Now here’s some examples that are just right:

It is so helpful to have photos of the whole pet from nose to tail! No harsh filters, strange angles or zoomed in cropping!

Again, it’s always possible to paint portraits with lower quality photos. However it’s good to set ourselves up for the best results!

I hope this blog helps inspire you to choose a variety of photos to send to your pet portrait artist, I can say with confidence they’ll do a little happy dance when they see your adorable reference pics!

Illustrating Family Recipes

I recently finished illustrating a cookbook and wanted to do some more food illustrations! I asked my followers on Instagram to send me some of the dishes/recipes that their families enjoy year after year. Food has its way of keeping us tied to our roots!

Here’s what people shared:

“Pupusas! They are THE famous Salvadorian dish.”

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“We really like to eat Ceviche, it’s really good!”

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“Mofongo! It’s ok if you don’t know what it is, it’s just fun to say!! (Puerto Rican dish)”

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“Swedish pancakes rolled up with butter, lingonberry sauce and powdered sugar!”

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“My mom’s posole. The vibrant red broth, the beautiful white of the hominy, the green avo.”

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“Italian Pizzelles! My grandma taught me to make them as a teenager!”

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“It’s this dough stuff, tomato sauce, cheese, then some kind of meat. Oh wait, that’s just pizza.”

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I love little details about our heritage and how objects like food can have so much of an effect on us as people. It goes beyond just food, it brings us together! Thank you to who shared their traditional dishes with me, I enjoyed drawing them all and learning about some new foods I want to try!

Why Pet Paintings are A Must-Have

You know you're a pet parent when 98% of your phone's camera roll is dedicated to pictures of your fur baby. Yes I see you! 

What's a better way of putting your plethora of pet photos to use than turning them into a painting?

Click image to view Etsy listing

Click image to view Etsy listing


It's an adorable, unique way to decorate your home and celebrate the animal companions that are part of our families. It doesn't hurt that they're cute as hell and make for really aesthetic paintings!

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Studies actually show that when you order a pet portrait it boosts morale with your fur children

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One pet parent says "my cat noticed the portrait of himself and got so excited he threw up in front of it."

Another pet parent says "My dogs have newfound confidence ever since I hung up their portraits fit for royalty above the mantle. Buster is wearing raybans now, I mean I put them on him but he is still wearing them"

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Another pet parent says "I didn't think that I could get my hamster to evoke emotion until I got his portrait painted; he still doesn't do much but I feel a new, positive energy from him"

So as you can see it is backed by science that pet parents need their pets painted. It's just good sense.

Click here to order yours today!

Click here to order yours today!



Why I Left Art School

Watching my younger sister approach her senior year of high school and start the college search has inspired me to meditate on my college experience, and think about the advice I would have liked to hear when I was her age.

Let's start from the beginning of my educational journey: Kindergarten!

Here's a picture of me from Kindergarten, I'm the one on the right wearing the beret. It was career day at school and I strutted my stuff in an paint-stained artist's apron and palette in my hands. I'm lucky because I don't think many people knew their dream job at age 5. My lifelong passion for art has molded so many aspects of where I'm at today.

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As the years went on, my love for art and discipline for practicing drawing grew. Once high school came around I had shown my artwork at ArtHop (Fresno's monthly art show), interned for a local art teacher, and took Art 2, 3, and AP Studio Art (I skipped Art 1 because I convinced my teacher I was advanced enough even though looking back I totally was not). 

During my freshman year, I expressed my desire to pursue art in college to my parents. My parents have always been extremely supportive of me being an artist; my dad and I travelled around California touring art schools and attended National Portfolio Days. Portfolio Day was probably the best thing I could've done for my high school ego. The criticism I received from the representatives from the art schools was harsh, constructive, and completely a brand new experience for young Elowyn. I had never had people be critical of my art before, it was honestly so refreshing. Some of the critiques I was given that I still remember to this day were:

  1. "Your flesh tones are too green and zombie-esque. Work on mixing colors."
  2. "Your illustrations are floating in white negative space, add environments in your compositions."
  3. "You aren't a fine artist. This work is much more like commercial art and you should probably consider a different school than ours."

Okay. The last one hurt a little bit if we're being honest.

Despite the abrasiveness of the person who made the last comment, his words really inspired me to figure out what the heck the difference between commercial and fine art even was. He made me realize I still had a lot to learn.

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As a junior in high school, I went to a summer pre-college program at CCA. It was a blast, it was a painting/drawing intensive over the course of about 6 weeks. I had fantastic instructors, made great friends and created work that improved drastically from Week 1 to Week 6. I loved exploring the Bay Area and being kind of like a mini adult living on my own as a 16 year old.

My friend Max and I after we learned how build canvases

My friend Max and I after we learned how build canvases

Part of my final series for drawing class

Part of my final series for drawing class

Spending time exploring San Francisco

Spending time exploring San Francisco

After that summer and starting my senior year, I was dead set on going to this school. I applied to about 7 in-state and several out-of-state art schools and got rejected from 2 of those. I had a lot of options still, but I knew that the obvious choice was CCA. It was a 5 hour train ride back home and was such a fun experience during pre-college. Soon enough I was packing my bags and heading to Oakland to begin the Fall semester.

Art school is extremely expensive, most people are aware of this but it's not just tuition. Living in the Bay Area is impossibly expensive for most people not to mention poor art students. Rent, food, supplies; it adds up fast. I had a scholarship but I wouldn't say the tuition was dramatically reduced. The financial burden of living in this city caused me tremendous stress. 

As the semester rolled on I felt very frustrated with the level of work that was expected by the students. I felt coddled, like the way I used to feel before Portfolio Days. I felt like no matter the level of effort or skill I put into my projects, I got a pat on the back and no criticism. Some students don't take criticism well, and while I understand that, I felt like everyone treated each other with such fragility. There wasn't enough room to grow or to help each other improve because we were constantly walking on eggshells. I had high expectations from my professors to really push us and test our abilities, especially after having such a challenging experience at pre-college. The projects I had to do in some of my classes were quite obviously busy work and cost a lot of money and time to complete. There was no time for a job with 15 units and an expectation of hours upon hours of class work. I am a pretty fast worker, and I would still find myself in the studios working until 3 AM on work that had little to no relation to illustration. Although other disciplines do influence my work, paying as much as I was for these classes was beyond frustrating. I started becoming more and more bitter because I felt let down, like my dream to become an artist was being stifled by irrelevant requirements and being babied instead of challenged.  

Art school is a great place to use resources in one unified place. For example if you need to print a huge poster and unload a kiln in a matter of 30 minutes, art school has got your back. They make tons of money so they have lots of expensive tools at your disposal. However the convenience of having these fancy resources in one place definitely has a price. When I was in Fresno I had to get inventive in finding resources around town. But in doing so, I made relationships with other creatives which was such a valuable advantage. I felt that this sense of community I had back in Fresno was impossible to have in such a busy city as Oakland. I missed having relationships and opportunities to be an entrepreneur, not only a full time student.

I had to make the decision whether I wanted to wait it out and pay for the next semester or leave before draining even more money on tuition. I knew in my heart I was not going to be at this school for the entirety of my college career, so I decided it was better to not delay the inevitable. Of course it was difficult to explain my decision to my family and friends, but in the end it wasn't for them. I needed to choose what made the most sense for my life.

Now this post is not meant to slander the school I went to. It's not even to say "don't go to this school". Experiences will vary from person to person but I think it is really important to let young artists know that art school is not necessary to be successful in this field. To any young artists out there, my advice is don't fall for the lie that there's a formula everyone must take in order to succeed in this business. The truth is that you have to work your butt off either way and you have to choose the standards you want to be measured by.

I would talk about life back in Fresno but this blog is long as it is so we will save that for another time. I hope this resonates with at least one reader out there, thanks for making it to the end! Would love to hear your thoughts/questions on this topic either here or on my other social media!