Sitting Pretty

Immortalizing your dog on canvas
By Cameron Woo, November 2009, Updated February 2015

Our founding dog, Nellie, looks down upon me, her toothy grin reminding me of the great times we shared. Her distinctive black and white markings contrast with a color field of yellow and green in a painting by Mark Ulriksen, famed for his many New Yorker covers. Some may recognize the painting from the cover of our book Dog Is My Co-Pilot—it hangs in our office now, a tribute to the little dog who inspired The Bark.

As a dog lover and an art aficionado, what better way to combine these two passions then to consign a portrait of my favorite four-legged companion? These days there is a great variety of talented artists plying their trade in pet portraiture. What a delight to take in the styles and mediums—traditional realism, folk art-inspired, pop à la Andy Warhol, narrative—in everything from paint to wood to collage.

And nowadays, most pet portraitists work from photographs, so location isn’t an issue, nor are good sitting skills! The internet has made it easy to view artists’ portfolios and shop for a style that suits your taste and budget. Portrait commissions can start as low as $150, then jump into the thousands with artists of renown. The artist will consult with you on selecting one or more photos on which to base the portrait. Some artists will incorporate special details into the composition that provide a personal touch—including a favorite toy or location. Depending on the artist’s schedule, a painting usually takes 2-4 weeks to complete. In the end, you’ll have a memento that will last a lifetime, not to mention a great conversation piece.

The very best portraits capture the dog’s likeness and spirit. After all, if you want an exact likeness of your dog, you might be better off consigning a photograph. Painted portraits capture the essence of its subject in a way that goes beyond a mere representation, and offers a glimpse of a dog’s unique personality. I guess that’s why they call it art!

Images from:
Cynthia Kagen, Tiffany Beane, Clarity Art & Design, Lynn Culp, Stephen Morrell - Dog & Horse Fine Art, Stray Dog Arts.
Mark Ulriksen, Good Dog Fine Art, Gabriele Bungardt, Pet Picassos, Carol Diane Heslin.