So many times I have heard “Why would you want a portrait painted of your pet? I have loads of photos on my phone…”
Our pets are not just animals they are loved and cherished as part of our families, for many people their pets are their family. We are given these lovely beings for such a short space of time in relation to our lifespan, and we love them with all our hearts. Why would you want to store their images away on your phone or pc?
Of course I am not dissing photography, indeed I am a keen amateur photographer and my hard drive (and phone) are jammed full of images of my pets; dogs, cats, chickens….etc you name it. However consider the two quick questions below.
One. Although the pictures below are nice photographs would you consider placing any of these pictures on the wall as a lasting memory to a beloved furry one?
Two. In comparison these are paintings I have been commissioned to paint, would you be more inclined to display these in your home or give as special gift to someone?
A few of the portraits above are of pets of which have now sadly gone over the ‘Rainbow Bridge’. One of which is my own much-loved Rocky (with the stupid ears). I am so glad I got to paint him while he was alive, I loved every minute creating his portrait. Now he has sadly gone I see this painting as a celebration to him.
In contrast I think ‘people portraits’ are different as we are capturing with the camera multiple memories and ‘moments in time’, a child’s first birthday, weddings, holidays, etc. Painting a pet portrait we are creating a lasting memory of the spirit of that special animal’s personality and the character who shares his or hers life, love and affection with us.
So maybe the question should be ‘Why would you not want a portrait painted of your pet?’
Having rekindled my love for painting and drawing I found myself quite busy painting pet portraits for people. I am enormously proud when I am asked to paint someone’s beloved companion and indeed feel very honoured that they have chosen me to paint for them. However there are times when I find I am at a loss as to what to paint next, this is when my own animals become the subjects, Rocky & Archie became my ‘animals muses’ (I am not actually sure if you can have a male muse and I have no idea what the male equivalent would be) sadly both have now gone over the ‘Rainbow Bridge’.
It soon became apparent that losing a dog (or a cat) leaves a huge hole in your life, no dog to walk over the fields, no chats with fellow dog walkers and no happy dog energy to greet you when you come home. So after 8 months we missed having a dog in our lives so much we decided to get another.
Labradors to the Rescue!
With so many unwanted animals out there it was simple decision to give a home to a rescue dog so we signed up with Labrador Rescue South East & Central (LRSEC). We filled in the application form and few weeks later Marie from LRSEC and her gorgeous Black Lab ‘Riley’ came to inspect our home. Apparently Riley was the chief inspector, nothing gets passed him…we apparently passed Riley’s scrutiny, now we just had to wait for a suitable dog to be matched to us.
You obviously don’t completely know what you are getting with a rescue dog even though LRSEC provided us with quite a bit of background history. We knew we would have to approach this process with an open mind, be prepared to be patient with settling in a new dog in to our home. It could take some time, weeks, months even longer and there could be set backs and issues to overcome along the way.
LRSEC try where possible to place a dog home to home so we had to be ready to adopt a dog when a suitable dog became available and was a suitably matched to us. We thought that we would have to wait ages but a few weeks later Jacky the local Coordinator for LRSEC phoned to say they had a 3 year old bitch needing to be re-homed and gave us some background history about her.
Love at first sight?
Our first glimpse of Poppy didn’t evoke the feelings we expected. We were so excited to meeting her but when she walked out to where we were waiting she was so bewildered that she only had eyes for Jo from LRSEC as a point of security.
The anxiety showed in Poppy’s face and it made her look older than her years. When we made a point of greeting her she was so stressed that she didn’t want us to get too near her and barked to keep us away. To create a calmer atmosphere Jo suggested walking her for a bit and gradually she began to let her guard down enough to accept us a little and we were then able to take her home.
The car journey home was fine, by the time we had got home Poppy had transferred her security attachment to us. It was at this point I could see just what a lovely dog she actual was, her features had softened and her tail was wagging, although she was still clearly quite bewildered by her new surroundings she wasn’t anxious around us… a beautiful dog, if a little bit chubby.
A little help from the professionals
We had Poppy a couple of days and we were out & about with her going to the places we regular went and although she was fine with other dogs she would sometimes still display defensive behaviour if greeted by a stranger. As a part of the adoption process LRSEC are always available for support and help, and they offered to help with this issue by putting us in touch with Doug a Professional Dog Trainer. He came to visit us along with Marie and spent the morning with us to help us tackle Poppy’s fear of strangers.
As soon as Doug entered our house Poppy started barking and displaying defensive behaviour towards him. We watched in awe as he weaved his magic, it wasn’t a comfortable watch but within a very short space of time Poppy went from a scared and barking animal to a soft relax dog eating treats from his mouth.
The rest of the morning was spent educating us ‘humans’. We thought we were pretty dog savvy and we knew what we were doing, but it became clear that there is still a lot to learn from people who work professionally with dogs. We gained all sorts of tips from diet & equipment to training & obedience, even knowledge specific to the breed. The morning with Doug and Marie was time and money well spent instilling new knowledge and confidence in both Poppy and her ‘humans’.
Although Poppy is still adjusting to her new environment and routine she has not displayed any fears since the training session and is a happy girl.
Great little tips from the professionals:
Be firm, give one word instructions, i.e Sit, Stay etc. not prefixed with the dog’s name i.e. ‘Poppy sit’ or ‘Poppy Stay’ the dog is looking to you for clear guidance.
Get the right equipment: We were recommended a half check collar and a decent trainer lead, which has worked wonders to stop Poppy pulling. Although there is still some work to be done she actually walks quite well on the lead.
Correct diet & exercise, Poppy is slimming down nicely.
Frozen Bone: I love this one and so does Poppy, it helped in the early days when we had to leave her home alone. Pack a marrow bone with a mixture of grated carrot & broccoli smooshed together with a little peanut butter to bind, put in the freezer and give it to your dog when you leave the house…a good few hours of entertainment while you are out.
Every dog is different, of course so are the owners and every adoption is going to be unique to them. The best pieces of knowledge gained from this experience so far are:
Socialise your dog so he/she fits in to your lifestyle, after all they are going to be part of the family for quite some time.
Address any problems quickly and get professional help and support if necessary. Professional help may cost you a little but helps to give you the confidence to deal with any issues.
Happy dog = Happy owner … it’s not a vicious circle.
The not so vicious circle
I find myself asking who is rescuing who, Poppy has been with us only a short while and we feel bless that we have her in our lives.
Big thanks to Jacky and her team at LRSEC also Doug & Marie for all the help you gave in re-homing Poppy with us.
It is therefore my pleasure to introduce new muse Poppy and her side kick Roddy (also a rescue animal)
However whilst I was in the Scilly Isles on holiday I had the pleasure of talking to some of the local artists on the islands, and although they were predominately landscape painters they did discuss various styles and techniques that they had tried and tested over the years to try and improve their work. With this in mind I decided that I would have a little experiment with using different mediums that I already had in my art box to see which would best suit the pet portraitsthat I love to paint, therefore we have a ‘Chicken Four Ways’.
This photograph is of Ginger, she is one of our chickens. I find chickens a difficult subject to photograph as they are never still for long and their movements are very sharp and unpredictable. However she became the subject for my experiment.
I used coloured pencil for this picture, the small size of the picture meant that very fine detail was difficult to achieve as the colour pencils used were very soft and slightly waxy, it was hard to keep a sharp point for drawing the sharp detail (I am sure though that these would probably great for creating a larger picture). I had to develop a technique and style to achieve the desired effect particularly on the feathers.
For my second offering I thought I would go back to basics and used a plain old simple graphite pencil. The result is a soft image that was easy to draw; the fine details were much easier to define than the colour pencil. However more thought had to be put into portraying textures to give the picture depth and interest to compensate for the lack of colour. It took me a lot longer to create than the previous picture.
Finally I used my usual tried & test medium of watercolour to create my final picture. Not surprisingly I found this picture the easiest to create. As a medium I love watercolours’ translucent qualities and the way that you can build up colour & texture that work particularly well when illustrating fur and feathers.
Every artist has their favourite medium to use, and I think that mine will always be watercolour. However I have had great fun experimenting and it was good to step out of my comfort zone for while and try something new.
I never thought that I would never paint again. I had actually packed up all my paints and put them in the loft, believing inspiration had left me. In fact it was 9 years ago that I painted anything in watercolour. I was off exploring other art mediums like silk painting, mosaic and more recently taken up photography again (another medium I had given up after leaving college 30 years ago) which I really enjoy. The watercolours just sat there gathered dust.
It was a close family member that asked me to do a series of photographs of her dog as a Christmas present that nudged me back into the painting again. After I had taken the pictures I thought I would surprise her and do a painting of her beloved Kizzy.
Sitting down and putting the first paint on the paper was daunting, I couldn’t remember any of the painting techniques. But once started I had to carry on; I decided to take the cautious route and lay down a series of washes to build up the colour gradually and only working with a pallet of three colours. I have to admit I was scared of spoiling the picture by over doing it and it seemed to take for ever to complete.
Anyway to cut a long story short I learnt a lot on that first painting:
1. I really loved working in Watercolour again;
2. new painting techniques to paint whiskers & fur; 3. to be confident again in my painting and not to be shy about sharing my work.
I find sitting and painting calming and relaxing, I completely forget all the stresses of my daytime job, which I lovely but it is stressful on occasions. I would recommend painting and drawing to anyone who wants to unwind especially if you are creatingpet portraits from the beautiful faces of peoples much loved animal companions.
I have had a few commissions now and one of the great pleasures for me is watching the expression on the face of someone opening their painting for the first time, it’s a pleasure that money just can’t buy.