Bringing pet portraits to life is Taylor’s passion
There are dog owners, and then there are dog people. (And cat people and parakeet people and so on.) To people who know Taylor King, it’s pretty clear that she’s a dog person. As art director, design, here at Ologie, she’s usually designing brands for universities, museums, health systems, and more, though she also has a talent for drawing our floppy-eared canine friends.
Outside of designing brands, Taylor spends her time doing what she does best: drawing really cute pets. And by pets, we mean dogs. Because she’s dog people.
You draw incredibly detailed, amazing portraits. What inspired you to do pets and animals in particular?
I have always been an artist, and I’ve always enjoyed drawing things for people especially after they’ve lost someone or something. In lieu of a card, I’ve always sent a small drawing, just to say I’m so sorry for your loss or something like that. But dogs specifically, when me and my husband started dating, he had a dog named Natalie who was 15. She died the year we started dating, and she was just the best dog, and I loved her so much. It was the first time I felt a true connection to an animal that wasn’t my own. For Christmas that year, his parents commissioned us a drawing of her. I just sobbed, and I couldn’t believe how touched I was. It meant everything to me, we have it hanging in our bedroom, and it was the most special gift I was ever given.
I was like man, I could do that for somebody. I am pretty good at people, but I hadn’t practiced drawing dogs. Our coworker Ross Barton had a Pomeranian, so I sketched out a little drawing for him. He was so grateful, and I thought, “Oh this feels really good – it feels really good to draw things for people whose animals have died.” So I just started doing it more and more just as gifts. Not only did it make me feel good to give something to people, but drawing is my life’s passion. That is the thing that I was put on this earth to do, to draw (that’s how I feel).
Do you focus particularly on animals and pets that have passed? Is that your niche?
It’s both – so it’s just animals, animal lovers, people who love animals. I’ve definitely drawn more dead animals than I’ve had live ones that have been commissioned, and it’s mostly because of the sentimental aspect. (Editor’s note: it’s a lot less macabre than it sounds.)
My first few really big ones, my first paid ones, were dogs that were still alive. And those are for the real animal lovers. There’s something really beautiful about a handmade piece that you just can’t capture in a photo and that’s the boundary that drawings are able to break. There’s this level of sentimentality that they can provide that a photo can’t quite do. Especially for animals who have passed. That’s where it becomes really special, and that’s where I hope to become better with drawing, because I’m only as good as I am right now, but I will continue to grow. I hope to get good enough where I can create pieces for people who don’t have photos of their dogs, or who only have one old, blurry photo and the memory of them is all they have. If I can help bring that memory to life, that’s so special.
“That’s where I hope to become better with drawing, because I’m only as good as I am right now, but I will continue to grow.”
It’s almost like the photo can’t capture the personality of the dog as much, but if someone can tell you enough about them, you can draw that personality in?
A hundred percent. I had a commission from a woman who was an art critic and it was the most amount of revisions I’ve ever had on a dog drawing, I had to go back and erase half the drawing a couple times. It looked just like the photo to me, but to her it wasn’t quite the right eye expression, wasn’t quite the right mouth expression, she was able to really articulate what was wrong with it. It was so helpful. It made more work on my end sure, but I can’t be the one to tell her that her opinion of her dog’s face is wrong. It’s her memory, and if her memory is that it smiled a little bit more and its eyes were a little bit wider than in the photo, I have to honor that. Ultimately the drawing should capture the memory of the dog, especially if it has passed.
I know you use both colored pencils and Procreate. For your color pencil drawings, do you have a favorite material to use?
I currently use Faber-Castell Polychromos pencils, they’re one of the top in the category of colored pencil. The more I’m researching and learning, I’ve bought new sets of colored pencils every 6 months or so just to test out and figure out what I like. I’m still very very new at this. I’m very honored by how complimentary people are to me, but when you look at the world of pet portraiture, I am just like a tiny baby. There are people who — what they can do with a pencil is just absolutely mind blowing. I hope that I can continue to grow and get there eventually.
I have found that I love drawing on toned paper a lot, on a brown tone or a gray-toned paper. I think that the colors really pop nicely, it allows the highlights to really pop, and the shadows and depth … it just brings a lot of dimensionality to it when you use a toned paper. And drawing white dogs on white paper is my least favorite thing – it’s so hard. So that’s definitely an area where I struggle. As far as materials go, I’m still figuring out what my bonafide method is. And I think I will be, as long as technology is continuing to create new materials, I will forever be figuring out what my ‘official’ method is.
“As far as materials go, I’m still figuring out what my bonafide method is. And I think I will be, as long as technology is continuing to create new materials, I will forever be figuring out what my ‘official’ method is.”
So what’s the difference between your colored pencil drawings and Procreate?
We talked about buying an iPad for a long time, it’s a big investment, it’s really expensive. And I had held back on purchasing one for so long because I just didn’t think I’d be very good at it, and there’s something so special about a handmade piece on paper that you can’t get in a digital drawing.
But it arrived in the beginning of January, and I could not put it down for two weeks straight. Turns out it’s effortless to draw on an iPad – there’s so much room for play, and it’s okay if you screw up, because you can just erase it or undo. To me, there’s still not like, that handcrafted feel to it. So I’m loving doing both, though my digital drawings are so much faster, so I can whip those out at a faster rate.
Wacom tablets have been a thing for years, right, and I got really familiar with digital drawings on that in high school, and then I didn’t touch it for years. So I still had some baseline familiarity with how to draw on them, and really Apple makes their products so foolproof.
Walk me through the process of starting a pet portrait. How do you even begin to approach capturing their likeness?
It’s tough depending on what kind of photo I get. On my website, I have a whole page dedicated to photo requirements, and what I look for in a photo. I talk about the value of a high quality photo, and the higher the quality of the photo, the better the portrait you’re gonna receive. I do have advice on how to take the right photo if your pet is still alive, but in general, I give tips about choosing the best photos from what you have.
More often than not, I have a base photo that shows the general structure: the ears are in frame, the eyes are open enough, you can see expressions and highlights and lowlights. I don’t love face-on portraits, because then you have to create this forced perspective view and insinuate how the face falls back. I prefer a side-profile doggo, where you have an elongated nose, and you can capture a little more side details of the face. I think you capture more personality that way.
If the base photo is super blurry and out of focus, but the gist of it is all there, I’ll take the other photos that I like and say, “Okay this photo is a really good close up photo of the eyes, so I’ll use that to draw the eyes. And this one is a really good close up shot of that spot that’s on its head that I can’t really see in the base photo.” That’s another really key part about the pet drawings too — all the little tiny dots and color splotches — those are key in getting a dog’s facial expression right (and same with a human). If I were to draw you right now and I got your nose slightly skinny or slightly wider than it really is, to the general public it might look right, but to you and the people who know you, they’d be like “something is off, something is not right.”
It’s all in the teeny tiny details, making sure the size and the width of everything is as close to accurate as possible. There’s this other term in the art world called exaggeration, where it’s intentionally characterized, where you over exaggerate the eyes, or make the ears super ginormous, like a caricature, and that’s one type of drawing. But what I do is realism. And if I’m trying to make it look as real as possible, sometimes I have to take 5 different photos and just reference them over and over again until I get it right. Some dog drawings it’s really simple, and other ones, it’s a lot more time consuming. I have yet to make a really solid structure of exactly how I do it.
What’s next for King Pet Portraits?
Ultimately, my biggest fear is to get burnt out with this. I want to love drawing and I don’t want to come to hate it. I don’t want to hate drawing dogs, I want to still love drawing dogs. It’s nice that I have a job like Ologie that gives me the privilege to, turn it off, and say, “I need a month break where I can just not focus on it, do my own shit, and come back in a month.” I’m very privileged to have that option.
That’s really why I wanted to do video interviews. These are your passions, I don’t want to ask you to just fill out a form about it. That’s a quick way to dull that passion down.
I would have definitely been way more scripted had I typed this out. I would’ve waxed poetic about the fundamentals of the art process, but really it’s just this: I like drawing dogs. Most of them are dead. I posted a few to TikTok. Super cool. That’s the gist of what I’m doing right now.