We have always felt that as plein air painters we are observers of the landscape—recording moments and places that can rapidly transform with fleeting changes of light. In a pure landscape, figures and animals are rendered small and insignificant against the vast and awe inspiring backdrop of nature.
In our portrait art and still life painting work, however, we are observers of the intimate—the interior worlds of home and studio. Here, the figure, the object, the people and the animals that inhabit these spaces become the dominant focus, and we attempt to lift these interior portraits up to the grand level of a landscape.
Finding and expressing a connection with those people, objects and animals is essential to the expressive power and ultimately, success, of these works.
The rule is simple: Paint what you know and love. So we paint our beloved animal companions—our studio dogs. And what better way to celebrate our furry family members than with a holiday created back in 1999 as a way to “celebrate the great companion dogs make and promote their adoptions,” known as Take Your Dog to Work Day–or for us artists, Take Your Dog to Your Studio Day.
The Role of Four-Legged Family in Our Art
Not only are our pets patient and generally serene models, but they also possess a dignity and acceptance of life that we would do well to try to emulate.
As time winds down for our second great pyrenees, we have found it important to take our paints in hand and work to catch at least a glimpse of his internal grace and loving spirit in our works. In this way we hope to honor his life and perhaps pay homage to all the dogs who have spent their lives helping their human charges making it through theirs.
There is beautiful evidence from Renoir, Morisot, Cassatt and others, that we are not alone in our canine devotions. In the era of Impressionism, dogs began to be included more often in portraits with families and not just depicted as working animals.
In some of these paintings, the dog is the only figure directly looking at the viewer, acknowledging the outside world, as it were, while his human companions are rendered as oblivious to the painter and viewer. The dog observes the observer.
Science tells us that a few minutes of petting a dog results in the release of oxytocin into the bloodstream of both the petter and the pet, lowering blood pressure and stress.
It is our firm belief that taking the time to study and paint a dog does the same, ten-fold. Of course, getting them to hold still is the trick!
Does your pet(s) keep you company during your art-making process? Tell us more about your furry best friends in the comments below. And, please visit us at The Artist’s Road for more great articles on painting your life.
–John & Ann