catherin river and kitCatherin McMillan has over a dozen years’ experience as a professional portrait artist of both four legged and human subjects.  She has exhibited throughout Australia as well as exhibiting in the USA as part of an Australian/ American joint exhibition. A winner of numerous awards her work can be found in private collections throughout Australia as well as Internationally..  She is the owner of Animal Art House portraits.


Images or photos – Picking what you want:

Now this can be the most exciting bit, which image to use and let’s face it if you’re crazy about your horses like I am about mine, you will have heaps of images in your head.

Everybody has a favourite image of their horses that they adore and whilst these can be great photos, however they don’t always create a great works of art..  Sadly just the way it is..

So ask your chosen artist their opinion of the photo you have in mind.  Be open and prepared to accept their opinion remember you are going to them to get a service and they want to do their best for you. So some times that photo of Dobbin just isn’t going to cut the mustard as a portrait..

For this reason it’s always a good idea to send through a selection of images and hey it’s ok to mark which is your favourite image. This is something I insist upon with my clients..


Favourite photo example that’s not suitable.. photo isn’t clear and the horse is with no definition at all on her head.. so not suitable for a portrait .. Though you may be happy with it as a snap shot photo



That favourite image usually depicts Dobbin in a particular moment in time perhaps winning a champion ribbon or even capturing his quirky behaviour..

Let your artist know why you have chosen this particular photo as your favourite and whilst it may not be suitable to create a portrait from. The artist may well be able to composite some of the others together to capture something similar or ever better. Or perhaps they may see something in one of the other photos that you haven’t quite seen.  Remember many artists are very adept at taking part of an image and scaling I up to show something beautiful what may have been mundane for any number of reasons.

Ok so you’ve chosen your favourite photo. It’s the exact stance you’re looking for but its not showing the correct coat colour or perhaps the eye isn’t open enough, or the ears are slightly out of kilter.  Most artists are more than happy to composite images together to create the ideal image of your horse.

correct colour

Melody’s true colour less orange

incorrect colour

Photo shows Melody’s coat colour as a rich coppery orange












Make sure if the photo you wish to have depicted isn’t showing the right coat colour that you let the artist know up front…The artist may sadly not know your horse and most of us artists only ever dream of meeting our subjects in person… being flown off, around the world to paint our subjects first hand.. lol but I digress into fantasy land .. Ok back to reality..

For example the chosen photo may show up old Smokey as a dark grey when in fact he is almost black? Yet in one of the other photos you have forwarded shows Smokey’s coat as just right for the colour.  So it is easy enough to note that photo A is my favourite with photo B showing Smokey’s true coat colour and not all the mud he had rolled in.

The more information you can provide the more we artists have to work with…I personally feel that the more information I have to work with the better..  Maybe not down to what he has for breakfast but things about their personality are they proud, funny or stand offish..

And very importantly for me, is the name of your horse.. I love to talk to portraits as I’m working.. Call me crazy but hey it works for me and I’m sure I’m not the only artist that does this… it helps me focus on the subject at hand.

Immortal portraits  

In the case of an immortal or posthumous portrait sadly it’s not always possible to have the perfect photo or image as they may have passed a number of years ago.  The image may be discoloured from age or out of focus.. Or even quite tiny (so for this reason images off you phone aren’t usually suitable please check with the artist)

Some artists charge extra when working with images of poor quality. This is due to the difficulty they present for the artist in question to see all the details required to create your portrait… your personal vision of what it should look like hanging on your wall.

But don’t panic, the majority of artists love a challenge.. If you been following my blog you’ll recognise those words nothing like a challenge.. But there are challenges and then there are challenges.

Sadly we can only work so much magic but my magic is pretty strong.

great pic



Clear photo showing lights and darks.  A very workable image.




Dark unreadable image…horse not distinguishable…sadly not usable.

For this reason always try to send clear images the higher the resolution the more the artist has to work with.. Especially if it’s a realistic portrait your aiming to have created..

Images can always be placed on a disc and posted rather than emailed, so ask their preference for how these images should be sent..   The devils in the detail, for me the more detail to work with the happier I am.. Though this does vary from artist to artist..

An important think to do is Make a copy for your self as a back up. Then if the CD should go astray in the post it is a simple matter of just copying another. If you are sending original photos make sure the artist is going to copy them and not be handling your precious irreplaceable images whilst creating your portrait..   There would be nothing worse than having your memory photos returned to you with paint on them.

If I receive original film photos which is usually the case for an immortal portrait I always scan the photos and work from the copies tucking the originals safely away to be returned with the portrait..

Ask that your photos or CD be returned with your portrait. Whilst in my studio this is the case (unless instructed by my clients not to) it may not be standard with others.

So ask…. Remember questions are good…. No question is silly they almost all have answers…

And the more photos you can send through the better though try to make sure they are along the lines of what you are hoping your portrait to look like… I once had a client send me through images of their canine and 4 of them where rear end shots.. Ok so the little dog had a lovely rear. But they where after a portrait of his head ?????

If you taking new photos from scratch of your beauty… A good hint is to look at taking those photos around the 9.30 am mark this is when the colours show up the truest.. The later in the day you take them the more yellow that appears in the coat…

Make sure you have the sun behind your back so the light falls on your horses coat allowing the highlights to show through the lights and darks that are just a joy to bring to life on the paper… I’m drooling just thinking about all those nuances’ of tone.. Sorry that’s just the artist in me coming out..

Lastly if your going to use a professional photographers image to have your portrait created from.. Seek their permission first…. Photographs like artwork carry a copyright which means they can’t be reproduced with out permission…

Most photographers (well at least those I know personally) are happy for you to use the photos they have taken for a portrait… It’s a curtsy to ask.

Next time .. so what are you looking for and what to expect to pay…..