Meet the illustrator behind What’s My Dog Thinking?

What does it really mean when a dog rolls over and shows their tummy? Or chews on your favorite pair of slippers?

What’s My Dog Thinking? has the answer. Drawing on the latest research in dog psychology, this book reveals the secret meanings behind more than 80 canine habits—and includes charming, informative illustrations throughout of pups on their best (and worst) behavior. We had the chance to catch-up with the creative mind behind the gorgeous drawings, Toronto-based artist Mark Scheibmayr, who gave us a look at his art process, and some of the furry-friends that inspired his illustrations.


What led you to decide to specialize in dog illustrations or do you also do other animals?

I started freelancing as an illustrator by selling custom pet portraits on Etsy. Prior to that I would always make my own cards for friends and family, and the best of those always included little illustrations of their pets. I also love animals, so it seemed like a natural thing for me to focus on. The more I did it the more I loved it! Dogs are the most frequent thing I do, but that’s followed closely by cats. I’ve also done my fair share of people portraits.

There are so many compelling images that you've created for What's My Dog Thinking - do you have a favorite?

Thank you! That is hard to say, because there are so many. A couple that stand out to me though are the “Melts Me” dog, and the “Ready to Pounce” dog, which are special because they are actually drawings of the author’s and art editor’s dogs. The “Social Media Star” dog is also a favorite of mine, because it’s so ridiculous.

Do you have a furry friend of your own? (We'd love to see a picture or illustration!)

Yes! My partner and I have a darling rescue Potcake pup from the Dominican Republic named Daisy, and she is the light of our lives. She is also a constant source of inspiration for drawing, and was a helpful advisor on illustrating a book on dog behaviour, body language and expression.

Which artists or illustrators do you look to for inspiration?

There are many, and it’s great how social media has made it so much easier to find artists everywhere to admire and take inspiration from. Despite working frequently with watercolor I still find the medium challenging and slightly intimidating. Therefore artists that do beautiful watercolor work inspire me, such as Polina Bright and Thierry Duval. I’m also a big fan of Jordan M. Rhodes.

Many of the illustrations in What's My Dog Thinking look like they are watercolors, which medium do you find is best for capturing the personality of a dog?

Watercolor can provide a beautiful soft effect, which is helpful in capturing some of the subtleties in facial expressions. I’ve done portraits in a few styles and mediums though, and personality can be captured in different ways. What’s more important is your observatory skills as an artist, and the ability to translate those observations to your artwork.

Do you typically work from photographs? Have you ever been asked to do a live / in person portrait of an animal before? If so, how was it?

I always work from photographs. Drawing for me is all about breaking down what I see before me into individual parts that I can recognize, isolate, and recreate on paper. With a moving subject those details are constantly changing! Especially an animal that tends not to understand that you’d like it to hold still. That said, drawing from life has its own merits, but for me at least the kind of resulting artwork is a very different thing than the portraits I make and the illustrations in this book.

What is the difference for you between using digital illustration tools compared to using traditional art methods?

I would start by saying that the similarities far outnumber the differences. At least when it comes to working on a tablet. I picked it up quickly because the medium is designed to mimic the real thing. It feels very similar to drawing on paper. As far as differences go I suppose “the look” of the resulting artworks isn’t the same as it would be on paper. Not better or worse, just a different result. In that way I think of digital drawing as just another medium to work with. However I will say using digital tools does make editing and making revisions a lot easier.

What's the most interesting thing you've learned about dogs from working on What's My Dog Thinking?

Hannah Molloy is a brilliant dog behavior specialist, and this book is full of tremendously helpful facts when it comes to understanding your dog. Something I really took home working on this book was just how sensitive and incredibly attuned to reading human body language dogs are, and that many of their behaviors are in fact a reaction to your mood and emotions. Another specific fact that I found interesting is how dogs have certain facial muscles that they only use on humans. The “I’m so sad and cute” look has evolved in dogs because it is highly effective in getting them what they want, like a piece of that sausage on your plate. I can attest to this from first hand experience!

You've been doing amazing pet portrait commissions for years, do you find one particular breed of dog harder to illustrate?

Not exactly. All dogs take a particular amount of effort to capture convincingly. Though I can confidently say that fluffy dogs with long and curly fur certainly take a lot more time to draw. In that sense they are a bit more challenging. Those types of dogs are very popular though, and so I’ve thankfully gotten a lot of practice over the years.

Animals, especially dogs, can be a rather intimidating subject for a new or less-experienced artist to tackle, if you could pass along one tip for someone wanting to draw their own pet, what advice would you have?

Hmm, one thing I can say about dogs is that they are very expressive and do a lot of communicating through their faces. Take your time observing all the details around your dog’s eyes in particular in order to get a good result.

Besides that my advice would be the same for drawing any kind of subject matter - practice, practice, practice! The more you draw the better you get, and that never stops. The best piece of drawing advice I ever read was that we all have 10,000 bad drawings in us, and the sooner we get them out the better!