Julia Malcolm - pet portrait and wildlife artist

Pastel portraits by Julia Malcolm

Portrait of two dogs in pastel

Gus and Solo

I prefer to use Rembrant or Conte pastels in my work. These are medium to hard dry pastels, as opposed to children' oil pastels you may be more familiar with. Dry pastels lend themselves to fine blending of colours which is often required for multicoloured animal coats. Placed on their side they can be used to fill in a large coat area while a fine line can be obtained by chipping the pastel itself and using the exposed edge or using Conte pastel-pencils. I also find it useful to finish a portrait with Faber-Castel pencils, using the ultrathin pencil tip for the very fine detail and hairs.

Portrait of a cat in pastel


Portrait of a group of horses in pastel

Shiloh and company

Coloured pastels are great for coloured animals, especially ones with complex coat patterns and colours. Both short and long coats work well in pastel. Using artist grade acid free paper, I begin with a dark base colour and then continue adding highlights until the subject I'm drawing appears to stand out in 3D. I generally spray the portrait with an artists grade fixative which is acid free, to ensure the pastel is fixed to the paper. However, I do not fix the final layer and highlights because this can dull the pastel. Instead, I leave the last unfixed details as brilliant and translucent as possible. All pastel drawings require a mat border and glass when framing.

Portrait of a dog in pastel


The colour of the paper is important when choosing a pastel portrait. There are many colours available and usually several colours are a suitable match for the portrait subject. It is also important to consider the style and colours in the home where the portrait will hang and perhaps even other pictures hanging. I am always happy to lend a hand when choosing paper colours. If working on a full body portrait I will shade under the animal to give the appearance that he/she is lying or sitting on a surface. I can add different surfaces such as cloth, grass, silk, a box or anything else you would like.