When Dogs & Art Collide
BY Kelly Corbett
Chumley a Jack Russell terrier has often been the focus of his owners artwork.
Clair Hartmann artist and owner of Sun Gallery has even featured Chumley in her most popular painting The Pearl Earring.
The painting is Hartmanns dog version of the Johannes Vermeer painting The Girl with the Pearl Earring.
I dont know why but I always wanted to use that Vermeer painting she says. I just thought it would be humorous.
Chumley is also the face of Frida Dog a painting that incorporates aspects of three other works by one of Hartmanns favorite artists Frida Kahlo.
Its more of a Frida Kahlo essence Hartmann says.
It is pure coincidence Hartmanns other pet terrier is named Frida which she describes as her little Audrey Hepburn.
Her two terriers anchor her hundreds of pet portraits.
What could be more fun than painting your dog in a banana hat and then making $1 200 off of it? I mean thats fun Hartmann says.
She says some people have difficulty understanding the art form and portraits of dogs.
They first view it as kind of kitchy Hartmann says. They walk up and theyre like Do you have any Dobermans? And it wasnt about a breed-specific dog it was about the feeling that the dog conveys when you look at it.
An experienced graphic designer Hartmann evolved into painting portraits of dogs she observed at the Riverfront Farmers Market in 2008.
A friend of mine told me if you want to get good at anything you have to paint it 100 times she says.
She followed her friends advice and began the Downtown Dog Project creating one eight-by-eight-inch painting per day for 100 days.
It was kind of like a marathon like my summer marathon because by the time I got done with it I was worn out Hartmann says. Now I can paint pretty quickly. So ive been thinking about doing it again…
She started with realism portraits and now describes her paintings as a mix between painterly and realistic.
Cautioned that people would not buy paintings of dogs that were not theirs Hartmann has proved the theory wrong selling more pet portraits in her gallery than any other works of art.
She says as with any painting the client brings all of his baggage to the art.
A lot of artists are going to the pet portrait because its a lot less pressure than doing
people portraits Hartmann says. Its a lot more fun. The reactions that you get from people can be a total breakdown of tears to just absolute happiness. . Plus the pet industry is a $1 billion industry. If you can get a percent of that youre doing pretty good.
Hartmann and other pet portrait artists say the hair and wrinkles are the biggest challenge.
Mary James Atkinson
Mary James Atkinson artist and co-owner of Uptown Market props up the photos on her drawing table in her studio. The sunlit room looks out onto the Intracoastal Waterway and is filled with frames canvasses paints paintbrushes and dog books.
She first became interested in art when she was 11 years old.
All of my friends were taking dancing and piano and I was taking art Atkinson says.
Starting up again was simple.
It was like learning to skate she says. I found a photo of a dog I liked and I painted it. I have to know the dogs name. I have to know a little bit about the dog.
Her technique started off tight but loosened with time. Her pieces mostly commissions are mixed media integrating acrylic pen and ink oil watercolor and even splashes of metallic.
If Im really really honest I have to say every painting I start with a bit of trepidation. Im not sure if its going to work out or not Atkinson says. Have I ever had to start over a painting? No. Ive always been able to walk away from it come back and fix it but theres some I like better than others. Thats just part of it.
Taking classes at the Cameron Art Museum to bring her back to the days of the color wheel Atkinson says she is trying something new by incorporating landscapes into her backgrounds.
But what takes the longest is making it to the point where she feels excited about the work and gets lost in what she is doing.
Another local artist John Golden who specialized in illustrating breeds is widening his field to include pet portraiture.
For 15 years Golden tried to settle on a style for his work. And about six years ago he did.
Golden uses his macbook Pro and the Adobe Creative Suite in his garage studio to make the dogs come to life instead of paintbrushes and canvasses.
It just sort of fell into place one day he says.
He says the eyes and noses are easy.
They vary so much Golden says. Its just such a deep rich subject matter.
He often uses the large format printers at his mothers gallery The Golden Gallery to print the final copies in various sizes.
Once the prints are complete Golden blackens the sides of the wooden blocks with a permanent marker and decoupages the prints to the front of the blocks with Mod Podge before shipping the pieces to their destinations.
Dog art has been around for centuries. The craft is often compared to people portraits and horse drawings used as a way to capture the living before photography.
The reasons people purchase dog art vary. The portrait or illustration can be a way to remember a dog after death or as a gift to spruce up a room. Or it is just that deep personal connection derived from lifes experiences. And some people want to see their dog as a prince or princess adorned in a crown and jewels.
Like the other artists Golden has always been a dog lover and hes always had a dog.
Charley a Tibetan terrier and Huckleberry or Huck a wire fox
terrier are a part of Goldens family.
Hartmann Atkinson and Golden all use their talent to help give back to dog rescue groups a cause close to their hearts.
When Hartmann uses photographs from rescue sites she donates a print and a percentage of the proceeds to the group. Atkinson donates pieces to about three or four charities per year. In the future she says she plans to seek out the Humane Society or another rescue group to donate portraits of dogs to aid the adoption process. Golden also donates a percentage of the proceeds but targets specific breed rescue groups. He says he would like for each contribution to be significant and would like to donate illustrations to live auctions to help groups raise money in the future.