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As Kat Corrigan sat at the dining room table painting a canvas, a dog rested at her feet. The Pug family passed, huffing and puffing. Then a cat, named Fatoosh, jumped up on the table and patted Corrigan’s left hand.
The creatures had also found their way onto his canvas. This morning, Corrigan was painting a cat.
Two cats, actually, caressing each other, with golden sparkles in their eyes.
“In cats’ eyes, there’s so much going on: blue and green…and a little bit of gold,” Corrigan said, loading her brush with more of the golden yellow she’d mixed that morning. “How do you create those illusions?”
Over the past decade, Corrigan has captured the eye colors, head tilts and swirling fur of hundreds of pets through his month-long dog-for-day and cat-for-day challenges, a practice he believes She has become a better painter. Sure, she paints landscapes. Wildlife, too.
But “pet portraits — that’s the practice that keeps me going,” Corrigan said.
She is part of a group of local artists who paint, draw and collage portraits of people’s pets as a steady source of income in an unstable profession, as well as a source of joy. They’re easy to sell, especially these days, after the wave of so-called “pandemic pups” has settled into our homes and hearts.
Fun little experiment that grew
“Everyone I know wants artwork from their pets,” said Hannah Frick, an artist from Minneapolis, Minnesota, who trained at the now-defunct College of Visual Arts.
In college, Frick ranked doing pet portraits close to hanging his artwork in a coffee shop; in other words, something a serious artist would never do.
“I thought, ‘Oh, I have to make deep, beautiful, abstract artwork,’” he laughed. “I’m definitely over that.”
Frick first made a collage of two cats for his sister as “a fun little experiment”. Today, collages make up three quarters of his work. She flips through magazines, pulling out colors or patterns that match the pet in question, creating a palette for the piece.
He has done mostly dogs, but also cats, rabbits, a goat and, in March, a snake. Most people choose an 8×10-inch size, which starts at $150 (RM657), but Frick has also created a 4×4-foot portrait collage of a pair of dogs.
“They’re in charge of that house,” he said, “so it makes sense.”
People who live in that house agree: “It’s 20-pound (9-kg) dogs running the show,” Michelle Horovitz said, laughing.
She and her husband, Adam Klarfeld, commissioned the large portrait of their small dogs, Tootie and Edna, for a prominent place in their Minneapolis home.
“Hannah breaks down materials, conventional and unconventional, that create just the right palette,” Horovitz said.
“She gets all the features. They look exactly like our dogs from afar.”
Then you get closer, he continued, and discover photos, patterns, even mangoes. “It’s an interactive experience because you can watch it for an hour.”
Artists who love this work say it sustains them, not just financially. Growing up, Corrigan had been “one of those awkward kids who felt he was more capable with animals than with humans.”
Today, the south Minneapolis home she shares with her husband, a puppet artist, and their son is filled with pets, most of them her own. She is so honored to capture the beloved creatures of others, many of whom have died.
“There’s a really glorious connection when you paint someone’s animal and they appreciate it,” Corrigan said. “Being a part of that is so humiliating.”
In 2003, Leslie Plesser adopted two puppies, a Golden Retriever and a Collie, at the same time “because my husband and I were crazy.”
For Christmas of the same year, he received a DSLR camera, his first. She didn’t want to be one of those people who had a fancy camera that she never used, she said.
“So I promised that I would take a photo every day that would be good enough to put on the internet.” When she moved into the study, her pups became her test subjects.
He trained them to sit and stay still, practicing different lighting techniques against their profiles. So people started bringing their own dogs.
Against a clean background, the details of a dog shine, he said. The tufts on the fur, the soles of the legs, the spots on the belly.
“Dogs are very expressive,” he said. “And dogs are not self-aware. A lot of times when I take portraits of people, they’re holding their breath or taking it in or trying to stand in the most flattering pose.
“Dogs are just being dogs.”
But Plesser has been bitten and urinated on. A shaky elderly chihuahua fell off an ottoman. The blood came out everywhere.
“It’s not glamorous,” he said.
More than half of Plesser’s clients come to her when their dog is terminally diagnosed, which is a bummer: “I don’t think that’s how you want to remember your dog.”
So encourage owners to bring their pets when they are brave, daring and full of life.
When her sister’s dog died in 2018, artist Kristin Williams wanted to create a portrait for her that wasn’t a traditional painting.
He found a clip of a woman needle felting “in a way I’ve never seen before.”
“It’s such a simple, simple thing,” he said. “You’re pushing the needle over and over in different directions to slowly bring those fibers together.”
Williams found supplies and began sewing, increasing the depth, strength, and color of the felt.
The resulting portrait of Odie felt warm, welcoming, and correct.
Until then, Williams had worked in the digital world, with no interest in realism, he said.
“But there was something about capturing the expression on a pet’s face that intrigued me.”
In addition to a photo, he asks pet owners to give him a short biography of their animal, which “absolutely helps me.” With special fibers, Williams recreates the shine of the eyes, the whiskers near the nose.
The resulting pieces are between 2 and 3 inches (5 and 7.5 cm) thick. Felting is a bit like sculpting, so “things are always moving,” she said. “It can be a train wreck, but then you can get it back, and that’s the exciting part.
“It can seem like nothing is happening, and then you start seeing the eyes in the right place.” The sawhorses were already installed when they arrived.
In a back room at Urban Growler in St Paul on a recent Thursday, about two dozen people grabbed a beer and got to work. Courtney Pedersen of Minneapolis laughed at the portrait she was about to paint: her tan and white cat, Hamm, with his mouth open.
“The image quality isn’t great, but the expression is,” Pedersen said. “He is a potato.”
She took a small brush, uncapped a pink paint, and painted a small diamond in the center of the canvas. An artist had already done the hard work for her. Gray Duck Art creates custom paint-by-number kits for pet owners to complete at home or during events at breweries and wineries in the Twin Cities.
“Over the course of hundreds of classes, we found that people just want to paint,” said owner Maddy DePaul.
DePaul launched Gray Duck Art in 2017, combining two of his side jobs: painting pet portraits and hosting wine and canvas classes.
“People love their dogs very much,” he said. “But what I was really passionate about was putting artistic opportunities in the hands of adults.
“We are very good as a society at putting opportunities in the hands of children.
“I’m trying to change the narrative, so people can stop saying ‘I suck at art.'”
His team of five women, all of them artists, create the kits: they draw the animals and match the colors. Their competitors’ kits are shipped from abroad.
“What sets us apart is that customization,” DePaul said, “the art behind the drawing.”
Most of the people at the Urban Growler event in March were painting their dogs. Shape by shape, color by color, they appeared on the canvas. A Pug, a Labrador, a set of Standard Poodles.
“At this stage, you think, you think, how is this going to work? And then it slowly comes together,” said Sarah Dockter, sitting at a table with friends of hers.
Dockter was painting his green-eyed cat Trouble because, in a previous class, he had already painted his dog, Boomer. That canvas now sat on the mantelpiece of his house in Minneapolis.
As he stuffed Trouble’s fur, he smiled back at his canvas, wrinkling his nose. – Tribune News Service/Star Tribune/Jenna Ross