After 20 years, this painting of two rescued borzois finally went home with a loving owner. In 1998 when I met with their person to photograph them for a commissioned portrait she had an idea of just their faces, but as I watched the two racing around the sunroom with such joy, all that light and color, I had another idea entirely. I painted both portraits and told the owner to choose. I’ve been very proud of what I captured of them and the room and their joy after being backyard bred in an overcrowded condo with no room to run, and I’m so happy someone who saw all that in the painting and who is also an animal rescuer will have the pleasure of looking at it each day. Here is the rest of the story.
Two Portraits, Choose One
Too many ideas leads to two portraits, one for me and one for the customer!
Several years ago I had the pleasure of painting a portrait of two beautiful rescued Borzois, Traveller and Emma. Their person was also a friend of mine and lived in an enviable remodeled home on a few hilltop acres with wonderful light and horses romping in the pasture next door. As I followed them around her house to photograph, and especially as they raced around the warm and colorful sunroom, I found an initial idea, and she and I discussed another idea as well, using just their faces. When I went home to work it out I found I had to work out both of them. We met and decided she would choose one and I would keep the other. She loved seeing their faces, still with that close protectiveness they showed and chose the other portrait, below. I’ve kept this one.
I’d visited her before and when she mentioned she’d like a portrait. I began envisioning the two dogs and the places in her home and even outdoors in a fenced area where they could play. I knew she had photos but especially with larger animals, and one of them being primarily black, I was glad to be able to meet them and take photos of my own so that I could collect details. Back in the days of film, I had two 36-exposure rolls with me and all my lenses for my trusty little Pentax K-1000. The house was full of windows so lighting likely wouldn’t be an issue.
We followed the dogs around the house, Traveller, the big creamy white dog obviously being the boss and the smaller black and tan Emma following orders and feeling safe near her big brother.
She told me each had come from two different rescues from indiscriminate breeders who were breeding these huge dogs in apartments and condos. Emma was noticeably smaller than usual because there were—talk about hoarding—over 70 Borzois inside one condo. Because of that overcrowding and the sheer number of dogs, she hadn’t been socialized well and was timid and skittish, but could simply be a happy dog and feel safe around her big brother.
Their favorite room was a spacious sunroom addition at the west end of the home which their person told me had been ambitiously begun by the home’s former owners. They had decided to complete the project and the two-story space would be a paradise for any animal or human. I was enchanted by Traveller, whose head was nearly at my shoulder, and smaller Emma racing gracefully among the plants and wicker furniture and collectibles without touching a thing. I took plenty of photos of them playing along with detail shots of their faces in that wonderfully-balanced light.
Arriving home with the photos I began to work on layouts for the portraits. She wanted a fairly large portrait and we had discussed just including their faces nearly life size, so I designed the layout with their faces above and below, befitting their relationship to each other. I could picture the colors I’d use in both creamy white and inky black fur and how I’d create the textures in each.
But I kept remembering their play in that sunny room and from one of the photos I’d taken. I designed another portrait with them standing together and a few plants around. This would not be a detailed and realistic portrait, more loose and impressionistic, capturing the light and color and motion I’d perceived. I knew my client would like that as well since I knew the work of other artists she’d purchased and commissioned as well as her other purchases of my art.
I proposed both ideas to her and showed her my layouts done in PhotoShop. She liked both as did I and we agreed I’d work up both of them and see what happened. She would choose one and I would get to keep the other, a great deal for me to have a live portrait on hand as an example.
In the end she chose the more realistic one of just the two faces because she wanted to remember the details of their expressions she’d loved so much, though I could tell the choice was difficult knowing how she loved an impressionistic style of painting.
I would have been happy with either one, but in the years since, whenever I’ve shown this painting in exhibits or at my tent in a festival it has always attracted people to come and study it, not just dog lovers or animal lovers, but the colors and composition are eye-catching to most people.
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“The Borzois”, pastel, 20″ x 26″, the original is sold but prints are also available on canvas and paper.
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