If you’d asked me when we adopted our mixed breed rescue dog, Duncan, whether I ever thought we’d commission a custom pet portrait of him, I would have laughed and said, “This dog? As if.”

Like many rescues, Duncan didn’t settle right into his new home. During that first week, he was skittish, scared, and spent a lot of time hiding from us. And even though everyone hoped to snap and share photos of our newest family member, Duncan avoided us all like the paparazzi. 

He got so good at dodging the camera, most of our “puppy’s first” photos were just a blur of fur. And even when we did get a clear picture, it was usually of him ignoring us — a classic pose we called the “Duncan Diss.”

Picture of Duncan the dogavoiding the camera

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Thankfully, Duncan warmed up to us after a couple of days. Though he’s still not big on photos. We’ve managed to get a good picture now and then over the years — but they’re pretty few and far between. 

So when I started seeing lots of cute cat paintings, dog paintings, and pet portraits on social media, I thought a custom, hand-painted portrait would be a great way to celebrate our beloved (but camera-shy) canine. For my commission, I chose to work with Paint Your Life — a leader in the realm of custom artwork for people and pets alike. Here’s everything I learned about personalized pet portraiture along the way.

What is Paint Your Life? 

Photo and painting for Paint Your Life

Whether depicted upon cave walls, papyrus, or canvas, pet portraits have been around for as long as companion animals, themselves. But, until recently, custom pet paintings were largely out of reach for most pet parents — either due to cost or the sheer complexity of commissioning an artist and overseeing the project. 

Paint Your Life was founded in 2006 with a singular mission: to make personalized, high-quality, one-of-a-kind artwork created by trained artists a possibility for everyone. The company partners with over 300 professional portrait artists from around the globe who work in a broad range of media to transform your pet photos into a beautiful custom masterpiece. That’s no small feat! The user-friendly Paint Your Life website and dashboard make it super simple, guiding customers through every step of the creative process to ensure you get a finished product worthy of your beloved dog or cat.

How Does Paint Your Life Work?

Dashboard for Paint Your Life order

Paint Your Life specializes in capturing all of life’s most precious moments, so you can commission portraits featuring people, pets, people and pets, special events, locations, and more. But we’re going to focus on the pet portraits here, so you can learn how the commission, customization, proof, and creation stages work, whether you’re in the market for a pet memorial gift or simply a one-of-a-kind tribute to your one-of-a-kind pet.

  1. Select Subject – Click the “Get Started” button anywhere on the Paint Your Life website to choose your subject. This is where you’ll decide whether you want your portrait to feature a single pet, multiple pets, or pets and people. For paintings featuring multiple subjects, the website limits you to no more than 20 subjects. But you can reach out to customer service to see if an artist can accommodate a larger group.
  1. Select Medium – Next, you’ll choose what medium you want the artist to work in. All media are priced the same, so it comes down to personal preference. Choose from: oil, charcoal, acrylic, watercolor, colored pencil, pastel, or black pencil. You’ll see examples in each medium, which makes it easy to pick the one you like best.
  1. Select Artist & Background – You can choose a specific PaintYourLife pet portrait artist based on examples of their work, or allow the company to choose the best artist for you. Then select the original background from the photo you provide, a solid color (from 10 different hues), or allow the artist to decide. In this step, you can also opt to receive a 2-minute time-lapse video of the artist creating your work of art, for an additional fee of $99.

We chose a pet portrait painting in traditional oils to complement some of the other art in our home. 

  1. Upload Photo – Drag or upload the digital image you’d like the artist to recreate. If you’re not sure what type of image to use, you can upload a few and have the artist tell you which one would work best. And for an additional fee, you can commission a portrait that uses multiple images. There’s also a space to include special instructions. 

Our family has only one photo of Duncan “smiling,” from a memorable day hike we took to a gorgeous waterfall. So that’s the one we picked. It wasn’t the highest quality image (because it’s Duncan, there’s a little blurring, of course). But I checked with the artist and felt better once I got the OK.  

  1. Select SizeSizes range from 8-by-10 inches to 48-by-72 inches. You can also enter different dimensions to create a custom size. Note, framing is only available for portraits up to 24-by-36 inches.
  1. Pay 20 Percent – For an artist to begin working on your pet portrait, you’ll need to pay 20 percent of the total at this point. You won’t have to pay for the balance until you review and approve the finished painting.
  1. Approve or Modify Digital Proof – Within a few days, you’ll receive an email notifying you that your digital proof is ready for you to review. This isn’t your portrait. It’s a rendering of what your image would look like in the medium you choose. This is your chance to ask for any changes you’d like before the artist begins working on your commission. There’s no limit to the number of revisions you can request, so feel free to tweak away until you’re happy with the proof.
  1. Approve or Modify Your Finished Portrait – You’ll follow the same process once you are notified that your finished portrait is ready for your review and approval. You can still ask for modifications at that stage, but not large changes, like a new artist or additional subjects.

Once you approve your animal portrait, you can select from a wide range of frame styles, materials, colors, and finishes. Then it ships to you, and the only thing left is to unbox and enjoy your pet portrait!

Our Paint Your Life Experience

Duncan the dog with framed painting from Paint Your Life

Overall, I was impressed with the Paint Your Life process, from start to finished masterpiece. The website was easy to use and offered a good deal more customization and outside-the-box options than other pet portrait companies I’ve considered. You can even have the Paint Your Life team compile an image based on multiple sources.

I liked the fact that I could choose from a wide variety of portrait materials and artists. In the end, I decided to let the company pick which artist could do the best job with my portrait, and the results were amazing. 

This was no small investment, so I appreciated that I could ask for as many modifications as I wanted. However, when it came time to review my digital proof, there was only one thing I wanted to change. Due to the quality of the original photo, there was an odd highlight on Duncan’s eye that made it look a bit squished. It was easy to point it out on the proof. You can link to the exact spot on the image you want to be modified and even include attachments. 

I wasn’t sure “squished eye” was clear enough, so I sent an image for comparison. The artist got right back to me with a revision and I was able to approve the new image immediately.

Things We Like About Paint Your Life

  • Beautiful, original work of art, not a quick adaptation
  • Variety of media and sizes
  • Choose your own artist and communicate directly with them
  • Easy to order, review proof, make revisions
  • Unlimited modifications
  • Free standard shipping on most orders, expedited shipping for a fee 
  • If you’re not 100% satisfied with the portrait, they’ll redo it or refund your money

Things to Consider

  • Artistic standards are higher than most competitors, but so is the price
  • Fees for “extras” can add up fast
  • Hard to evaluate the color and finish of the frame options online

Is a Paint Your Life Pet Portrait Worth It?

Duncan the dog smiling and happy

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For better or for worse, our family doesn’t often splurge on expensive items unless there’s an obvious benefit that justifies the cost. When it comes to Paint Your Life, the quality of the artwork and the attention to detail were so far above and beyond the competition, any potential regrets flew out of my head the minute I unwrapped the finished piece. 

Commissioning a custom dog portrait isn’t something you do every day of the week. So I’m glad I paid a little extra to get a portrait that really captured the essence of our camera-dodging dog. And the feedback we’ve gotten from family and friends confirms we made the right choice.

The only words of advice I’d offer if you’re considering a custom pet portrait from Paint Your Life is to think strategically about the size of the finished product. If I had to do it over again, I would choose a smaller size canvas to fit the space better. 

Because you don’t choose your frame until later on in the process, it’s hard to gauge what size canvas will work best when you don’t know the frame options. Paint Your Life does offer a handy frame mockup tool, so you can get a sense of how your finished product will look, but it’s a bit challenging to see the true colors and finishes online. 

Still, our family was really happy with the finished painting, and I couldn’t be more impressed with the overall experience. So whether you have a cat or dog worthy of a masterpiece, or  you’re looking to celebrate a life well lived with the perfect pet loss gift, Paint Your Life gets two thumbs up from us…and four paws up from Duncan (who hopes this means he’s off the hook for any future photos).