Kevin Halfhill creates pet portraits. Working in the digital medium, he takes provided photographs of beloved dogs and transforms them into vivid geometric renderings. It’s a process that presents canines in a colorful and an abstract-leaning fashion, while still capturing the dog’s inner character.
Currently based in Germany after a stint in California, Kevin talked to us via Skype about the technical tricks of his geometric process, common issues with dog portraiture, and tips on capturing your own dog in his most dignified pose.
Dogster: How did you get into making portraits of dogs?
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 come out.” I think they came out kind of nice, and people seemed to want them.
Can you remember the first dog portrait you created?
I had a roommate in California, maybe 10 years ago, and she had had a Pit Bull and a Bullmastiff, and they were close to me because I lived there. The dogs both passed away, probably three or four years ago, so she asked me to do a portrait of Judge and Baboo. It’s kind of a dual portrait — on the left there’s a big brown bear-looking dog, and on the right there’s a Pit Bull.
What are the biggest issues with turning photos of pets into geometric portraits?
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 and I like the challenge. But when, for example, people have pets who are multi-colored — like a calico or a tabby cat — it’s a lot easier for me to create the artwork than with a plainer-looking animal. I had a Schipperke, for example, when I lived in California, and I’m really dissatisfied with my attempts. I have not yet done a portrait of the dog because he’s just black, a single color, and it’s kind of hard to turn that into something geometrical-looking.
Are there any tricks to get around the problem?
The only thing I’ve found that I like (but that I haven’t presented it publicly yet, mainly because I’m not sure people will like it), is to just completely change the color of the animal and make it a very abstract piece. I’ve considered making my dog random-colored triangles as opposed to just black. I’m not sure I’ve found a way to present that to people, though — I’ve been concentrating on basing the art on how the animal looks, and I haven’t had any complaints so far.
You also create cat portraits. What’s the main difference between creating a portrait of a dog and a cat?
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.
How do people usually react when they see a portrait of their dog?
Positively! I don’t post too much of the art publicly, but when I have I’ve had people asking how much something is and saying it looks cool and asking how long it takes to make. People have a lot of questions about the process, but the interest has all been positive. I’ve also had local shelters that I’m familiar with, and some rescue organizations get in touch when they do things like have a National Pit Bull Day, and we try and promote each others’ causes; they receive a portion of proceeds.
Finally, if people want to commission a portrait of their dog, what’s the best sort of photo they can base it on?
Dogs shouldn’t be looking at the camera directly. Because they have that snout, when they’re looking directly at the camera head-on, they tend to be somewhat indistinguishable from bears! It can be kind of hard to render a dog in that pose in a way that looks different from any generic forest animal.
So dogs should be slightly inverted to the camera or in profile. You’ll notice if you look at some of the dog portraits I’ve done so far, none of them are looking at the camera, and they’re all a little askance.
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. Dogster readers who don’t win will still receive a 10 percent discount on his pet portraits and products by visiting the Dogster discount page on his website.
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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.