Photographer to Illustration

Alex Cearns caricature


Alex Cearns is a world class photographer: That expression someone once said “every dog has a story“, continued with this project too. One of the big reasons my “Animal Behaviour” series exists is some four years ago, I was fortune enough to become companion to my dog, Honey. She, not only became a great friend and devoted head licker, but she also became the inspiration that brought life to the idea of drawing animals could have some meaning and fun!


Recently I had a new set of connections occur that brought me to this project. Dogs are always on my mind, as with a great deal of my social media friends. After a successful caricature project of a Facebook friend of mine (Elke Vogelsang) became popular through her followers, I received a lot of friend requests. One of which was the Australian based animal photographer; Alex Cearns. Little did I know that Alex herself had dogs and that the story would unfold.


Late in 2015 Alex contacted me after recent piece for the project called Celebrity Sunday was posted. This project idea was to try my hand at caricatures of notable people. It was all going well, and some months into the project I made a statement that in June I would make an attempt to do a posed caricature, to extend my range of the style and look of the project. This also came after I started to get a lot of attention from the series; especially from the acclaimed site Abduzeedo. So, sticking to my statement called upon Elke as a test subject for the first posed caricature. Alex loved what I did for Elke and asked if I could a similar piece for her and her two dogs; Pip and Pixel. So the next caricature was set, and after the recent Noise Reduction project I was confident about the look and feel.

The Stars

Alex and her dogs
The photographs have been given with kind permission to the respected photographers named in the copyright statement.
Alex, Australia’s leading  animal photographers and the Creative Director of Houndstooth Studio. Her images have won numerous awards and have been published widely in international print and online media, in books, magazines, campaigns, and in an Australia Post stamp collection. Inspired by the joy of working with animals, Alex’s philanthropy and passionate advocacy for animal rescue has earned her high regard among Australia’s population of animal lovers.

Pip, female, Kelpie Greyhound mix, 3 in dog years, wants for nothing, eats the best food, and frolics with her sister Pixel. She is incredibly smart and loyal, and her favourite pastime is chasing her Frisbee at the park.
Pixel, female, Greyhound, 2 years old, constant shadow, and is always a source of laughter and invoker of mischief. To Pixel, life is just full time fun and you go through it with fearless, reckless abandon, never wasting a minute.
Having dogs in my life is a wonderful part of realising this undescribable bond that we have with animals. Being able to draw and render them out as I do, is an extendion to this privilege, so having the opportunity to do a new caricature of Alex with her dogs was another chance to feel passionate about these animals. A real joy to render out and a chance to see a little beyond the photos and make the dogs live a little in the painting.
It’s very hard to explain sometimes, what drives a creative to continue working on a project, into the early hours, at first light, and at any given free moment. I think it has a lot to do with the passion that is transfered when the love of the subject matter is brought to life in a piece. The connection I have found in my own dog was a great motivation to want to make the best of this piece. To make the eyes alive, to make the expressions loveable and to really want to make you feel part of the piece. That is what makes a successful piece.


  • Client: Alex Cearns
  • Illustration Application: Photoshop CC
  • File size: 558.5Mbs/1.04Gbs (open)
  • Layers: 23 uncompressed
  • Dimensions: 19000x19000px
  • Hours (Pencil): 12hrs
  • Digital rendering: 72hrs
As with the Elke image, a few discussions with Alex resulted is several reference photos being sent. With Alex, the images were studio based, and so have better composition and lighting to not detract from the possible solution of the caricature. Most caricatures work well if they are literal conversions of a given photo, into a caricature.
Below are the chosen images used in the develpment of the sketch. The legs were added, and over several renderings the final pose was made to be as the render candidate.
Even though recently I made a purchase to buy a set of oil brushes to work in Photoshop with, I have developed a technique that suits my method of painting, and rely on one brush only for this painting style. The funny part is that it is not a brush that emulates a real brush, instead it is intended for fur. My thoughts were, as I can do multiple strokes it is much the same as a real brush, which is made up of hairs. To help the process along, I set the opacity and flow lower than 100%. This is to aid in the blending of colour at their cross-over points. It should be pointed out that these images, and this one in particular, are in the region of 19,000px wide.

As part of the process of every caricature I do, I prepare a screen capture from every possible interesting part of the image, as it’s being painted. I then collate these into an animated gif, hoping to help show the process by which I do my images.

Most of the time, I begin with the eyes and then complete the faces. As there were three face, you will see that these were all completed first before I attempt any of the other parts (although I do block in parts). The reason being is that the faces, and especially the eyes, are a focus on a viewers captivation of an image. So if these are weak then the rest of the image will fail.
Although Alex loved the Elke caricature I did and used that as the basis for the commission, I felt a need to be a little more subtle. Saying that I did give Alex two examples in sketch form of her face. One subtle and the other an extreme caricaturisation. Alex agreed with me and we moved forward with the subtle version. Even though the whole of the trio are black, it may have seemed easy to paint, but the subtle aspects of highlights was crucial in the black to make the images work well.
Pixel had a great character in several of the images that were given for reference, and after a little discussion it was decided to go with this pose. Mainly as it showed a slight side to her face that was more charismatic. The great thing about the dog is it has this amazingly shiny coat which made the rendering both a little hard, but at the same time rewarding.
Pip again, was a black dog, so the efforts to maintain that shiny coat was a main concern, but the face had a very characteristic stare in the eyes, which brings great focus to the dog. I altered the perspective of the dog as not to have the composition be too horizontal.

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all work copyright © Rob Art | illustration 2023

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