April 14, 2010

How Dogs and Cats Communicate

WebMD’s pet section has a fascinating slideshow of “Facts” and “Myths” about dogs and cats. As a dog and cat lover, I was interested in all of them, but as a dog and cat artist, I found several “facts” very particularly relevant. Several of the facts concerned dog and cat body language, especially facial expressions: A dog’s look of love; cats kiss with their eyes; dog grinning vs. smiling vs. snarling, two times dogs wag their tails when they aren’t being friendly, the sideways glance, and more:

Slideshow: Surprising Things You Didn’t Know About Dogs and Cats.

Other non-visual animal communication topics include: cat’s purring and “chirping,” how much human language dogs understand, and more.

March 20, 2010

Yappy Hour in Wexford

A special event for people and pets to enjoy together

Graphite drawing of Welsh Corgi by Susan Donley

Oh, the guilt I feel when I come from a feast of goodies to Rosie the Studio Poodle’s sad “I can’t believe you went without me” look! She sniffs my breath while I kick myself for neglecting to bring even a meager scrap home for her. Can you identify?

Well, here’s one event where your pup won’t have to miss! The new Huntington Bank in Wexford, PA invites both people and pets to its grand opening celebration on Saturday, March 27, 2010! Yappy Hour from noon until 2 p.m. features two local caterers: Your pooch can sample dog treats from Healthy Pet Products, while you enjoy the people food catered by Post Office Deli.

Other activities you can enjoy together include an Adoption Clinic and Pet Food Drive (Humane Society), Healthy Pet Demos (Healthy Pet Products) and (surprise!) Pet Portrait Demonstration (by yours truly, Susan Donley). I’ll be demonstrating graphite and scratchboard at my easel, so stop by to say hello and pick up a freebie and special offer.

Don’t worry about how temperamental March can be: It all happens in a large tent so that we don’t have to worry about the weather.

The whole day’s activities will benefit the Humane Society, which I think is a lovely way for a company to celebrate its grand opening!

Here is a map for Huntington National Bank, 11940 Perry Highway, Wexford , PA 15090 (Phone: 724-933-7888):

View Larger Map

December 30, 2009

Year-End PetsPictured.com Media Review

This year my blog has been in mothballs while I devoted my energies to on-the-ground local networking. Next year I hope to strike a better balance in minding both my online and local business. But in the meantime, due to my neglect, I missed a few important things that I should have duly noted here.

So, in the spirit of year-end retrospectives, this is as good a time as any to catch up on some media attention that I received earlier this year — just for the record.

“Pittsburgh Today Live” interview, KDKA Pittsburgh TV

First back in July, there was the KDKA Pittsburgh Today Live interview, which I did report here.

Pittsburgh Tribune Review article, “Career Change is Picture-Perfect for Oakmont Artist”, August 12, 2009

Susan Donley demonstrating scratchboard at her home studioDeborah Deasy, a Trib newspaper staff feature writer did a phone interview and then came out to my house to chat for another couple of hours and see a demonstration on a hot August day. Trib photographer Justin Merriman joined us and recorded my hot, frizzy self at work on our deck in the shade of one of our old sycamores.

Debi conducts interviews like she’s chatting with an old friend, so the time went by very quickly. So quickly that we were totally caught by surprise by a thunderstorm that blew in so fast that we had to just start grabbing artwork, interview notes, pencils, and paper and run for cover inside! Later she contacted several of my clients who were very kind with their comments. Read the article, “Career Change is Picture-Perfect for Oakmont Artist”, on the Tribune Review’s site.

Pittsburgh Business Radio interview, WMNY/AM, December 2, 2009

My alert business coaches at Volunteers of America’s Working Order learned of Pittsburgh Business Radio’s plan to highlight pet-related gift businesses during the holiday retail season. They told host Suzanne Caplan about my pet portraits and connected me up for a live interview on December 2. The interview was about 10 minutes long and shared with a woman who owns a pet bakery. Pittsburgh Business Radio archives all of its programs as podcasts, so you can listen to it here:

Thanks to KDKA, the Tribune Review, and Pittsburgh Business Radio for spreading the word about my artwork and taking love for pets as seriously as we crazy pet-people do (or at least humoring us!)!

July 30, 2009

Pet portraits on KDKA’s Pittsburgh Today Live

screen shot from videoThis week is Pet Week on KDKA-TV’s daily morning show Pittsburgh Today Live, which airs Monday-Friday at 9am. Each program this week features one or two interview segments with guests who are pet experts of one sort or another: a vet, pet store owner, pet bird sanctuary, dog trainers from a local shelter, and ME! I never was able to find out exactly how they found me, but was delighted that they did.

Nothing like the pressure of live TV with only one chance to get it right! But hosts Jon Burnet and Brenda Waters were pros at setting guests at ease and keeping the conversation flowing. I had some trepidation that I might be subject to “can you believe people actually do this with their pets?” (like pet spas, birthday parties, and fashion shows tend to inspire). But the tone was just perfect — that portraits are a very special way to remember a dear pet. Brenda had recently lost her dog JoJo, so no one minimized the pain of losing a pet.

The day before, I agonized over what art to take with me, when time would be short and video the medium. I settled on the two commissions I’m working on right now and a few key pieces of work to show the differences in my three media — graphite drawing, oil pastel painting, and scratchboard engraving.

Aside from a quick demonstration to explain what on earth scratchboard is, there wasn’t time for them to see much art in action, so the producer came up with the idea of my working on a portrait during the rest of the show, so they could check on my progress at the end. That certainly made the point that this wasn’t just a sketch and that detailed drawings take hours to finish! I just hope the audience could see any change at all, since it was less than 30 minutes of work! :-) A nice bonus for me to have the extra few seconds of air-time.

Oh, every day this week, the show also features a homemade pet treat (as of Wednesday, birds, dogs, and hamsters), so check out the recipes online!

March 5, 2009

Play and Rest in Peace, Dear Hutch

One thing I love about my job is getting to know so many wonderful pets vicariously after looking into their eyes for the 10 or more hours it takes to complete a portrait! The flip side of that coin is bittersweet: To know them vicariously is to also feel a loss when they pass away.

This week I received this message from Nancy Roach about her beloved dog Hutch, whose portrait I did in the summer of 2007:

Hutch in the Meadow - Watercolor and colored pencil painting by Susan Donley

… I had Hutch put down last Sunday. She developed an aggressive form of lymphoma and was not feeling well.

She had a last day of eating snow, slept with me and Greg, had beef and bacon for breakfast and was scarfing down a tube of liverwurst when the vet gave her the sedative. My heart was breaking, but I know she left this world very loved, and with liverwurst on her tongue.

Your picture of her is a huge comfort to me.

Hutch hostesses the EyesOnThePrize.org retreat

I haven’t met most of my subjects personally, but I had the pleasure of meeting and spending a few days with Hutch in May 2003. We were having a nonprofit board retreat at the Roach home in Hood River, Oregon and Hutch joined us as unofficial mascot for the weekend. She was good about sharing herself with anyone who needed the endorphin release of a good dog petting. We thanked her for her hospitality with the gift of a big ceramic treat jar (and advising her mom to keep it filled!).

If I hadn’t seen the incredible meadows of the Oregon Cascade Mountains with my own eyes that spring, I would have doubted the photos of Hutch sitting amongst the wildflowers near Mount Hood. The colors were so saturated that I had to keep checking that I wasn’t making them too bright. But, no, that’s how vivid the flowers really were up there drenched with sunlight in the clear mountain air!

I like to think of Hutch romping right now in the meadows (click for a larger view of the painting) on the other side of the Rainbow Bridge, waiting happily for her family. Play and Rest in Peace, Dear Hutch!

December 2, 2008

Help Support the Military Dogs who Support us

Rikko, German Shepherd K9 Officer

If I were a runner and this were a race, I would be asking you to pledge to sponsor each mile I ran. Well, I’m most certainly NOT a runner, but this is kind of a race to help Military Working Dogs (MWD) deployed in Afghanistan and Iraq, so I figure, what the heck, I’ll see if my generous readers, friends, and patrons would like to pitch in!

Here’s how to get involved:

1. Become a booth sponsor

I’m taking my pet portrait booth on the road to demonstrate at the K9 Kingdom’s Wash-A-Thon event (more information below) on December 7, 2008 to benefit Military Working Dogs and their handlers. There’s a donation to participate, but I figure we dog lovers can muster much more support than that by banding together.

Will you join me and become a member of the PetsPictured Pack of Sponsors for this worthy cause? Click here to make a donation by credit card, PayPal, or check. Your name will be added to the PetsPictured Pack Honor Roll on display at my booth. Let’s see how much we can raise! I’ll post the final total here on December 7.

2. Earn a 10% donation with portrait commission or gift certificate purchase before December 7

Until December 7, I will donate 10% (at least $30) of every portrait commission or gift certificate purchase with "MilitaryDogs" Coupon Code to Military Working Dog Team Support Association, Inc, (MWDTSA).

Just type the coupon code "MilitaryDogs" into the notes field when you order or mention it on phone order. If the portrait is a gift, I’ll include a note with the portrait explaining the donation.

Find out more about commissioning a custom pet portrait here, buy a gift certificate here, or call me at 412-828-8679. But do it by December 7, 2008!

3. If you are in Pittsburgh, bring your dog in for a bath

Visit K9 Kingdom in Wexford, PA during the Dog-Wash-a-Thon on Dec. 7th from 9am – 5pm. Have your dog professionally bathed and brushed for a $20 donation, bid on a wide selection of items in the Auction, or shop for the pet-lovers on your Christmas list by visiting the vendors (like me–stop by my booth and say hello!) on site. All proceeds from the event will be used to purchase supplies on the MWDTSA wish-list.

More about military dogs and Wash-A-Thon sponsors

Quoting from the press release by K9 Kingdom:

The Wash-A-Thon will be a fundraiser in support of deployed Military Working Dogs (MWDs) and dog handlers who are currently serving in Afghanistan and Iraq. Funds raised will be channeled through Military Working Dog Team Support Associations, Inc, (MWDTSA), a 501 (c) 3 charitable organization whose missions include sending specific urgent items needed for support of America’s Military Working Dogs.

After making contact with one of the military veterinarians in Iraq, K9 Kingdom Founder and CEO Christin Bummer was directed to MWDTSA, an organization which serves as a conduit for donated supplies headed to military K-9 teams deployed in war zones. "Our donations are sent to all military branches of service and include health related items, kennel items, and personal items such as toys and treats." stated Dixie Whitman, President of MWDTSA. "We are grateful for the creativity and outpouring of support from K9 Kingdom and the dog lovers of greater Pittsburgh. These wonderful people are blessings to both America’s military working dogs and dog handlers who are doing a difficult and dangerous job."

Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom dogs work in rugged conditions from the craggy, snowy almost unearthly cold of the Afghanistan Mountains in winter to the hot, desolate, dry deserts of Iraq. MWDs are trained to search out explosives (weapons caches, IEDs) or drugs. They may also be used for patrol work, security details and at check points.

Breeds most often found working in the military include German Shepherd Dogs, Belgian Malinois and Labrador Retrievers. Each breed has qualities of intelligence, stamina and special inherent genetic traits which predisposes them to be excellent working dogs. Other breeds working in the military include, but are not limited to, Belgian Tervurens and Boxers.

All dogs receive basic training at Lackland Air Force Base and then are paired up with their handlers. Additional training takes place at their home station before being deployed overseas. In a change from policy during the Vietnam Era, dogs return home with their handlers and at the end of their working life are generally available for adoption to their handlers and, if qualified, to the public. More information and photos are available to view via the MWDTSA web site.

Contact: Christin Bummer, K9 Kingdom, Wexford, PA Phone: 724-935-3647

November 7, 2008

Memorial Portrait of Jack, a Rottweiler from the Shenandoah Valley

Now that Jack the Rottweiler’s human dad’s birthday is over, it is safe for me to post his memorial portrait. Katie Warner of Harrisonburg, Virginia commissioned Jack’s portrait for her boyfriend Allen, who grieved the loss of his hiking buddy earlier this year.

Finding good photos for memorial portraits can be a challenge, since there is no going back to take new portrait-worthy reference photos for me to work from. Doing it in secret for a gift can double the challenge! Over time Katie snuck me several photos, each showing a different side of Jack’s personality.

The photo we finally chose showed Jack taking a hiking break on the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia, over-looking the beautiful Shenandoah Valley. The 11×14 inch size allowed me to include enough background to set Jack in the mountains plus his massive chest. Oil pastel captured the vivid greens and blues of the Blue Ridge and the velvety black of Jack’s coat.

I received this lovely note from Katie after Jack’s portrait arrived:

I just got it, and it is absolutely beautiful. Thank you, thank you. I can’t wait to order another. Thank you so much for being so patient with me over the past few months, I know it took me awhile to get the ball rolling.

You are a truly talented artist, and I can tell how compassionate and caring you are. Thank you for giving us a memory of Jack that we will treasure forever. I look forward to working with you again soon.

By the way, none of the photos showed a hint of the supposedly aggressive side of Rottweilers that has landed them on some communities ill-concieved Least Wanted Dogs list. Such “breed profiling” is an ill-concieved way to control aggression in dogs. The real problem isn’t aggressive dogs, but people who don’t have control over their dogs because they don’t bother to train them to be good citizens.

Anyone looking into Jack’s sweet face can see the true nature of this noble breed! For a closer look into that face, visit Jack’s page on PetsPictured.com.

Did you know Jack or another lovable Rottweiler who defies the stereotypes? Please share your memories in the comments!

October 30, 2008

A Halloween Reminder: Holly’s Chocolate Horror Story

Chocolate is a Frightful Poison for Pooches and Pussycats

Holly, Standard Poodle - Graphite drawing by Susan DonleySeveral months ago, a treasured member of the PetsPictured.com Pack, Miss Holly Wood (my portrait of Holly at left), had an early Halloween Horror. The beautiful Miss Holly, a white Standard Poodle, and the human she owns, photographer Johny Day, live in Montreal, Quebec. I met them on Flickr.com, where Johny runs a popular Standard Poodle discussion group.

Seems that Johny isn’t a big fan of chocolate (what?!) and threw away two pounds of it uneaten. (That someone would throw away chocolate isn’t even the most amazing part of this amazing story!) Though he secured the garbage, Holly used her canine scavenging skills to root out the chocolate while Johny was out for a moment.

Any pet lover can imagine Johny’s horror when he arrived home to find garbage strewn on the floor, the chocolate eaten, and Holly lying in a coma! Chocolate is toxic to dogs, in spite of the fact that they love it. Johny, an ex-EMT (Emergency Medical Technician), rushed her to the vet for treatment of her poisoning.

Look at the frightful picture of this beautiful dog at death’s door and read the whole amazing story on Flickr.

Amazingly, Holly survived, after the vets giving her little hope during her days in Intensive Care. But the most amazing part of this story may be the tremendous out-pouring of support Johny, who is always there for everyone else, and Holly received from all over the world through the Flickr community of photographers and artists. Prayers and messages poured in and people contributed to Holly’s vet bills. Pet lovers reach out to each other over the miles when they relate to the deep love we have for our pets and the horror of losing them.

Holly is fine now, but the lesson is clear: Keep chocolate away from dogs and cats! For that matter, keep all human candy and snacks away from animals. Another surprisingly toxic ingredient in sugar-free chewing gum and candy are the artificial sweeteners xylitol, sorbitol, and mannitol.

So, if your dog goes trick-or-treating or your cat answers the door in costume, treat them with their own goodies, don’t share your own candy!

October 22, 2008

Memorial Portrait of Sassy, Boxer Dog

Sassy, Boxer - watercolor/colored pencil painting, copyright 2008 by Susan Donley

Mary Horning of Pittsburgh commissioned this watercolor/colored pencil portrait of the Hornings’ late Boxer, Sassy, as an anniversary gift for her husband. Because Mary lives nearby, we met in person a few times instead of the usual emailed approval scans I send to distant customers.

On our first visit, Mary mentioned that she had commissioned portraits of her pets before from other artists, one she had been very happy with, but another was a disappointment: the pet’s likeness wasn’t convincing and the spark of life just wasn’t there. Gulp! The pressure was on!

What a relief to see in Mary’s eyes that I had captured Sassy’s likeness and expression when I delivered the portrait. She warmed my heart later by sending me an actual snail mail note after she gave the portrait to her husband:


I want to express how much we love the painting you did of Sassy. The painting is life-like! You have a special talent. You did such a perfet job in capturing her personality as well as the personality of the Boxer breed. We truly have the most precious memory of our girl now.

It was a joy working with you and I’d like to thank you for your hard work and kindness. It was money well-spent. Please consider me a forever client.

Mary Horning

Such nice feedback really keeps me going! Thank you, Mary!

October 21, 2008

In Memory of Reef, Australian Shepherd

Reef, Australian Shepherd oil pastel portrait by Susan Donley

When my Aunt Anita heard that her brother and sister-in-law (my Uncle Bill and Aunt Hazel) had lost their dear old dog Reef, an Australian Shepherd, she wasted no time contacting me. She and her kids decided to go together to commission a portrait of this special family member to comfort the grieving human companions he left behind.

Thus began an interstate race and conspiracy to commit art! Anita and Melinda from Oklahoma City planned to hand-deliver the portrait to Bill and Hazel in Santa Barbara, California on October 1. It was mid-September and I am in Pennsylvania. Neither of us had photos of Reef, so Anita let Hazel in on the secret and enlisted her to sneak some photos into the mail to me. First challenge met! In light of Reef’s beautiful coloring — a tri-color red — we decided oil pastel was the medium of choice.

I worked quickly, sending scans to Anita and Hazel along the way to make sure I had captured Reef’s likeness, especially his coloring (always a challenge, since every photo of any pet or person seems to show different coloring). When it was done, Anita and I decided to send it directly to California (to Hazel’s office to maintain the surprise for Bill, but with strict instructions forbidding her to open it) to make sure it arrived at the same time Anita and Melinda arrived.

I’m told the great unveiling — a complete surprise for Bill — was an emotional time of remembering Reef, celebrating his life while mourning his loss. I wish I had been there, but felt blessed to be part of this special gift of consolation.

See Reef up-close on his portrait page. Roll your mouse over Reef’s portrait on this page to see an enlarged detail.

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Random peek into my sketchbook