Annapolis Artist Paints Dogs, Strives For Realism
By THERESA WINSLOW
The Capital of Annapolis
ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — When a dog growled at one of Barrie Barnett’s paintings, she wasn’t offended.
The Annapolis artist strives for realism in her work, so when a real dog thinks his painted counterpart is alive, it’s most definitely an honor.
“I took it as a compliment I’d really created something lifelike in that painting,” said the 52-year-old Barnett.
The artist, who has been painting dogs since she was a child, attempts to capture not only their perfect likenesses, but their personalities as well. She paints them where they’re most comfortable, whether it’s lounging on a sofa or frolicking in the grass.
So, one dog might be shown staring plaintively out a window.
Another might be perched anxiously at a home’s front door. And a third might be chasing a butterfly in a field.
“The artist can take a subject way beyond what a photo can,” Barnett said.
She paints other animals, as well as people, but dog portraits make up about 50 percent of her work. Each painting, which is done in oil, can take up to six weeks to complete, and prices start at $2,500. She estimates she’s done about 100 dog portraits over the years.
“These paintings take a long time to do,” Barnett said. “It’s not like I’m churning them out like a factory.”
The effort doesn’t go unnoticed by clients, or other painters.
“She does more than just a portrait of an animal,” said Nancy Tankersley, an artist who runs a gallery in Easton. “She really captures character.”
What also impresses Tankersley is Barnett’s willingness to keep learning, even after such a long career.
“She’s not just stopping,” Tankersley said. “She’s looking for ways to grow.”
One of Barnett’s most recent commissions comes from an Edgewater family who wants her to paint all three of their dogs, along with a group picture.
The artist has just started work on the first painting, which will depict a friendly 6-year-old cocker spaniel named Mackensie after a dip in the water near her home.
“She’s just a water dog and I hope to convey her sweetness,” Barnett said. “I got that right away.”
Mackensie’s owner is confident in the artist.
“When you think of portraits, you think of someone sitting in a chair, but she’s depicting the dog in the environment,” Dorothy Kenning said.
Barnett began by taking lots of pictures of the dog over four separate visits as Mackensie played and went through her daily routine. She snapped some of the shots from the dog’s level to get her view of the world.
This is a must for every portrait, even if it involves some contortions.
“No matter how many humiliating poses I have to get into, I’ll do it,” said Barnett, who also conducts an extensive interview with every dog owner.
From pictures, Barnett makes a charcoal sketch, then a rough painting in one color, such as umber. The last and most important step will be painting over the canvas again and again in vivid colors. She might cover the painting 20 times before she’s satisfied.
“I have an almost obsessive attention to detail,” she said, “and a kind of stamina that a lot of artists don’t have. I’ll push and push and push when most people would have gotten sick of it.”
Fur texture is the hardest part of painting a dog, and the more kinky the coat, the more difficult the portrait, Barnett said. For example, even though a mastiff dwarves a miniature poodle, the large dog is easier to paint because of its smooth coat.
Still, Barnett’s pretty good at portraying poodles.
Kate Headline of Bethesda said Barnett’s depiction of her two standard poodles lying on the couch is so lifelike, it makes people want to reach out and touch them.
“The dogs noses look wet,” she said. “It’s so incredibly realistic.”
The first dog Barnett ever painted was her family’s pet. She received her first commission for a dog painting at age 12.
“Dogs were fun subject matter to get into,” she said. “Dogs are such noble creatures and they add so much to our lives. They’re with us such a short time, it makes sense to have their portrait done.”
Barnett honed her natural abilities at art school and has also studied privately with many artists.
Originally, she worked in pastels, but now uses oils as a matter of necessity. Years of inhaling the dust from the pastels was impacting her breathing.
William Secord, who used to represent Barnett at his New York gallery, remembered her pastel work well. “Her work in pastel is the best I’ve ever seen for a living artist,” he said. “It’s extraordinary.”
Barnett said she can get the same effect with oil – as her clients attest.
Pam Kessler just received a painting of her Scottish terrier, Maggie. The dog passed away in June, and getting the portrait was a comfort, said Kessler, who lives on Hilton Head Island, S.C. Maggie liked to go out on her family’s boat and is depicted aboard.
Barnett traveled to South Carolina and went cruising just to portray Maggie in her element.
“She literally captured this (intense) expression our dog would have on her face when she would survey the horizon for dolphins,” Kessler said.
Barnett intends to keep on producing these kinds of paintings, but would also like to use her art for a higher purpose, such as promoting the beauty of the elderly, urging the humane treatment of animals, or conservation. She got the idea for working with senior citizens after spending a lot of time with her dying mother in the past year.
“I am ultimately looking for the place my passion and my skill intersect,” she said. “I’d like to create paintings that are personally expressive and also bring attention, interest, and donations to a cause I believe in.”
Information from: The Capital of Annapolis, Md., http://www.hometownannapolis.com/
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)