Digital artist Jordan Gaunce lives in St. Louis with his wife Lisa and their imperious cat, Gary. When he’s not busy painting with pixels at creative studio Bruton Stroube, he delights pet owners by transforming their furry friends into stunning historic portraits to hang in their home.
Portrait Your Pet elevates our trusty companions to the royalty and grandeur in which we see them—and perhaps they perceive themselves!
Jordan first experimented using found images as the basis for portraits while working on a series called The Food Fighters: American Civil War on Food. After enjoying the process, he made a joke picture of his privileged cat, Gary. “One summer day I was putting away groceries when Gary, our cat, decided to plop right down on the bags—getting in my way and acting like he ruled the kitchen! I took a photo of his imperious expression. The next day I found a wonderful image of a historical portrait by the artist Francois-Xavier Fabre of a great French lord. So, Lord Gary of House Gaunce was born.”
Jordan’s tool of choice for creating this grand transformation was Affinity Photo for iPad. Check out the incredible video he made to see how it was done:
Setting up shop
It wasn’t long before friends, and friends of friends were asking to have their pets memorialized in a similar way. Jordan found demand increasing and after encouragement from a friend, decided to open an Etsy shop in 2017 to sell his stunning portraits.
The main goal of Portrait Your Pet is to capture a true likeness and make a living document that blends art history with the client’s own family history. After submitting three to four photos, Jordan invites them to share a little story or history about their pet including name, gender and personality—all important details for his work.
He then carefully chooses outfits and backgrounds based on the story and details his clients share. Before creating the final image, Jordan produces three sketches for review and at that time the pet owner chooses what the final outfit will be. A high quality 11”x14” Gallery Wrap Canvas is the final product Portrait Your Pet clients receive.
Sourcing historical images
To encourage learning of art history, many museums are now opening up their image libraries to the general public. “I have really enjoyed browsing the many portraits from all different time periods and from across the world. There is one quote I would like to share in regard to using found images…
“It’s not where you take things from—it’s where you take them to.”
“What inspires me with Renaissance to Neoclassicism painting and portraiture is the story telling, the landscapes, the rich colour, movement and dynamic compositions. Everything included in these portraits has a meaning and a reason for being there. Nothing is accidental, it is like the artist is leaving bread crumbs for us to follow in order to understand the whole story. It is up to the viewer to tie all the meanings together.”
Discovering Affinity Photo
In 2015 Jordan tried out the beta of Affinity Photo. He was so impressed he reached out to our creative director Neil Ladkin via Behance and a friendship was formed. But it was following the release of Affinity Photo for iPad that Jordan truly fell in love with Affinity Photo. “I love the functionality and feel of Affinty Photo. In my opinion, it was the first professional photo editing application with all the features I need and some new ones to explore, all on my iPad Pro. And because I travel a lot, this is my chance to be able to work from anywhere!
There are many things I really like. I like all the “on the fly” changes you can see when you scroll through filters. I am impressed with your brushes as well, the way I can control and make my own for what I need. I can change the shape and the angle of my brush tips to start creating custom fur brushes for my portraits, Affinity Photo makes this super easy on the iPad Pro.
But there is one tool I find to be powerful and amazing at controlling pixels without degrading them. It is the mesh tool. So useful and it moves like butter. The fact that I can control any facet of the mesh warp tool is awesome.”
Striving for perfection
Jordan is forever the observer, always looking at lighting, how reflective colour affects solid colour, how values give shape, and how it all affects temperature and mood in a setting, which is clearly evident in the detail and quality of his work.
He describes his process as ‘creating something from nothing’. “It’s like an uncarved block. You whittle away to give it form. My work is the same as the uncarved block. I build an image by adding to the subject, composition, values, colour theory, lighting, all of which are employed to get a reaction, feeling, emotion from the observer.”
So, how does Jordan achieve such amazing results? “The truth is, even though I really know my craft, I have to work at it, and you have to “feel” it out. It is the uncarved block after all. I am going to share one trick with you: sometimes you build the final work from just two images—and sometimes it could be as many as 100—but no matter how many sources you have, you must make sure that the shadows have the same value and hue. This one little move really helps make it all fall in line.”
For his work at Bruton Stroube, the source photos are arranged and taken by professionals. There are whole crews of people putting together ideal lighting situations with models and subjects, so the photos are already carefully considered.
With Portrait Your Pet the whole process is very different and, in some ways, more challenging—not all photos or mobile phones are the same. The lighting or colour can be off, there might not be information in the shadows, hi-lights can be blown out, and some photos are super low res (sometimes the photo is the only picture a client has of their pet who has since passed on). “Because I print these images at the end of the process, they really need to be the best they can be for my clients. And it is truly important to me to get their pet’s likeness correct—after all, they know their pet better than I do!
“So back to the uncarved block. My pet portraits look like they are really wearing the outfits because I paint them in. The pet’s lighting has to match the lighting of the original painting. I create shadows that have depth, I put colour and shape in the blown out hi-lights. If the original shadows on the pet are moving right to left and the painting the client chose had lighting and shading that moved from left to right, I have to burn and dodge or paint my way through it until it all matches. That is why Portrait Your Pet is so different from many other pet portrait services. It all comes together in the end, but it takes serious work.”
Jordan is passionate about animal welfare and donates a portion of the proceeds from Portrait Your Pet to support the wonderful work of local animal shelters. “There are so many important charities out there—and many that I support. But because Portrait Your Pet and my clients care about animals, it just made good sense to donate to rescues and shelters. My own pets have been from rescue centres and you really see how important it is to give so many abandoned and mistreated animals good homes. It is something that is near to my and my wife’s heart—and my clients’ hearts too.
I have also donated to youth art programs and auctioned off custom works from Portrait Your Pet. So far Portrait Your Pet has raised over fifteen hundred dollars in donations!”
You can check out more of Jordan’s stunning portraits, or even commission your own, via his Etsy shop Portrait Your Pet. As a Spotlight reader, you will receive a 20% discount!
You can see more of Jordan’s original work on his second Etsy shop Gauncer and at brutonstroube.com.
Jordan also features in our article The Garbage Pail Kids are alright! and the Affinity Photo Workbook, where you can follow his excellent food retouching tutorial ‘Grilled Cheese Pull’.