Custom Pet Portraits: How to choose the perfect background color


Whenever I do a custom pet portrait, before I even put paint to paper, I always ask the customer, "Do you have a preference in background color". 90% of the time the answer back is "My walls are biege." or green or blue, or whatever color you couch is. Some will even send me a photo of their furniture.

Art is not a piece of furniture. Do you really want a portrait of your Yellow Lab to have a beige background and hang on your beige wall? Or a white Great Pyrenees, with a white background hanging on your white wall? Just because it matches the decor? You didn't choose your pet because Sparky's coloring went perfectly with your sofa. You chose Sparky for his bubbly personality. Why shouldn't his portrait have personality too?

Here's a little hint... the color of your walls shouldn't matter. It's a painting, not an ottoman. I only care what color Sparky is. I only care about giving you the best pet portrait I can. And that means matching the background to Sparky's coloring. Having colors that work well together.  Not all backgrounds work with all colorings.

Here's where the color wheel comes into play. Every artist has one.

There are many ways to use a color wheel to find different color combinations that work well together. Triadic, analogous (don't ask me how to pronounce it), split complimentary.....

But today, we are going to talk about "Complimentary" colors. The color wheel is broken down into 12 colors, all laid out like numbers on a clock. To find the complimentary color of say, yellow, just draw a straight line across the center of the wheel. Eg... the complimentary of Yellow is Purple.

"But Sparky is brown, I don't see that color on the wheel." Not a problem, brown is just a darker more subdued form of red or orange. The complimentary color would be blue or green. So if you want Sparky's portrait to "pop", I mean really "pop", choose a background color that is complimentary to his coloring.


Complimentary colors don't just work well for pet portraits, they are everywhere. From the colors of your favorite sports teams.

To that house in your neighborhood that gets all the compliments.

Are complimentary colors the ONLY way to go. Absolutely not! If you want a brown background with brown dog because it absolutely has to match the colors of the couch, I can make it work. I may try to talk you out of it, but I can make it work.

But if you want Sparky's portrait to really jump off the wall, complimentary colors are a good way to go. When it doubt, you can always ask me for suggestions. It is your portrait, it will be hanging on your wall. I will paint it any color you like, but I am more than happy to offer suggestions to make it the best pet portrait it can possibly be.




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  • Nabil @ SketchGrowl Pet Portraits

    By the way, if my email doesn’t work – please use the contact form at

  • John

    I have never seen such amazing and beautiful pet portraits before :)

    Great work, I’ll definitely make sure to take a look at your Etsy page (if you have one?).

    Have a wonderful day, and make sure to let me know, Ron!

    I’m actually a pet portrait artist myself, but I’m nowhere near as good as you.

    I only work in Photoshop.

    SketchGrowl Pet Portraits

  • Angela Waterford

    Wow, I didn’t know that pet portraits also rely on complimentary colors. However, I think I’ll give my sister a simpler gift for her birthday, so I might commission an artist to do a graphite portrait of her cat. She’s white anyway, so the artist will probably still be able to capture her essence with plain colors.

  • Heather Holler

    My husband just opened his birthday gift from our Great Pyrenees Gracie and he is still smiling. Gracie is pure white, has smiling eyes and a huge smile and looks just like the happy pyr in your awesome print!

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