Portrait of Eli the Bunny

Gouache and Acrylic Ink Companion Animal Commission

Portrait of a painted bunny in a frame with a yellow business card from Ren S.K. Studio

Some of my favorite projects to work on are companion animal portraits. I like to call these pieces “companion animal portraits” instead of “pet portraits” since the word “pet” implies ownership over another being. I have great respect for people who treat animals as equals and family. It is truly an honor to portray people’s loved ones. In order to work on the subject’s likeness, I try to learn about their personalities beforehand. Thankfully, the people who have worked with me never have a shortage of details to share about their animal friends!

A Bunny’s Tale

Eli is a rescue bunny adopted from the Wonderland Rabbit Rescue in Melvindale, Michigan. He is a very big rabbit at about 10 pounds! Emma, who commissioned his portrait, wanted a holiday gift for her parents who had adopted Eli. Prior to his adoption, they rescued a small (at least compared to Eli) domesticated bunny wandering in their backyard, who they named Professor Bun. “The Prof” suspiciously appeared around Easter, making the couple wonder if he had been released as an unwanted gift. He lived with them until he passed a couple years ago. Since their house was now rabbit-proof, they could open their home to someone else in need! That’s when Emma’s dad found the Wonderland Rabbit Rescue and began volunteering there. Emma showed me a photograph of her dad when he was helping out at the rescue, holding Eli with both arms, the bunny snuggling right up him. Shortly after winning over her dad’s heart, Eli found his “furever” home with the family. He has been very independent since moving in and likes to nap around the house, his long body spread out in ease while laying on his belly.

The Artistic Process

Sketch of a bunny on watercolor paper with paint swatches to the right in ochres, reds and browns.
Background of bunny portrait inked in red, ochre and sienna - watercolor effect. Sketch of bunny in negative space.
Portrait of a painted bunny finished with gouache and acrylic ink outlines.

I have explored working with gouache and acrylic ink simultaneously. Gouache is an opaque watercolor with a slightly chalky matte finish. I really enjoy painting with gouache by layering – a different technique from other portraits I’ve done in the past with the pigment. I’ve been attempting to find a way to combine the best attributes of gouache and acrylic ink. I love ink for its flow and textures when applied to wet paper. Inks are a great contrast to the egg-shell flatness of gouache.

For Eli’s portrait, I chose a color palette based on the family living room’s color scheme where the portrait would be hung. Since he is such a large rabbit, I wanted to accentuate his size by having rectangular fields behind him. Breaking the fields made his size seem larger than if I had left the background a solid color.

To begin, I applied acrylic ink to wet watercolor paper. After drying, I painted Eli in the negative space with the gouache paint. I chose a limited color palette using colors found in the background mixed to make a mousy brown. After the gouache, I added in the best part, the outlines! This created contrast to really make him stand out from the background. I am finding that some gouache paints are waterproof while others are reconstituted with water. For layering ink on top of the paint, waterproof is best or the colors underneath will muddy if you add too much of the liquid ink. I learn every time I work with these materials.

I am thrilled to hear that Emma’s family enjoyed their portrait that was gifted to them for the holidays! It was truly an honor to create it. 🐇

Artist holding a framed portrait of a bunny