The royals have been doing it for years. But these days, you don’t have to live in Buckingham Palace to pay homage to your special pet with an artistic rendering. No matter what your décor, you can find a pet portraitist who will seamlessly match your style and spruce up your room with the smiling mug of your favorite mutt.
If you are looking for a way to immortalize your pet there are many choices as to style, medium and price range. Krista Brooks at Retro Pets identifies the vintage graphics of dog breeds she sells as “whimsical animal art prints.” She does not work on a commission basis, but rather pinpoints the characteristics that a certain breed tends to share in her art-the liveliness of a Jack Russell or a Labrador’s love affair with tennis balls. “Instead of fine art, I say it’s fun art,” Krista quips about her work.
Brooks is marketing to a different audience than portraitist Ruby Mazur who has sold commissioned paintings (at much heftier price tags) to Hollywood celebrities including Jason Priestley. Although he is most well known for creating the Rolling Stones tongue logo, Mazur has turned to his love for animals and classical artistic training to produce serious and more traditional pet portraits. He says, “I am not trying to do kitschy art or “black velvet paintings but rather “museum quality paintings.”
Like the artists of past eras, many of the contemporary pet portraitists have signature styles. Although the animal is foremost to the painting, the artists’ other interests are often uniquely worked into the pieces. Amy Brazil draws from fashion and home décor, and has used Valentino and Harry Winston as inspirations for background designs in her pet portraits. Brian O’Neill likes to incorporate the commissioner’s furniture into his paintings if he’s doing an indoor piece, or elements of nature if it’s an outdoor piece. “I think it makes the portrait more exciting for myself and my client,” he says, citing his attention to detail as one of the most defining characteristics of his work.
Lisa Zador, whose two books The Well-Bred Dog and The Well-Bred Cat , paints in a classical Baroque and Renaissance style. She says that “many owners personify their pets,” and seeks to depict a family’s feelings about its furry loved ones in the paintings. Sam Shephard’s paintings are simple and striking in color, sure to liven up any room.
Marjorie E. Pesek has a different take on pet portraits, cutting and pasting her way toward a masterpiece. She describes her commissioned works as entertainment and thinks of them as puzzles, using snippets of magazines (not Animal Fair-she claims all of her issues are still in-tact) that reflect a pet or its family’s interests-from a golf club or a shoe to the Eiffel Tower. Sherry Shepard uses bright, eye-catching colors that match the personality of the animal she is painting.
Artist Robanne Olson describes her work as “reminiscent of the old paint by numbers.” Barbara Bigwood departs from using paint as her medium; she cuts paper instead, creatively layering the pieces and immortalizing the pets by collage.
Emergent in this field are artists whose work employs technological advances. Using PhotoShop, Sid Curtis, for example, “takes the Mona Lisa, a recognizable work of art, then swabs out the face and replaces it with your animal’s–seamlessly weaving the animal into the portrait so that people do a double take.” She maintains that many of her clients have extensive formal art collections, and that her work complements traditional pieces and keeps within the decorative scheme.
Portraits, however, are not the only way to pay homage to your animal. There are artists who do three-dimensional works of art. Sachiko Akiyama is a figurative sculptor who carves in different types of wood. Akiyama does commissioned artwork of animals, everything from birds to dogs. Barbara Fletcher creates sculptures from paper and recycled fibers. Her work is so lifelike that animals “have been known to respond by barking or trying to eat the piece.”
If you want your pet tribute on your sofa rather than your wall, Annie Goodman of Annie & Co. will paint your pet on to a canvas so that you can needlepoint the likeness. She will then transform your craft into a pillow and adorn it with ribbon and fabric to make it one of a kind. Annie also does handbags so you never have to be away from your four footed companion.
What better way to warm up your house than with an incredible likeness (or an abstract rendition) of your favorite mutt or puss! No longer reserved for the royals, today’s pet portraitists cater to every budget, recognizing that pets are important members of the family.
– Leah Melycher