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Custom Pet Portrait

Dog Portrait Review - A Merryvaluation
by Angie McKaig

After getting several portraits done of the princess over the years, here's what I've come to love best about custom pet portraits: getting an artist's take on Merry's unique personality, coloring, and sweet little face. Every portrait we've had done is different, capturing a different aspect of her personality while still allowing the fabulous style of the portrait artist to come shining through.

Alison Zapata is an artist who specializes in commissioned oil paintings including (but not limited to) pet portraits. Her style is warm and very personal - we knew she'd make a wonderful portrait of the princess.

The standard process for most portrait artists is to ask you for a few photos of your pet. Luckily, Merry has hundreds available (from her daily photo blog) - and when we review portrait artists, we like to "set them loose" in the archives of the blog rather than send photos to them. It helps to give us a feel of what the artist is like, what type of portraits they like to paint, their personal style. It was not surprising at all given our first impression of Alison to see that she picked a very close up, very intimate photo of the princess looking sweet and sleepy on a leopard blanket.

Remember, though, if you decide to have a portrait done, that you'll need to choose the photos yourself - you need to send at least a few, and they need to be clear and detailed. Your pet should take up at least two inches of the photo, so that Alison can see enough detail to base a portrait on it. Our tip: check out our guide to photographing your pet. The better your photos, the better the end portrait will end up being, because the artist will be able to get the information she needs to create a really spectacular painting.

Once the photo choices are complete (Alison will discuss these with you by phone or email to ensure everyone's happy with "the plan"), customers fill out an order form that details everything from the pet's attributes (eye color, breed) to details you might want in the finished painting (color, features). You also choose the size you'd like at this point - Alison offers a variety of rectangular sizes from 12x16 to 30x40, all very reasonably priced.

The order form and 50% of the deposit are then mailed to the artist so she can begin work. This is very standard - portraits are usually started with a percentage of the total price owing before work begins, with the balance to be paid after the piece is completed and you've seen photos of the finished product.

What we liked: work in progress photos! Not only does Alison offer photos of the work in progress, she actually "blogs" about them on her web site. This means you can check out existing works in progress and use that information to help you decide on style, color, and what sizes to buy.

No portrait is complete until both Alison and the client agree that they're satisfied. Ms. Zapata sent us photos of her completed portrait - it was lovely! We did suggest though that perhaps a little pink would work, since the pug does so love her signature color. A sign of a great custom portrait artist is flexibility, and Alison came through with shining colors, improving the finished piece even more by giving it a soft pink cast.

If there was one thing we could improve: the edges of each piece are painted last, from the looks of it, and a few places the paint went over the edge into the painting itself. Hopefully, this slight error will be fixed in future portraits.

In person, the painting is stunning. Merry's eyes seem to glisten, her sweet folds look like velvet, and the leopard blanket she's stretched out on looks touchably soft. The painting was also huge - that's why little Merry looks so tiny in the top photo! The finished piece measured 24 x 30 and is literally the first thing you see when you walk into the room.

(It's what every room needs! Bigger-than-life Merry!)

We were thrilled with the finished piece from Alison Zapata - this was a custom pet portrait we'll cherish for years.

You can find out more about Zapata Studios from their web site at 

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