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Pet Portrait Choices Demystified

Horse and Pet Portraits in watercolor, oil or pastel

Pet Portrait Choices Demystified

Making sense of all the options in choosing a pet portrait.

This article is a long time coming. I usually do this by phone when someone contacts me to paint a pet portrait. I think that sometimes having so many options can make a process feel confusing, especially if the terminology or process is unfamiliar to a person. So hopefully I can clarify and simplify the process for you. Pet portraits make great gifts or memorials for a much-loved pet or horse so let's go!

The first consideration for most people would be the cost, so let's start there. The cost is usually dependent on 3 things- size, material and level of detail/ style.


Dependent on size, material, and level of detail. My Price list for pet portraits.


1. Size: Some standard sizes of artwork and where they are best viewed.

8 x 10 shelf, desk

9 x 12 office, bedroom, hall, kitchen

11 x 14 living room, den, family room

16 x 20 living room, above sofa, fireplace, larger room


2. Material: what kind of paint or art medium will be used and on what kind of surface.

Art Medium Surface Framing needs Level of detail

Oil Paint canvas, board personal preference/ no framing varies, expressive

Watercolor heavy paper under glass more detailed

Pastel art paper under glass w spacer very detailed

btw glass & paper


3. Detail / Style: the more time it takes to create, the more expensive, more or less.

I am a bit unusual in that I have a fairly wide range of styles and art mediums I regularly work in. Most, but not every, artist ends up with a more set style and medium. I feel like if I were to pick my favorite medium it would be oil paint.



I love oils because I love the richness of their color and texture. I often (but not always) paint with thicker paint and visible brushstrokes in what is best described as 'expressive' and in an alla prima style, meaning I paint fast (relatively speaking) and with wet paint on to wet paint, rather then painting a thin layer, waiting for that to dry and then painting several more layers with dry time in between which is a long process. The pieces I like best are the ones I feel flow and to flow it is more about an expression, gesture, color and overall composition, then achieving intricate detail. I like realism, but I am not a super realistic person. :) I like my art to have some flair, emotion, and expression. I am always after a likeness but am looking for personality too. My oils are usually painted on gallery wrapped canvas which is thicker canvas with painted sides so it can be hung with or without a frame. I paint oils from small as in stall signs to life sized.

Below are some examples of my oil paintings- some visible brushstrokes, realism but a bit of personality too. These range in size from small- 4 x 4 to 18 x 24.

Ginger Cat Oil Painting

arabian horse oil painting

yellow peep oil painting

horse oil painting on slate

Custom dog pet portrait by Sue Steiner


Custom Stall Sign



What I love about watercolors in kind of the opposite of what I love about oils. :) I know, artists really have a hard time with keeping things in neat little boxes!

I love watercolors because they can look delicate, translucent, light and airy. I work in more detail with watercolors because the whole process is different. Here are some examples of my watercolors:

arabian horse watercolor portrait

Watercolor Horse Painting

bucking horse watercolor

Custom Cat Watercolor Pet Portrait

Dog Watercolor Pet Portrait


Pastels / Colored Pencil

Pastels are fantastic for certain kind of fur or coloring that would be way too time-consuming to do in another medium. I work more detailed in pastels and colored pencils. I know pastel artists still call it 'painting' but it feels like drawing to me. Below are some examples. I also threw in an 'expressive' pastel that was initially intended to just be my rough sketch but I loved it as is so left it like that. Colors are fun in pastels too.

Chihuahua Custom Pet Portrait

2 horse portrait by Sue Steiner

Horse and Owner Portrait

Thank you!

Sue Steiner,pet portrait artist at Free Rein Art Studio

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