Saturday, November 20, 2010

Top 7 SIMPLE Tips to Photograph Your Pet Like a Pro!

It’s easier than you think to make a huge difference in your pet's photographs. 

1. Get Down on Their Level!  The number one mistake people make is they take the picture standing up.  You will be amazed how big of a difference squatting, sitting, or even laying down on the ground as you take the picture makes.  This is what separates the pro looking photos from the amateurs.     

2. Go Outside and Turn OFF your Flash.  Natural lighting is EXTREMELY important, don’t skimp here.  The good news is you already have free access to the best possible professional lighting: the sun! Your camera will capture glorious crisp detail outdoors and blurred disappointing shots indoors. Direct sunlight is not the best, an overcast day or in the shade (not dappled but full) is ideal.   If yours is strictly an indoor pet and taking them outdoors is dangerous, go to the largest, brightest window in your house and stand by it.  Shoot with the light coming from behind you onto your pet or slightly from the side. 

3. Get Ready First.  Pets have an extraordinarily short attention span.  If you want them looking alert and beautiful, you have a very short window.  Take a few test shots before the pet is even around to check lighting, positioning and camera settings.  Most digital cameras allow you to freeze their action by using a fast shutter speed. Set this ahead of time and turn off your flash.  You will be using a squeaky toy but don’t squeak it or even let them see it or the treat until you are already in position, down low, have the lighting right, and have tested your camera and have your finger on the shutter.  This may seem like a lot but in reality in only takes 2-3 minutes and is often the difference between a dog’s attentive eyes looking at you or a wagging, blurred tail moving away from you. 

4. Hold a Squeaky Toy or Treat.  You want to capture your pet’s personality?  Then capture their attention!  Hold a squeaky toy right next to your camera and when everything is set up, squeak it and click the picture at the same time.  If your dog responds better to treats, use them.  Use both.  Cats respond well to things like fluttering feathers.  You need to be the most interesting thing around to your pet, so remove any other pets or distractions.   A word of caution: Often they are excited and will want to come toward you as you're trying to get a shot. This will ruin your picture.  Have a friend hold them back by their collar or leash if this is the case.  If you are going to use these pictures to have a portrait drawn or painted, the collar and leash (and friend!) can easily be omitted by the artist.  If you don’t hold them back, you will probably end up with a blurry picture and a nose print on your lens.  If no one is around to help, just hook their leash onto something and stand out of their reach. 

5. Take Multiple Shots.  Just keep clicking away. Digital film is free, right?  So just take many, many, many shots and delete all but the best.  Pets are unpredictable and the best looking shot is often in the middle of a lot of terrible ones.  

6. Plain Backgrounds are Best.  You want the focus on your pet, and in particular your pet’s eyes, with nothing to distract attention from them.  This is less important if you are having a portrait drawn or painted as, again, the artist can remove items from the scene.

7. Get Closer. Pro photographers have a saying: Get three steps closer than you think is necessary.  Your pet's face or body should fill the entire picture.  Zoom in.  Far away shots are without question the least interesting.  Often I have the sad task of squinting at far away dots which are the only pictures an owner has of a beloved pet which passed away before they got any good pictures of them.  Trying to make out a pet’s looks and personality is much more difficult when they are not up close and personal. 

These are the secrets that professionals use to get studio quality results.  Armed with this information you too can get fantastic photographs of your pets.  Happy Shooting!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Artfire Artisan Spotlight Interview October 2010

Please start by telling us a little about yourself and your studio.

My name is Kate Sumners and I am the artist behind Endless Sumners Art.  My mainstays are charcoal and pastel portraits of people and pets; I also love photography and watercolor painting.  My style is definitely realism and I love to put LOTS of detail in my work.  I'm 28 years old and live in Arizona with my husband Brandon and our two Italian Greyhound 'kids' Toby and Scout.  I love art, gardening, hiking, and the outdoors.

Where do you live and what is it like?

I was born and raised in Page, Arizona.  I am surrounded by some of the most striking and photogenic scenery in the world.  The desert Southwestern United States is one of the most sought after locations for many artists and photographers to come and create in. Monument Valley, Glen Canyon, Lake Powell, Antelope Canyon, "the Wave" sandstone formation, all of these are just outside my front door.  The rugged, dramatic landscape looks to most like a scene out of a John Wayne movie.  To me, it looks like home. 

Where did you learn your medium?

I had one art teacher in high school in particular who really taught me to trust what I was seeing and then record it truthfully.  He tried his hardest to convince me that I could be a professional artist, but at the time I didn't have the self esteem to believe that I could make a living at it.  A few years after I had graduated, we ran into each other at the nursery I was working at.  I admitted that I hadn't done any painting or drawing in months and he showed up a few days later with a box of expensive art supplies.  He told me he was loaning them to me but there was a condition: I had to produce some artwork and bring it in to his class when I returned the supplies.  If he hadn't made that single gesture, I don't think I would be an artist today.  His encouragement and very direct guidance really made me think maybe I did have some talent and should follow through.  Sadly, I lost contact with him when he moved shortly after that and he doesn't know what an impact he had on me, or even that I am a professional artist now.  I would love to find him and thank him someday.  Mr. Shaw, where ever you are, I'm living the dream. 

What are your goals with your ArtFire studio?

Currently I find most of my portrait clients in person.  Although it is wonderful to meet my subjects in person to really get a sense of their personality, I live in a small and extremely isolated area.  The nearest sizable communities are at least two hours away!  I want to grow my online presence so that I don't have to travel to find clients when I've exhausted the possibilities for expansion in my small town.  The less of my profit I pour down the gas tank, the better!

How did you come to selling online?

In February 2009 I lost my day job to the struggling economy when my banking position was eliminated.  Two months before, two acquaintances had seen my art and asked if I would create some custom pieces for them.  With this fresh in my mind, I decided if I was ever going to try and make a living doing art, this was it!  I started networking and marketing myself as a portrait artist but soon found my community is too small to support a portrait artist on its own.  I knew that I had to find an audience online if I was going to be able to keep doing what I loved.  Artfire is a great site because of all of the emphasis placed on reaching the entire Internet community and not just one web site's shoppers. 

What is the best piece of advice you can give other artists?

Joseph Chilton Pearce is credited with saying "To live a creative life, we must lose our fear of being wrong." In the past, fear really held me back.  Fear that I wouldn't be good enough, successful, profitable.  But the whole beauty of art is that there is no right or wrong, no accounting for taste.  If you love what you do, if you pour your heart into it and give it your all, someone else will love it too.  Never let fear hold you back. 

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Page Animal Adoption Center

Yesterday I was happy to help out Angie at our Page Animal Adoption Center (PAAC).  Recently our PAAC began posting our homeless dogs and cats on  I think this is fantastic!  Angie already works extremely long hours in behalf of our local homeless animals.  To help out and get some of these beautiful pets into good homes I volunteered to photograph the animals she will be listing in the future.  A picture paints a thousand words, and my goal is to convey that these shelter animals are not homeless because they are sick, bad tempered, old, high maintenance, or in any way undesirable.  They are homeless because people, and particularly people in our community and surrounding area, are STILL NOT SPAYING AND NEUTERING. 

I adopted my own IG Scout from Petfinder.  Just because you want a certain breed, age, sex etc. does NOT mean you should to buy from a breeder, you can still support rescues! According to the ASPCA, twenty-five percent of dogs who enter local shelters are purebred. Nationwide every year about 3 to 4 million dogs and cats are euthanized in shelters.  Petfinder is a searchable database of over 13,500 adoption groups and shelters. The really fantastic thing about them is that you can search by breed, location, age, gender, size, and many other conditions, even whether they are house trained! 

Here are some of the cats currently awaiting good homes here in Page:
Go to and type in zip code 86040 for more info on these cuties!

The cost of spaying or neutering a pet is less than the cost of raising puppies or kittens for a year.
I am not homeless because I am sick, bad tempered, old, high maintenance, or in any way undesirable.

The average number of litters a fertile cat produces is one to two a year; average number of kittens is 4-6 per litter. Seven out of ten cats in shelters are destroyed simply because there is no one to adopt them.

Research has shown that living with pets provides certain health benefits. Pets help lower blood pressure and lessen anxiety.  They boost our immunity. They can even help you get dates.

Please spread the word about our own Page Animal Adoption Center and Tweet this, post it to your facebook page, website, email it, whatever.  You never know, someone you tell may just save a life.  "No one could make a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could do only a little." Volunteer to help at the PAAC, or at least donate some cash.  Share this info.  Don't shop, Adopt!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

My Favorite Quotes About Art

I have always loved quotations.  Since the age of 13 or so I have been keeping a notebook in which I recorded the quips that struck a chord in me.  There is something about just a few words arranged in such a way to make you really stop and ponder the truth they convey.  For me, quotes are better than poetry because of their simplicity.The following are quotations, famous and otherwise, which ring particularly true to me as an artist.  I hope you enjoy them as much as I do!

Why should I buy expensive art when I can make my own?

Frank Thomas, Disney Animator, When asked to give advice to young animators

Thursday, October 14, 2010

"How to Draw a Child in Charcoal Pencil" Simple Instructions

Here's a short video slideshow tutuorial I made with simplified instructions on how to draw a child in charcoal pencil. Yep, that's me sketching.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Lab and Giant Breed Rescue Fundraiser

Get a portrait of your pet for a cause!  Today starts my month long partnership with Arizona Labrador and Giant Breed Rescue! For the month of October I will be offering a portion of the proceeds from any charcoal or pastel pet portrait referred through them right back to AZ Lab and Giant Breed Rescue. Starting Monday they will share on Facebook and Twitter the coupon code for my website that will allow a donation to be made to their wonderful rescue and free shipping! Check them out at

This is a very worthy rescue, let's raise awareness!

Friday, September 24, 2010

How To Draw a Dog with Charcoal Pencil

Hello everyone.  My name is Kate and I am a charcoal portrait artist.  I am going to take you through my creative process step by step.  I want to share how I draw a Golden Retriever puppy in charcoal pencil (named Jessie!) for a client of mine. 

It starts with the right paper.  I have chosen Strathmore Bristol Board with a Vellum Finish.  This is much thicker and higher quality than regular drawing paper.  The vellum surface allows the paper to hold the charcoal but is still smooth enough to be able to add fine detail.  It is also acid-free.  I will also be using charcoal pencils, tortillions or blending stumps, a kneaded eraser, and Prismacolor archival fixative.  See my other blog post “Charcoal Drawing and Sketching Tools” for more information on this. 
Here are the reference photos that I will be working off of.  These are taken in natural lighting, down at eye level with the puppy, and the puppy fills most of the frame.  This is very important!  Which charcoal, the lighting needs to be just right because light and shadows are all you have!  The better the reference photos, the better the end result.  Photos in which the flash fired, or ones that are taken indoors, are much more difficult to work with. 

The first step in drawing is block out the shape of the subject.  At this stage I am paying attention to the relationship of all of the shapes that make up the puppy.  I am concentrating on proportions, not details.  This is laid down with a regular drawing pencil, not charcoal.  This allows me to rework and completely erase any mistakes until the proportions are all just right.  Some attention is paid to direction of fur in this stage, but the most important thing is the big picture. I like to use the “Rule of Thirds” in composing my image. The rule states that an image should be imagined as divided two equally-spaced horizontal lines and two equally-spaced vertical lines. If possible I try to have at least one point of interest placed along these lines or their intersections. The main points of interest in portrait drawing are the eyes. I decided to show the puppy sitting up instead of laying down like she is in the reference pictures so that her eyes fall along the top imaginary line, about 1/3 of the way down.  The rule of thirds may SOUND confusing, but it’s actually quite simple.  Just Google images for the Rule of Thirds and you will see what I mean right away.  These big decisions should be worked out now – position of ears, nose, eyes and body. 

Once I have the basics the way I want them, I use an Extra Soft Charcoal to sketch roughly in the major shaded areas.  You can’t totally erase charcoal so you do need to be mindful of the direction of the fur but this is just the base layer and will be reworked considerably.  Although its hard to see in this photo I have also marked with white charcoal lines that will be highlights: The front flaps of her ears, the light catching in her eyes, a reflection on her nose, a few hairs on her forehead, and her whiskers in this case.

Using the charcoal laid down in the prior step I use a tortillion to blend the entire form.  Even though the puppy is light colored, a light grey will represent white in the final portrait. The only true white will be where I put the white charcoal in step 2.  The reason I used extra soft charcoal in laying down this first layer was so that it would spread easily to color all areas. I blend in the direction the fur is laying.

Using a kneaded eraser shaped to a point, I lighten the lightest areas on the puppy.  Now you start to have a sense of the shape of the head because of the light and dark areas.  When lightening, I erase also in the direction of the fur using short swiping motions.

Time to add more detail. I now switch from extra soft charcoal and start using a medium or hard charcoal.  The harder the charcoal, the finer the point. Hard charcoal is great for details, but more difficult to blend.  I am blending using my tortillion and kneaded eraser as much as I am laying down charcoal.  From this stage on I use extremely short lines to look like fur.  No more big, bold lines are drawn after the initial layout. 

Back to Blending.  Again using the tortillion and kneaded eraser, I blend the more detailed lines.  This will be repeated several times until I have it just right. Draw, blend, lighten. Draw, blend, lighten.  This may seem repetitious but if you want lots of detail that really looks like fur, this is the only way to get it.  Patience is key. 

To complete the portrait, I work on the details in the eyes, nose, mouth and ears.  The eye is the most important piece of any portrait.  They are the focal point and as such deserve a lot of attention.  I get my charcoal to a super fine point and spend a lot of time getting the detail just right.  I don’t rush, often sitting back to just stare at the reference photos as well as the drawing.  Then I use white charcoal to show the light catching in her eyes and add some extra sparkle.  When blending the eyes, nose, mouth etc, I switch to a much smaller tortillion so I can have more control.  Now I lay down some lines that will not be blended but remain sharp.  I use hard charcoal to get fine detail.  The most detailed area should be the eyes.  Again I lighten the highlights using the kneaded eraser and white charcoal.  Again pay attention to the big picture as far as shading and lighting goes.  Slowly add the final touches like whiskers.  It is important to try and remove any smudges in the white of the paper with the kneaded eraser.  Last of all, when I am satisfied with the portrait, I sign it. 

To keep the portrait from smudging in the future I spray an archival fixative, I like Prismacolor Matte finish. 

This may look quick, but I like to add a LOT of detail which is meticulous and takes time.  This portrait took me about 3 hours total to draw.  I have a lot of experience and so it will probably take an amateur much longer.  Patience is key.  Take care not to lay your hand or fingers in the charcoal as you work.   Work from light to dark.  It is much easier to add than take away when it comes to this medium. 

I hope you have enjoyed my blog series on how I create a charcoal portrait.  I have tried to share in detail how I work, but if you want to try this yourself remember to have fun and do what feels right to you!  Work in your own style and develop your own techniques.  The beautiful thing about art is that there is no right and wrong.  Remember: “To live a creative life, we must lose our fear of being wrong.Joseph Chilton Pearce