Yes, absolutely. So do you ever have to deal with creative blocks? Like when you’re working on a portrait are there times when it just isn’t happening or do you feel that between the pictures and the stories of pets and your connection to animals kind of keep you going?
Well I can’t say I have creative blocks. Maybe it’s because of my background with industrial design but for me the creative process is like problem solving. So it comes down to what color would express the mood that I want to convey or how do I lay out the image to show the details and when you break down the work into the specific details like that, it makes it more manageable. I’m not thinking ‘oh I want to create a masterpiece.’ I’m just thinking about how I can do this one thing that will make the art visually compelling and that’s how I approach it.
And do you ever struggle with when you call a piece ‘finished’?
Well, after I finish the portrait I’ll wait a day and then I won’t send it to the client as soon as I’m done. I’ll wait a day and then I’ll go back and I’ll look at it. When I do that, I’m able to see things that I hadn’t seen before. You know, maybe I was focused on the eyes. I always try to clarify that and take out reflections and make the eyes the focal point of the portrait. And sometimes when I do that, I’ll miss something in another side of the picture that I didn’t see because I was focused on one area. So I’ll wait a day and then come back and look at it and when I get to the point where there’s nothing else I want to change, I send it to the client.
That’s a really interesting approach.
You get so involved with things when you’re working on them that sometimes you have to step back and look at them with a fresh eye and you see things that you didn’t see before.
So what does a typical day in your life look like? Do you spend 12 hour days in the studio? Do you spend time outside? What is your typical day?
Well, I do have a dog and she’s very active so I walk her for about an hour in the woods by my house every day. Sitting down at the computer like I do, for hours, you kind of get tensed up and it kind of makes you feel anxious. I don’t know how to describe it. But I find that if I exercise, when I come back, I’m more able to do the work and be involved and because I’ve had the exercise it seems to relax your muscles or make you, you know it just makes you feel good to sit down and work.
I’m with you! I’m a morning exerciser too. I have to be able to get the energy out to feel good and more centered.
I think just sitting for a long time you build up toxins in the body. It’s a very sedentary life, so I have to stir things up a little bit and I do that when I walk the dog. I walk her twice a day.
Yeah, I start off in the morning and then I walk her at dinner time, before dinner and then I’ll go back to work in the evening some too.
Even through this horrible winter? Every day, twice a day?
Yeah I’ve never not walked the dog because of the winter.
Now when it was like minus 8 I didn’t walk as far. But it was for her benefit, not mine because I had 3 coats and 2 hats and gloves and I was insulated from the cold and she only has one coat so, yeah. I have a rain suit I wear when it’s raining and we go every day. The weather does not keep us back.
Does your wife join you?
No just me and the dog.
Your solitary time?
-laughs- yeah. It’s a time that I can let my mind wander. I get some ideas sometimes on how to do things when I’m walking like that because it’s kind of refreshing and it can be a source of inspiration for me.
I’m sure, especially if you’re walking in the woods and it’s a beautiful landscape. So Dave, what would you say your biggest accomplishment in your field is so far?
Well, I don’t think I’ve achieved what I want at this point. As far as accomplishments, when people express their gratitude for the work that I’ve done, that means a lot to me and that propels me to keep working. That’s the impetus for me to keep doing the portraits and keep getting better, keep trying to make people happy with what I do. I don’t think that I could look at the body of work that I have and say ‘oh I’m really proud of this’ because I haven’t been doing it for that long. I don’t know, maybe I’ve set my goals a bit lofty.
Well it’s important to have high goals. People don’t accomplish anything without setting high expectations. I personally think it’s a huge accomplishment to be able to work in your field independently and make it work for you and your family. And you have created a beautiful business model. Really, looking at these portraits, they’re inviting and comforting. It’s like when you said earlier about trying to create a portrait that affects the owner as if they are looking at the pet itself. Most of us outlive our pets so, that’s meaningful because the pet is generally part of the family.
Right and that’s a large pat of my work is that people who have had a pet who is no longer with them and they’ll give me a picture and sometimes it’s quite a challenge. There’s no way they can get a better picture so I have to take what they give me and sometimes that is a real challenge because sometimes I’ve had pictures where the dog has been ill and you can see it in the eyes, there’s almost a sadness there and I have to take that out but yet make the dog look the same. So, there again I rely on the client to tell me, what do they see in my portrait and does it look like the dog that they know and love
So do you study breeds?
I’ve done that some because I’ve done a number of portraits, I always ask the client what kind of dog is that? Sometimes I don’t get the mix like the Labradoodle or something like that. I did a Saint Bernard and I made the fur real long because when I was a child there was someone in the neighborhood who had a Saint Bernard and I remember the really big dog and this long fur and that’s how I painted it and the client said ‘no, no this is a short haired Saint Bernard’ and I didn’t know there was such a thing. I had to go back and shorten the fur.
How do you see your art evolving? You’ve said several times that you’re just starting and you’re still at the beginning stages. How would you like to grow as an artist?
Well, that’s kind of a tough question. There are times when I do something and for some reason I can’t even tell you why, I just don’t like it. And then what I do is I go back and completely start over. I discard everything that I have, and just begin over. I’ve found that in doing that, although it’s difficult to do, I found that it forces you to look at things differently and it really helps you develop because you’re able to see different aspects of your work. If you challenge yourself like that, a lot of times you’ll come up with something much better, and that’s one of the ways my work evolves. I constantly try to say ‘Well how can I make this fur look curly?’ or ‘How can I add a color into the eyes to make it look like they’re looking at you rather than looking down?’, or something like that.
Shifting the perspective.
You know fine techniques or to do things that make the art better than what it was.
Would you ever do people?
People have asked me that but I’ve always declined because with the dogs I have brushes that simulate the fur and I have a technique where I knockout the background and outline the fur so I’m able to work with the brushes that I have, and it’s kind of a process that I go through. With people I couldn’t use those techniques, plus if the dog is a little bit off in terms of its appearance, people will still accept it. But if you make a mistake where you don’t capture a person’s face, then that’s a problem.
You have to be more exact with portraits and I enjoy doing the pets and that’s why I do those and I have a process that’s been working for me. I know the layers I’m going to create. I know all the aspects of what I’m going to do. I’d have to start over with portraits.
It doesn’t sound like you’re interested. It sounds like maybe you like animals more?
Yeah, yeah I do.
I have a friend who's a very accomplished portrait artist, she does these huge drawings and oil paintings of people and I asked her one day, this was years ago, her name is Leslie Adams. Years ago, I asked her, “If you weren’t doing portraits what would you paint?” and she says “I’d paint people”. She looks at the difference between a ‘portrait’ and a ‘person’ because a person can be just anybody, but a portrait has to be exact. You think along those same lines. So, let me ask you, how do you decide what price to charge for your art, or are you still experimenting with all that?
Well, I base my prices on what I think my work is worth and how it compares with other artists. I try to set the prices that are of fair value to the clients and of fair compensation for me. I can’t tell you that when I started out I didn’t want price to be a stumbling block so I had the prices at the lowest I could go. You have to have some compensation for your work.
Oh, absolutely! I think the mistake most artists make is they undervalue their work.
So, I increased my prices beginning this year and I think that’s going to work out better because I’m thinking about offering sales, like when I go to a show, ‘here’s a coupon code, when you put that in you’ll get a discount’ and I wasn’t able to do that before. The other thing that has really helped me is when I won the Featured Artist Contest, to get the discount on the work that I send to you.