Buster, a long haired dachshund
Sometimes it’s hard to know whether the effort I put into portraits is helping…or a sign that I should simply start over.
I just finished a portrait commission. It was a very cute, long-haired dachshund named Buster, the grand-dog of friends with an intimidating array of art credentials: both have doctorates in art history; she taught on a graduate level, wrote important books on art and sold paintings of her own; he managed a major New York City gallery.
Perhaps that was why I kept tweaking and re-painting Buster…until the original, winsome dog in the painting had been covered by another…and another, and I knew that I was overthinking this poor pup.
Feeling very stuck, I started over with a different reference photo…and I could tell right away that this time, Buster was talking and I was listening, and the painting virtually painted itself.
I decided to give this dog’s “grandparents” the opportunity to decide which one they wanted, and – no big surprise – they preferred the second one.
Buster, a long haired dachshund
The lesson I learned: the quality of a portrait may actually be in inverse proportion to the effort expended. Perhaps, like a winning tennis stroke, a good painting has to feel informed, connected, and ultimately effortless.
But I have to admit, the process is still a mystery…
Our favorite photo of Lefty
Remember when your dog was a puppy, how excited and playful and energetic he was? Remember how great you felt when she was finally housebroken? Or when he learned a new command, stopped chewing your favorite sandals…and could walk on the leash without affectionately barreling into every dog and person in sight?
It’s exciting to see your puppy grow and learn and adapt to your lifestyle. All of a sudden, you’re communicating perfectly with her – and vice versa. As a friend said recently, mourning his own dog, “We were finishing each other’s sentences.”
But unlike our children, puppies mature quickly…and all of a sudden, they are senior citizens, with a whole new set of problems, like arthritis, heart trouble, vision and hearing loss, and even dementia. And often, it is up to the human to make the very difficult decision to put a pet down.
As you can tell, one of my life’s passions is dogs. I love my own furry friend Lefty as much as any family member, because he *is* family. If I lost him, I’d grieve him deeply. Owners celebrate their pets’ birthdays, confide in them, and have images of them on their cell phones. The memory of a beloved pet is intense; when a beloved pet dies, it’s not unusual to feel overwhelmed by the intensity of your sorrow.
I’m a licensed, board certified art therapist, specializing in grief, loss and bereavement, and it’s perfectly ok to grieve in your own way, for as long as you need to. Grief has to run its course, and one way that I’ve been able to offer comfort to other dog lovers is to create a lasting memorial portrait of their beloved pet.
There are many ways to manage your feelings. Write about them privately, blog about them online, research pet support groups to speak to others, and even prepare a memorial for your pet.
My portraits aren’t simply copies of a photograph; they capture the essence of the animal. I strive to portray the emotions, the personality, the memory, and the uniqueness of your pet. Coping with the loss is something that can be eased a bit by seeing your dog through another set of eyes.
The woman in the middle of this image is Leah Lopez, one of my very favorite living artists and dear friend.
Leah is also my mentor. I’ve been studying with Leah for several years, both at the New York Academy of Art and at her own New York City studio. She is a very gifted teacher, and always inspiring; hence, the subject of this blog post – My Mentor, My Friend, My Art.
I created this little painting after a magical painting adventure in Provence, France. Along on this wonderful trip were several others, including my husband, Stan, and our granddaughter, Amanda.
To be precise, my husband and I visited an adorable Norwich Terrier named Toby, as well as our dear friends, Carey and John, Toby’s owners.
The portrait I painted of Toby, a Norwich Terrier, as a surprise for Carey last year is displayed in their home. It was commissioned by Carey’s husband, John, as a Christmas gift – and Carey indeed wondered why John was suddenly so busy photographing Toby. We were the fortunate and happy weekend guests of this crowd…great fun!
Toby and Carey…and Toby!
I met Carey in 7th grade. She and John are wonderful people and dear friends. Toby is a very endearing two year old who likes to lick people’s legs.
Jane and Her “Artist” Knox
My friend is an executive at Bobbi Brown, my very favorite cosmetics company, and she set up the appointment for me. An adorable makeup artist named Knox taught me patiently and with humor, as he applied about 20 products, with results that delighted me. He was also fun to chat with, and as it turned out, his brother went to the prep school where my son teaches in New England! It’s a small world after all.
I’ll try to keep Knox’s delicacy and assurance in mind from now on as I paint.
Please visit my web site, Pets By hArt, for examples of my work.
Thank you for your continued support,