How to Make Easy Pet Portraits

If you’re a pet owner, your art portfolio likely includes a piece or two inspired by your pet. But have you honored your special companion with an official pet portrait? In this easy tutorial from artist Jane LaFazio, learn how to use a photograph of your pet to create an original fabric painting. This article also appears in the May/June 2008 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors magazine.

Use photographs to create original pet portraits! (Art by Jane LaFazio and photos by Larry Stein)
Use photographs to create original pet portraits! (Art by Jane LaFazio and photos by Larry Stein)

Easy Pet Portraits, by Jane Lafazio

Proud pet owners love to share photos of their feline and canine companions, and what better way for a mixed-media artist to brag about her pet than with a fabric pet portrait? Here’s an easy, fun, and whimsical way to portray your beloved pet.


  • Uncoated cotton canvas (I use cotton, unprimed, medium-weight canvas.)
  • Acrylic paints
  • Paintbrushes (½″ foam brush and a detail brush)
  • Black permanent marker
  • Tracing paper
  • Embroidery or sewing thread that contrasts with your fabric
  • Embroidery needles (if hand stitching)
  • Scissors
  • Additional materials to make a quilt:
    • Fabric for quilt background and binding
    • Batting
    • Muslin for backing
    • Straight pins
    • Iron and ironing surface

Directions for making ‘Buddy’

1. First, find an image. Animal faces with distinct shapes or faces with a lot of contrast work best for this portrait process.

NOTE: It is sometimes easier to work from a black-and-white image; then you don’t get hung up on the actual colors, and the contrast is clear when it comes time to trace in the next step.

2. Trace the shapes onto tracing paper using a black marker. If you don’t have a light table, you can use your window.

I think it’s important to trace the outline of the face, eyes, nose, and mouth realistically. The rest of the shapes are more abstract. You can trace the actual colors, if they have stripes, or trace the shadows.

NOTE: You want your shapes to be closed in, because you are going to fill those shapes with color. On my tracing, I filled in the pupils with marker and made sure I left the little white reflection.

3. When you’re pleased with your tracing use the same black marker to trace the image onto uncoated cotton canvas, using the window or a light box. I’ve already torn my canvas to size (approximately 8½″ x 11″) so I place the figure just where I want it on the soon-to-be quilt.

4. Next, choose the colors for your background. I suggest using 3 colors that blend and layer well together. Yellow, blue, and green work very well (see opening image). Don’t get hung up on the animal’s actual colors. Think of their personality, their aura, or, frankly, what matches your décor! I like to use a wash of color for the background.

5. Dilute your acrylic paints with plenty of water and show the paint strokes. I used the foam brush for this step. If the paint is too dark on the canvas, you can quickly add more water and blot it with a paper towel. Or, as long as it’s still wet, you can even rinse it out in water and start over once it dries.

NOTE: Acrylic paints are permanent, once they dry. I suggest you do this step quickly and don’t labor over it.

6. Once you are pleased with the background color, set it aside to dry. I put mine outside in the sun, and it dried quickly.

7. With a smaller detail brush, begin to fill in the shapes. I used orange and yellow, varying the color whenever I felt like it. It’s important that the colors you use for the details blend with your background color. I also used some white. Tweak the colors; make them darker in some places. Take your time on this part. Allow the paint to dry.

8. If you’re not making a quilt, skip to the next step. To make a quilt, layer from the bottom up: muslin backing, batting, and background fabric (right-side up). Center your portrait on the background fabric. Baste or pin to hold the layers together for stitching.

9. Now it’s time to stitch. I do most of my work by hand, but I decided to machine stitch “Buddy” to show those of you who like sewing machines. Stitch around the body of the animal and around any body parts for emphasis. I stitched the features, the whiskers, and some of his markings. I also added a rectangular outline/border. You can stitch as much or as little as you like.

10. Finish the piece as you wish. If you made a quilt, you can use a traditional quilt binding or use tight zigzag stitching to secure the edges, or leave the edges unfinished and frame your piece.

Jane LaFazio, a full-time artist since 1998, truly believes she is living the life she was meant to live. In that time, she has cultivated a wide range of skills as a painter, mixed-media and quilt artist, art teacher, and blogger. She teaches workshops online and at art retreats internationally. Visit her website at

Discover a fun way to create animal doodles in this tutorial from Dena Ann Adams!

The No Excuses: Watercolor Animals digital bundle from Gina Rossi Armfield features an eBook and a video download. Gina’s instructional style will help you quickly see the allure and joy of painting animals in watercolor.
Dina Wakley’s Art Journal Animals video download will show you fun and creative technique ideas for adding animals into your art journals. Add wildlife, birds, and even your own pets in a variety of exciting ways.
Experience more expertise from artist Jane LaFazio with this exclusive downloadable bundle! This collection includes a video download, a downloadable Art Lesson, and two digital issues of Cloth Paper Scissors magazine.


Blog, Fabric Art, Mixed-Media Techniques


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