Have you ever contemplated commissioning a portrait of your cat only to be put off by the idea of a fusty oil-painted-style rendering hanging in your living room? Well, pet portrait expert Kevin Halfhill’s art might be more to your taste, with his digitally-designed geometric interpretations of felines hitting a more modern note.
Having miraculously managed to remember my Skype log-in details, I called up Kevin (who is now based in Germany) and we talked about his beginnings in the cat art world, the abstract nature of his work, and why cats are obviously much better at posing for portraits than dogs.
Phillip Mlynar for Catster: How did you begin making portraits of cats?
Kevin Halfhill: I started out with a project called Animalia, which was based around wildlife photos. As I expanded that area of my business, people would constantly ask me about making artwork out of their pets. As I began connecting with organizations in support of wildlife conservation campaigns, and with people inquiring about the pet portraits, I just expanded. One day I thought, “Hmm, let’s see how they would come out.” And I think they came out kind of nice, and people seemed to want them.
You apply digital techniques to photographs of pets. Are there any issues that can arise with the process?
Well, some animals are kind of monochromatic, and my style of artwork relies a lot on contrast and various detail levels, especially with faces and people. So I have a harder time with architecture and animals, which is okay. I like the challenge. But when, for example, people have pets that are multi-colored — like a calico or a tabby — it’s a lot easier for me to create the artwork than with a plainer-looking animal.
I had a Schipperke dog when I lived in California and I’m really dissatisfied with my attempts to create a portrait — he’s just black, a single color, and it’s kind of hard to turn that into something geometrical-looking.
You also create dog portraits. Are there any differences between creating geometric images of cats as opposed to dogs?
Well, the eyes on a cat are more detailed and you can get a bit more expression, whereas the mouth on a dog is where the emphasis is and where the personality comes through. So, yeah, there is a difference in the way I emphasize certain parts of a cat’s or a dog’s face.
Have you ever had someone tell you that they don’t like one of your portraits because it looks too abstract?
No, I haven’t had anybody say that yet about a pet portrait, although I’ve had that complaint from someone who commissioned something very private for their home — and let’s just say he was very dissatisfied with the level of detail on a nude body.
What I would probably tell someone who complained about the style of a pet portrait is probably the same thing I told him: It’s an abstract piece of artwork, and there’s a point where you have to understand that it’s not a realistic painting. If someone said, “Hey, this doesn’t look like my pet,” I’d work around it. I’d also ask people to send me more photos so I can try and get the best result.
If someone wants to commission a cat portrait, what’s the best sort of photograph to base it on?
I find that with cats, it’s OK when they’re looking directly at the camera, but dogs shouldn’t be looking at the camera. Dogs have that snout, and when they’re looking directly at the camera head-on they tend to be somewhat indistinguishable from bears. It can be hard to render a dog in that pose in a way that looks different from any generic forest animal.
But with cats, I don’t really have a problem, because their eyes are so detailed and they have so much depth to their faces.
Halfhill has generously offered to give one lucky reader a 4-inch-by-6-inch portrait of his or her pet. It arrives in digital form, so the winner can print and frame it. The artist also will give the winner a 10-percent discount on any add-ons, which include upgrading to a fine-art or canvas printing, or even printing the portrait on a phone case or throw pillow. Catster readers who don’t win will still receive a 10 percent discount on his pet portraits and products by visiting this page on his site.
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About Phillip Mlynar: The self-appointed world’s foremost expert on rappers’ cats. When not penning posts on rap music, he can be found building DIY cat towers for his adopted domestic shorthair, Mimosa, and collecting Le Creuset cookware (in red). He has also invented cat sushi, but it’s not quite what you think it is.