Sit. Stay. Smile!: Pet Portraits As Christmas Gifts!

Dec 3, 2011 | 2011 Articles, Pets, Sandra Murphy

by Sandra Murphy

With the shopping season up on us–pet portraits seemed like a perfect gift idea to share with KRL readers!

As every dog lover learns early on, you can’t grab a camera and focus faster than your pup can put a nose print on the lens or become a retreating backside. Cat people fare no better—a cute pose turns into a blur or a hunched-up blob of fur blending in with the rug. How can we get a good picture? Sometimes it’s best to turn to the professionals.

A professional pet photographer is used to working with reluctant or overly-enthused models and may have more patience than you can muster. Ravetta Photography in St. Louis sees dogs and cats included not only in the family portrait but in graduates’ senior pictures. The hour long photo session costs $45 and proofs are ready for viewing in two or three days. Working with natural light and in your home, Adam Williams of Benton Park Photography lets your dog or cat make his own poses, where he’s most comfortable.

“I always see and photograph pets as personalities,” says Toronto Pet Photography’s Piotr Organa. “Pet photography works best when dogs and cats are treated with dignity and respect.” Backdrops and lights travel with Organa for photo shoots in your home or at an outdoor location. He says, “I photograph mostly faces of my dog and cat clients, with as much expression as possible.”

Known for her action shots of dogs running full-out, all four feet off the ground (picture your dog on the cover of Sports Illustrated), Mary Fish Arango says, “An obedient, well-mannered dog, with a solid recall, sit-stay, down-stay, and stand-stay will have the easiest and most favorable photo shoot. Dogs who are clever about posing are a bonus, both for photographer and client.” Arango finds clicker trained dogs cooperate and offer poses and behaviors. She suggests training your dog to hold his position while you stand, sit, kneel, somersault, or crawl on the ground—it will prevent him from breaking the pose and investigating when the photographer does the same.

Arango says, “Each breed needs a different trick of the trade to get the best shot.” For an outdoor photo shoot with five off-lead Bloodhound puppies, as yet untrained, Arango recruited eleven helpers to herd and recapture any escapees.

Dog trainer Liz Palika of Kindred Spirits takes a lot of dog pictures for training purposes, but for her Australian shepherd, Dax, she wanted something different. “Dax was my husband’s dog and she was a warrior.” Palika turned to artist Sheri Wachtstetter for a painting. “We met and she took several photos of Dax. She got Dax’s expressions, spirit and the fire in her eyes, as well as the softness.” Wachtstetter finished the watercolor in time for Palika to give it to her husband for Christmas.

Paul Boddum has seen a steady increase in business since he began painting commissioned pet portraits in 2002. While many of his portraits are gifts, he says some of the most touching stories come from the in-memoriam portraits. “I allow myself one good cry before I begin, and then put that aside to do the honor of memorializing a special animal.” Boddum did a surprise gift portrait for Ann Rohmer who’d had her dog Lucy for 16 years. After she saw the portrait, she told Boddum, “You captured her. It helped fill a space when Lucy was gone.”

Boddum paints in acrylic on canvas with prices ranging from $1400 to $5000 depending on size and complexity. Each painting honors the essence and personality of the dog or cat while also being an exciting piece of modern art for the home. Paintings take thirty to sixty days to complete. Boddum paints from photographs and strives to make each painting as unique as the dog or cat. He says, “What drives me are the experiences and the personal stories of a deep bond and love. I have done portraits of dogs with their heads out of car windows, dogs in a boat, and a dog in a tuxedo who was part of a wedding!”

Working in pastels from photographs, Bernadette Kazmarski likes to meet the cat or dog and take her own pictures to highlight his best qualities like a super-fluffy tail or fold over ears—even if it means meeting your cat under the dining room table. If a meeting is not possible, she gathers details from a number of pictures, adding toys or de-cluttering the background to remove distractions. For one cat family, Kazmarski combined individual photos to create a pastel of the five cats and added a bay window setting. In this case the cost was $125 for each subject and $100 for the background. She says, “In the end, any portrait means I work closely with my customer, often at an emotionally difficult time. A portrait is not just a picture of the subject’s physical characteristics but captures emotional and spiritual traits too.”

Terry Albert learns a lot about dogs and cats through pet sitting, fostering, boarding and training. Her art is done in watercolors, pastels, and colored pencils, alone or in combination. Working from photos, even bad ones, she creates a head or full body portrait with a solid color or scenic background. Albert says, “Close up photos of your dog or cat work much better! Get down at eye level with her and try for straight-on photos instead of looking down.” Scroll through the pages of Albert’s artwork for ideas for your own portrait.

You can also have your dog or cat’s likeness recreated in glass. Working from a photo, mailed or emailed, Carl Pawlik hand engraves each piece of glass and affixes it to a lighted wood base. No lasers, computers or chemicals are used. The glass portraits come in a variety of sizes ranging from 6X6 to 12X10. Prices start at $149. Depending on the size, two or three lights are inserted in the base to highlight detail. If you’d like to add a name, dates or a short saying, no problem—they can even match the wood base to the wood color in your home. Pawlik ships within seven to ten days.

Gather your photos and decide what kind of pose and background you like. Think about the size and where you’ll place the art. If you’re ordering for a special occasion, be sure to allow enough time for its creation. Combining photos and translating the essence of your dog or cat into art can’t be rushed. Most important is to know what you expect and to communicate that clearly to the artist, photographer or engraver. Be open to suggestions—their experience is as much of the art as their talent.

After all, the resulting art will be a lasting remembrance of love shared.

Check out more of Mary’s work on her website.

Sandra Murphy lives in the shadow of the arch, in the land of blues, booze and shoes—St Louis, Missouri. While writing magazine articles to support her mystery book habit, she secretly polishes two mystery books of her own, hoping, someday, they will see the light of Barnes and Noble.


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