A few years ago, my brother’s beloved dog Calvin died. My brother was so saddened by this loss, I asked him to send me photos of Calvin so that I could try to do a portrait to immortalize Calvin for him and his family.
I had never painted pet portraits before. Also, I generally do not paint from photographs and prefer to paint from life. My best work of flowers, still-life, portraits, and plein-air paintings are always painted from life or on location, which I enjoy so much. Nonetheless, I made an exception and proceeded to attempt a portrait of Calvin from the photographs provided. Years of training and painting from life enabled me to create from these photo references, and I painted two portraits of Calvin. My brother gave one to his wife as a surprise gift, and upon opening the package, she cried. The other portrait became the image used for pet portrait workshops I was invited to teach during this time.
This brings me to the reason I am sharing this story. Around the same time this was all happening and I was trying my hand at pet portraits, my sister became seriously ill and could no longer take care of her beloved dogs and they had to be given away. With my newly discovered ability to paint pet portraits, I proceeded to paint a portrait of each of her dogs, framed them, and hung them in her living room. She said that every night she would sit on the couch and stare at them – it was as if her dogs were actually in the room with her – the portraits had such a lively lifelike quality about them. A few weeks later when my sister went into hospice care, the portraits were hung within easy eyeshot of her bed before she passed away.
I am so grateful that my painting journey includes all of these portraits – they mean so much to me and my family.
Sometimes I have wondered: What is the meaning of a painter’s life? We are not saving lives or curing cancer. I do know that there is power in art, and it can bring solace and comfort during times of sadness.