I create beautiful and charming pet portraits for a living, and through social media, I have found other artists across this great country who do the same. On a quarterly basis, I have decided to feature other pet portrait artists - colleagues of mine - whose work I adore.
Are these artists my competition? Maybe… but I believe in community, not competition. And the artists I have chosen to feature are incredible and deserve a shout out. So let’s kick off this artist spotlight with an artist in Massachusetts, whose work I have been admiring for years…
I am happy to introduce Sydney Hardin….
Bio Painter, chihuahua-lover and professional control-freak, Sydney Hardin, creates hand-painted pet portraits that combine a Pop sensibility with an obsessive attention to detail, capturing your pet's singular personality. At 38 years old, Syd has spent over half of her life as a painter. She often says, "Six-year-old me would be really proud of how I turned out. When I was six, I wanted to be four things: an artist, a paleontologist, a veterinarian and a unicorn. Well, two out of four ain't too bad if you ask me. I'll leave it up to you to decipher which two won out, but I'll give you a hint: I have a B.F.A. in Painting and Art History and absolutely no background in science. Also, I have this weird bump in the center of my forehead, but we don't have to discuss it."
Where do you live? I live in Jamaica Plain, MA (it's a neighborhood within Boston).
What is your background in art? Education, self taught? I feel like the answer to this is "both" even though I did attend art school. I spent a lot of time in high school teaching myself how to paint and draw, focusing on only one (somewhat silly) goal: obsessive exactitude. Once I got to art school at Cornell University, my professors were quick to tell me that I had no idea what I was doing, and spent the next four years unlearning what I'd taught myself. Even though it was so hard at the time, I wouldn't trade the experience for anything. Those professors taught me how to think artistically and communicate visually and, while I've returned to an obsessive, detailed style, I think it's much more visually interesting than it would be otherwise.
How long have you been a working artist? How long painting pets? *gulp* I've been working as an artist for almost 20 years and I've been painting pets for about 7 of those years.
Briefly explain your painting process. My medium of choice is latex enamel house paint on canvas. I love the slick opacity produced by house paint and the saturated, vibrant colors available. I start by collecting photos from my clients and working with them to pick one from which to work, cropping and resizing as needed. Then I get to work building my canvas from scratch, cutting the wood and sanding layers of gesso so that the canvas tooth is reduced before I start sketching.
Once I've got my canvas prepped, I make a pencil sketch on the canvas and send it to the client for review; these sketches are the "bones" of the piece and I spend a lot of time ensuring the pose and gaze is exact. After the sketch is approved, I mix up 12-15 pots of paint in the gradations of shades I need for the pet's fur, since I build the pet's fur by applying flat layers of shades from dark to light - there's no blending of wet paint on the canvas. Clients get lots of progress pics along the way once I'm adding color, and this is usually also the time when we work together to select a background color that will make the pet pop. And then, voila: the painting is finished!
How and why did you start creating pet portraits? My entire pet portrait business grew out of giving gifts to family and friends! I painted a few portraits of pets as little gifts for family and for my husband and those same people encouraged me to open an Etsy shop. I really didn't think anything would come from it, but it slowly grew from there and went from a part-time thing I did in the evenings and weekends after work to a full-time job.
Do you have any artistic influences? If so, who are they? I love the Pop artists of the 60's and get a lot of color inspiration from the obvious ones like Warhol and Lichtenstein, but I also take a lot of style inspiration from some of the lesser-known ones like Michael Craig-Martin. I've also been obsessed with the colors and surfaces in Inka Essenheigh's paintings for years. I'm also in love with Aubrey Beardsley's line work. I could go on and on but those are some of the big ones.
What do you find most rewarding about painting pets? I love making art that people connect with and I love connecting with people over art, it's really that simple. I feel like I understand every single one of my clients immediately because I understand the love they have for the creatures that share their lives, and I find it very easy to infuse my work with that love. It may sound cheesy, but it's true.
Do you paint any other subject matter besides pets? If so, what? I used to make a lot of traditional Pop art paintings critiquing the roles of women within pop culture. Sometimes I miss making work that's based in political commentary / critique but the joy that my pet portraits bring to my clients help me miss it less.
What is the best way to connect with you? You can find me on the internet and, of course, email is always a great way to be in touch!