I'm not a pet owner myself, but between Jules, Jen, Patti and others here on the Daily Grommet team, we've got quite a crew of furry friends -- and it's clear to see how much a part of the family these guys are. What Rachael Rossman does just proves it. She's an Oregon artist who specializes in watercolor portraits of pets. Her work has even captured the eye of celebs like Martha Stewart. Recently she painted a portrait of Jen's pup, Scout (you'll see him later in the post), and we were amazed at how perfectly she captured his sweetness. Today, she talks to us about her work.
Having a pet portrait done is something many have considered, few have dared to try. What's the process like?
It’s actually very easy! I do portraits for people all over the world, all by email. A client will contact me, send a photo or two for reference, then I’ll suggest how the painting’s composition might look best (full body, or portrait only, for example.) Since it’s custom work, I ask clients to pay a deposit to get on my list, with the balance due upon completion. When the painting is about 90% complete, I’ll send the client a snapshot by email just to see if it’s what they had in mind. When it’s done, I pack it up and send it off to its new home.
What makes for a good subject photo?
I always ask people to send their favorite photos first because it usually depicts their pet doing something that is unique to them. Like holding their head a certain way, or sitting on a favorite chair. These photos usually indicate the owner’s favorite personality traits of their pet, tell a story or remind them of a memorable occasion. I try to capture those stories in my paintings. Good lighting is also key.
What else is helpful to know about the pet?
The photos that the owner sends tell me most of what I need to know, but I’ll often ask clarifying questions. For example, if I’m painting a portrait of two dogs together, but from separate photos, I might ask about their size relative to each other. Usually, clients give me a little back story on their pets, so I get a sense of the family, so to speak. I think painting with that in mind helps the finished product. This is sort of random, but I’ve painted quite a few three-legged dogs. None of the owners ever tell me ahead of time that the dog has three legs. I don’t know why, but I always thought that was kind of funny.
Have you ever done a pet-and-owner portrait?
I have painted people with their horses, and I’m working on another one now. For the longest time I would not paint human faces (and I talked about it on my blog). But now, I love to do it.
How long does it take you to complete the portrait?
A standard portrait can take 16-24 hours of painting time, but there is a lot of waiting around for paint to dry in between stages. I paint on a tree-free paper called Yupo rather than traditional watercolor paper; the water and pigment are not absorbed into the paper as in traditional methods, so it takes a little longer.
How do people usually react when they get the finished product? What's the best compliment you've received on your work?
I’ve had lots of people cry. People email me months after they’ve received the painting and give me updates on their pets, especially if the pet passes away and they want to thank me again. Most people first remark on the eyes in my paintings, which is good, because they’re the key to the entire portrait!
Are there any animals that you particularly enjoy painting? (Not that you'd play favorites, of course!)
I’ve painted lots of different subjects – dogs, cats, horses, even rabbits and a chimpanzee. I have to say that I have a soft spot for horses because I spent years as a competitive equestrian. But I love painting dogs because there is so much variety. A shepherd is going to be a very different portrait experience from a malamute or a lab, for example. I’d have to say that labs are my speciality.
We read that you painted Martha Stewart's dogs -- what did she think?!
I’ve actually done three paintings for Martha Stewart and have received really, really kind notes through her staff and from her personally. In March, she posted my portrait of her Frenchies, Sharkey and Francesca on her pet blog, The Daily Wag, and was very complimentary. Even more cool, in April my painting was used in a powerpoint presentation to all MSLO staff as they discussed web initiatives.
Thanks for joining us today Rachael!