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We Chat With Pet Portrait Artist Thomas Dalsgaard Clausen

The architecture student began sketching cats and other pets daily as a way to improve his drawing ability, now he's selling his work.

Barbarella Buchner  |  Nov 5th 2015


Pet portraits and artists are prevalent online, but rarely will you find someone who captures the essence of the animals he draws like Danish artist Thomas Dalsgaard Clausen. We caught up with this remarkable man for a chat about his artwork.

Catster: Tell us something about yourself.

Thomas Dalsgaard Clausen: I’m 28 years old and from Denmark, where I am in the midst of finishing my studies to become an architect. In architecture, sketching and quickly being able to illustrate and visually explain ideas is important, and that is why I decided to improve my sketching by committing to creating at least one drawing per day, and in doing so, my skills have improved a lot over the past year.

Although it was all about sketching architecture to begin with, I quickly discovered that I really like drawing and painting portraits of people and animals. What began as a commitment to improve has now turned into an obsession.

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One of Thomas’ cute quick sketches

During my studies in architecture school I participated in a few workshops about perspective and figure drawing, but I wouldn’t go as far to say that I’m professionally trained — I mostly learn from trial and error and from observation.

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Thomas’ sketch books

I committed to creating one drawing daily for two years. I have passed the one year mark and I have made more than 700 sketches. For the past six months or so, I have taken requests from people mostly via Twitter and Facebook, and I have drawn people’s pets for free almost daily since. I started doing proper cat and dog portraits in pen and watercolor too.

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Cat in Watercolor by Thomas

Why do you specialize in animal portraits? Do you paint other subjects?

I also draw urban scenes, objects, houses, and landscapes, but what I enjoy the most is to draw living things. There’s something magical about the forms and shapes that can be found in nature, and I really love that moment when the idle lines of a piece of paper suddenly turn into a face that stares back at you. Cats and dogs express so much emotion, and it’s quite a challenge to capture their essence and bring their personality alive on paper.

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3 Cats Watercolor by Thomas

Do you have your pets? If so, do they inspire you?

I actually don’t! I did when I was younger and lived with my parents where we had almost all kinds of animals one could imagine in an ordinary household. I even had a pet hen that followed me around in the garden. These days, however, I spend most of my time out of the house, and my wife and I like to go travel as often as we can afford it, so we don’t feel we can offer the ideal conditions for a four-legged addition to our family. My mom still has a lot of animals (dogs, cats, canaries, chickens, and goldfish), and I’ve drawn a few of them.

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A watercolor portrait of Thomas´ mother’s dog Alfa

What do you do when you’re not creating?

I’m really busy with my architecture studies, so sometimes I can’t even find the time to draw every day. But I’m really into foreign languages, and I’ve spent a lot of time learning French for a couple of years. Later I moved on to Arabic, but regrettably, I haven’t studied much recently. I also love traveling, taking photos, and eating delicious food from around the world.

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Thomas at work, sketching

Who are your favorite painters, and who or what inspires you?

I’m a big fan of Rembrandt. I love his expressive portraits where he always seems to break the rules when it comes to light and shadow, but I also really enjoy his sketches. Here is a sketch of a lion by him. I admire an artist who can swiftly capture the essentials with just a few quick lines and still have the sketches “speak” and express a lot. This is something that I constantly try to get better at through my daily sketches.

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2 Cats, Watercolor Portrait by Thomas

What’s your favorite piece of work that you have created?

It’s really difficult to pick a favorite. For each drawing I finish, I sort of move on and forget all about it, and after having done more than 700 drawings and sketches, it’s just impossible for me to decide. But I’ll try anyway!

This is a commissioned portrait I did of a cat called Benji that I was really happy about. I think that this cat turned out really “alive” with its playful, engaging eyes and its fluffy, pettable fur.

Cat Portrait Benji

Out of my free sketches, this is one I’m really happy with from last April.

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What are you working on at the moment?

My free sketches are an everyday thing. I have a lot of pending requests in my inbox and feel a little bad about acknowledging that I can’t draw them all, and that most of them will just be ditched. I usually delete requests that I haven’t picked randomly after two weeks, so new requests can get a chance.

In terms of my proper pet paintings, I have a two-cat portrait coming up that I really look forward to starting. The same client is collecting photos of all of her eight cats that she’d like me to do a group portrait of later. That’ll be fun.

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Thomas drawing

Do you have any tips or inspiring words for budding artists?

Lots! But most of them are clichés, like “You can do anything if you set your mind to it.” You hear this kind of statement very often, but I only understood what it meant when I experienced it myself. I started drawing every day a little over a year ago, and during that year I have gone from being really unhappy about my own artistic abilities to actually selling my art.

Other than that, I think what many artists tend to neglect is their online presence. I got almost all of my clients through social media so far, and also, the motivation and critique from other artists out there is just invaluable.

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Merlin the Cat, sketch by Thomas

Tell us about your daily drawing competition where people can get a free sketch done of their pets.

I used to spend a lot of time searching for reference photos to draw, but after drawing a few wildlife photos, pet bloggers started kindly asking me to draw their pets. I gladly accepted, and they often in turn featured my drawing on their blogs. This rapidly evolved, and I quickly had a lot photos waiting to be drawn. This is where it dawned on me that it would be much easier to have people send me photos than go out and search for them myself, as well as asking for the photographer´s permission. Drawing people’s photos is a great challenge, and I also get to make a lot of pet owners happy. Many people have printed and framed their free sketches of their pets, but I’ve also had a few people inquire about a proper portrait commission after seeing the sketch that I did for them.

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Thomas smothered by family dog Kleo

Is there anything else you would like to mention?

Thanks to everyone who has commented on my blog and on my social media accounts since I started my daily drawings. It’s the support, suggestions, and encouragement of all of these people who have motivated me to keep going, and it’s because of these people that I’m selling my art today.

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Enter Thomas’ One Drawing Daily competition for a free sketch of your cat(s). He says that if he hasn’t sketched your pet after two weeks, you’re welcome to resubmit your request. You can also visit Thomas’ website and like him on Facebook or follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

About the Author: Barbarella Buchner — Ailurophile. Geeky Goth Girl. Ex-Musician Singer/Songwriter. Photographer. Web Designer. Fibromyalgia + RA Sufferer. And totally mad. She originally hails from Hannover (Germany), then moved to London, and since 2004 has lived on the tropical island of Lanzarote, together with her tabby twins Lugosi & Spider, and ginger queen Ruby Akasha. Apart from being an avid hobby — and sometimes even paid. — photographer, she works as a freelance web and graphic designer and occasional Catster / Dogster contributor.