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Artist's and their Pets

Updated: Jan 19

Animals have long since been the subject of artists’ work. Since the earliest humans first started drawing on cave walls, the animal kingdom has served as as a boundless source of inspiration to artists, using them literally or figuratively, artists impressions of animals remind us not only of themselves, but also of the qualities and traits we assign to them. Paintings, sculptures, books, and other media depict subjects and stories inspired by animals of all kinds. Some, like that of Frida Kahlo, are more autobiographical.

Me and My Parrots, 1941

While others are mere abstract renderings of furry creatures. Much like David Hockney shown above with his beloved dachshunds, the love, companionship, and beauty of a pet has the ability to inspire creativity in all forms.

A Brief History of Animal Art

Drawing and painting animals has always been a popular subject for artists throughout history. At least 45,500 years ago, humans painted pigs in ochre. These pigs pre-date any equivalent depictions in Europe by more than 5,000 years.

  • Stone Age men decorated their caves with the images of the animals that they hunted for food.

  • Ancient Egyptian artists depicted many of their gods with the heads of animals.

  • Tribal artists from every continent combined animal and human features to symbolize man's bond with his natural environment.

  • Artists In the Middle Ages used mythical beasts to decorate medieval manuscripts while commonplace creatures often took on secret symbolic associations.

  • In the 12th century, medieval scholars formalized certain readings by publishing the Bestiary—an illustrated guide that offered both natural history and moral associations for a wide range of creatures.

  • During the Renaissance, artists including Leonardo da Vinci would formulate their own versions of the Bestiary; and in the 16th century, Venetian masters including Titian would further this tradition, creating their own works featuring symbolic animals.

Leonardo da Vinci, Lady with an Ermine (Portrait of Cecilia Gallerani), ca. 1489–90 - animal’s inclusion in Leonardo’s 15th-century portrait of the less-than-chaste Cecilia Gallerani, mistress to the Duke of Milan. The painter may have been nodding to the duke’s recently awarded insignia for the Order of the Ermine, or making a sly reference to his lover’s last name (Gallerani bears a resemblance to galay, the Greek word for ermine).

Titian, Madonna with Rabbit, c. 1530. - The rabbit’s long-standing reputation for fecundity made it an easy symbol for lust. As such, it often accompanies Venus in Renaissance paintings; pairs of rabbits or deer populate the corners of Titian’s erotic paintings.

  • 17th century artists painted hunting scenes that illustrated dramatic life and death struggles between man and beast.

Peaceable Kingdom by Edward Hicks

  • 18th century artists chose to celebrate the natural beauty and majestic power of animals in their natural habitats.

George Stubbs - Cheetah with two Indian servants and a deer

  • 19th century Victorian artists painted sentimental pictures of their domestic pets and livestock.

Charles Burton Barber specialized in sentimental paintings of children and animals.

The impressionists in France, however, looked at animals with a much less sentimental eye. The Father of impressionism, French artist, Édouard Manet liked to tackle modern and postmodern-life subjects, and several of his contemporary portraits included pets.

Other impressionist artists like Renoir, Monet and Gauguin also painted every day scenes, which sometimes included the pets that shared their homes and the homes of their friends.


Paul Gauguin

Franz Marc (1880-1916) made animals his primary subject. A painter and printmaker affiliated with Der Blaue Reiter group. Marc was an extraordinary colorist, and was influenced by Cubism and his fellow German German Expressionists. He died in World War I. Marc wrote: "Is there a more mysterious idea for an artist than to imagine how nature is in the eyes of an animal? How does a horse see the world, how does an eagle, a doe, or a dog? It is a poverty-stricken convention to place animals into landscapes as seen by men; instead, we should contemplate the souls of the animal to divine its way of sight."

Animals in a Landscape, 1914

Four Foxes, 1913

Animal Legend, 1911

More Artists below and their beloved pets....


Norman Rockwell

Rockwell: A Boy and His Dog

Self-Portrait with Dogs - Edvard Munch

Tea - by Henri Matisse (Close up)

Andy Warhol

Paul Klee and his cat

Joan Brown Retrospective at SF MOMA

Little did we know when we selected our monthly theme that there would be a retroscpecitve exhibition at SF MOMA of the San Francisco based artist and art educator, Joan Brown. Caroline attended this with a friend who was a student of Joan's at Berkeley. Imagine her delight when she encountered this huge canvas in the lobby of the exhibition - Joan and her beloved cat.

Throughout the exhibition you will find painting after painting of her close relationship and love for her pets.

Some are whimsical, but the next image I found thought provoking as it shows Joan's self portrait surrounded by things she holds dear to her in her life including her children and her animals.

This is a must-see for anyone able to go to the museum while the show is still on.

Drawing Pets using Pen and Ink

In this workshop and clasas series we explored different ways of using pen and ink to draw our pet pals. This resulted in some outstanding work. It also resulted in our learning about different types of drawing, such as illustrative drawing, graphic art, cartooning, comic strip and even simply animation for our iPad artists.

This drawing was done using a brush pen and then colored in with Caran d'Ache pastels afterwards. We encourage you to experiment in this way.

Types of pens

There are many different types of pens. The most popular is the technical pen which has a straight line that doesn;t waver in size. There are many brands, but the one we use is Micron pens which come in different colors and widths. I personally use a larger width (08 or 10) but Katy used smaller (o5). It is personal. So go into an art store where you can try them out.

Brush pens also come in all different varieties. A good brand is Picma who make an excellent brush pen, but I also use the much less expensive KOI brush pens which comes in different colors, although I like just the black and a light and mid gray.

We also love using traditional nib pens with india ink used down the centuries. You can select different nibs,m and these are used for alligraphy nowadays, although we love using them for drawing. The quiet swish they make is so relaxing!

Best ink to use is Dr. Ph Martens black india ink. But make sure to set up your space so the ink doesn't drip or topple overl. I put my ink in a lid and I place it along with the pen on a separate card which I use to test the pen before drawing. This ensures no unhappy accidents occur which can ruin your carpet as this cannot be removed! It is indelible.

We also tested colored inks, but they are rather expensive and a better solution is rto just use watercolors. This required, however, that you draw on a paper that will allow water to be added.

When it comes to paper choices, the best as far as pen and ink is concerned is bristol which is smooth and used for illustration. But there is another interesting paper called RENDR by Crescent (available at Blick) which is non show through and smooth, yet will allow watercolor. You an also use a mixed media paper.

We also love drawing with white pens, the by far the best brand is the Sigma Uniball white which is available through Amazon. We used a black smooth paper for this and it works perfectly.

We also experimented with a bamboo pen which is rather fun to use and available through Blick.

For our digital artists, the pens on Procreate are great, but also on SketchClub, Art Set and ArtRage. So check these out. This image was created using pens on Procreate and was inspired by Joan Brown.

That about wraps it up and we do hope you will share your work!

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