A few months ago one of my partner's work collegues got in touch to ask about making him a very special toy. He wanted a large cuddly beagle for his partner - but not just any beagle, a specific beagle. His beagle!
Sadly, I deleted all the reference photos except this one, but look at this beautiful lady!
I've done a few pet portraits in the years, and they're always tricky because capturing the essence of your four legged friend is not the same as just following a pattern - everything's a little bit different, whether it's the ears or the eyes or (in this case) the charming patches of white on her face and snout.
Not only did he want a cuddly representation of his beloved pooch, but he also wanted a very specific fabric he'd spotted on my social media - the Alexander Henry tattoo flash cotton that continues to be popular! On that front, there were no problems. I already have several variants of it in stock, and I've made plenty of inked up keepsakes in the past.
Appliqué tattoos are becoming a little bit of a speciality now - maybe I should take this idea a little further in my spare time (Spare time, who am I kidding, I'll just file it away with the rest of my wish to-do list). My Alexander Henry fabrics come in black, sepia tan and cream - which is perfect because so do beagles! I started with my basic dog pattern, adding some bigger ears and adding the shape of the head simple.
I should really do in progress shots for some of these stages, but I never remember to.
Adding the black patch across her back was the easy part - it's very similar to draping on a dressform but with plush cuddle instead of satin or cotton. Plush cuddle is a perfect fabric too, not only is it super soft and tactile but it doesn't need a hem!! Perfection. I spent so much time folding it under as I stitched it before I realised it didn't need me too.
To be honest, with a commission like this, it is all about the face. I ended up hand-stitching most of the plush elements of her head and face. I had to resize and move her ears about three times before they rested the way I wanted them too. In the beginning I made them way, way too big because beagle ears are heavenly, but by the time I was finished - they are everything!
The inside of the ears were tattooed as well - because this older lady is a badass.
When it came to making decisions about the colouring of her face, I was torn between representing what we think of as a classic beagle colouring, and wanting to make her look as much like the subject matter as possible. In the end, I draped the fur onto the whole of the face with the arrow shape of her head at the top. I also added the white muzzle which gave me an opportunity to sculpt the shape of her muzzle, give it a bit more definition on the chin and around the nose.
The smile of this lovely lady was hand-stitched, and wrapped with embroidery thread to create a raised effect.
The eyes were a little bit of a problem. I have yet to find any safety toy eyes that glint and sparkle like real eyes too, that have depth in them. I have a lot of beautifully painted eyes, but I'm still on a quest. In the end I picked some dark blue clear plastic eyes, and painted the dark details in myself, after adding the black and dark brown around the eyes. You know how dogs can get those dark, wet patches around their eyes, like they're holding all their love in their eyes? I added those first, and the end result of layering darkly detailed eyes over black plush meant that the majority of the details got lost - but there was just enough depth in them that I was happy. Unfortunately for me, they didn't photograph the same way they appear in life.
I knew the face needed a bit more dimension, and who can resist those puppy eyes made even more manipulative by big slanting eyebrows? I pinned them in place, but my partner wasn't convinced. I ignored him, and I'm glad I did - I think they added a crucial detail to her face! I would have liked to have gone further with the detailing, maybe done some more fading around her eyes, some tones in-between the dark brown and cream - or even some hand embroidery stitching, but another idea, another day.
Lastly came the patches of white on her muzzle. I was originally going to leave the snout white and the forehead cream, but I kept coming back to the photo of her in the kitchen and thinking how obvious the shapes of white fur were - almost like swirls! I changed the spacing a little bit, simplifying the shapes and using the space on the canvas rather than worrying about the proportions of the original (artistic license, it's a handy tool).
Overall, this was a great commission - it had a lot of small challenges, and gave me a lot of ideas to play with and develop and I'm very excited to continue with some of the new ideas I have to play with.
Oh, wait - who's this?
Um, excuse me sir, you're on my head.
Quiet you - branches don't talk. And they certainly don't complain!
(Stay tuned for more on this little red breast!)