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 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!

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December 10, 2008

“Stand by Me” sung together around the world

I have always been in awe of the power of the arts to unite and to heal. I’ve experienced it both as an artist-producer and an audience member/consumer. We can turn to visual arts, music and dance to express our feelings and ideas when words alone fail us.

This incredibly moving video, passed along on Twitter, is a prime example of a simple idea expressed in a timeless song, sung together by street musicians literally around the world.

The classic gospel-song-turned-pop-standard “Stand by Me” by musicians literally singing for change in their dedication to their art:

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December 3, 2008

DogFiles video on taking better photos of your pet

I always love to find someone who agrees with me! ;-) It’s especially nice when they do it with such pizzazz! The Dog Files has posted a video that illustrates many of the tips that I preach to folks taking photos that I will use for their pets’ portraits. Seeing video of the photographer setting up the shots with examples of both good and bad techniques is sure to improve your pet photos.

You can get more pet photo help here:

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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

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November 8, 2008

Tagged: 7 Things You Didn’t Know About Me

Yesterday I got tagged twice by two new Twitter artist friends, Lisa Stewart and Tara Reed, to tell you seven things you never knew about me (for the sake of my readers, I’m choosing not to interpret two tags in one day as a mandate to right 14 things you never knew about me! ;-) By the end of this post, I have to figure out seven other people to tag — I hope I have that many friends who blog…

Here we go, in roughly chronological order, Seven Things You (Probably) Didn’t Know About Me:

  1. I first learned the healing power of art when I did my first memorial portrait in fifth grade — of President Kennedy shortly after his assassination. Our teacher wisely realized that we needed to do our own grieving and devoted a bulletin board to our class memorial to him. The artists of the class drew portraits, others wrote or decorated. I still remember laboring proudly on that portrait to get everything just right. It was a pretty good likeness, so I kept practicing, which I’m still doing.

    By junior high I was already a “professional” portrait artist, selling a set of four portraits of the Monkees (Davy Jones, Mickey Dolenz, Peter Nolan, and Mike Nesmith, for those of you too young to remember or too mature to care) to my classmates for $2!

  2. My first art job out of college was washing you-know-what out of raw sheep fleeces, which really made my parents wonder about that hard-earned education! I later advanced to being a weaver (one of a dozen) producing of artist-designed woven pillows to be sold in department stores all over the country (that summer the song “Dreamweaver” came out, appropriately). We had our own anthrax scare in 1976, which shut us down while all the wool yarn from Pakistan (literally tons of it) was trucked off to be sterilized.

    The project was a brainchild of Elizabeth Raphael, who envisioned The Sociable Workshop as a sort of craft WPA for the 1970s. Its parent organization, The Society for Art in Crafts, where I continued to work as Education Director until 1985, was in the fore-front of the Modern Craft Movement in the 1970s. It continues its work today as the Society for Contemporary Craft in Pittsburgh.

  3. In 1989, the Pennsylvania Art Education Association (PAEA) honored me as Pennsylvania Art Educator of the Year for Museum Education for my work developing curriculum to help teacher integrate historic architecture and local history primary sources into their regular curricula. < soapbox >I advocated (and still do!) taking museum education strategies of learning from primary sources out of the museum and into school communities. Neighborhoods are open for investigation all year-round, not just at the annual museum field trip. When students trained to look for primary sources as clues do make the museum pilgrimage, they are primed and totally engaged. No snake line tours of bored kids!< /soapbox >

  4. 9D69150E-44A5-4E51-A515-D48BDE72AC0E.jpg In 1991 I wrote a viewers guide and teachers guide for the official White House Video Tour, titled “Within These Walls: A Visit to the White House.” Yes, THAT White House! What a thrill to go there several times to tour and lunch with the White House Curator! The White House Historical Association (WHHA) hired public television station/producer WQED Pittsburgh to produce the film and they hired me because of my historical preservation experience. The WHHA showed and sold the film in the White House Visitors Center. Later we did a sequel called “Upon These Grounds: Exploring the White House Gardens.”

    My career took an unexpected turn when the same WQED hired me full-time and suddenly I was a multimedia educator and producer instead of an art and museum educator. There I was, an artist-feeling-like-imposter writing materials for national productions in science and math, as well as my more comfortable zones of arts education and local history. I was there in the front-row when the interactive multimedia hit full-force, helping to produce its first (and only!) CD-ROM called, Next Step Mars. No, it never hit the big-time, but I went on to produce a CD-ROM for National Geographic called GeoBee.

  5. My iPod’s playlist spans over 300 years!. I’ve always had eclectic musical tastes: Glenn Miller, Andrews Sisters, Mass Gospel Choirs, Stephen Foster, and roots music of all kinds, as well as the music I grew up with, the folk rock of the 1960s and 1970s. But when I worked on
    Voices Across Time: American History Through Music, a great curriculum supplement using songs as primary sources for studying American history, my playlist expanded to three centuries! Be forewarned if I ever put my iPod on shuffle when you are around! ;-)

  6. I’m grateful to be an 11-year survivor of endometrial (uterine) cancer! After finding absolutely no resources for women with gynecologic cancers (the cancers that hit below the belt) compared to breast cancer, in 2000 I teamed up with nine other women I met on an early cancer listserv to create, an all-volunteer web-based support community for women with gynecologic cancers, that is still going strong.

  7. 84C03BEC-3FF7-438C-9B41-C48AFA74E274.jpgI’m the author of a fourth grade social studies textbook titled Pennsylvania Our Home for Gibbs Smith Publishers (whose textbook site is down or I’d link), my last major curriculum writing project before returning to my artistic routes, which brings us back full-circle to the topic of this blog…

OK, so now I’m going to tag seven artists who I follow on Twitter (who haven’t yet been tagged to my knowledge), who I’d like to know better:

Ball’s in your court, Twitter friends! Follow me on Twitter.

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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

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

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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 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, 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!

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October 27, 2008

Artist avatars: The 50-pixel self-portrait

Lisa Stewart, a Net-savvy artist and designer has posted an excellent blog entry “Brand YOU: Your Avatar (Part 2)” on the art of the avatar, how important these tiny self-portraits are to online branding for artists, and how to improve artist avatars. Check out part 1 also!

Prompted by Lisa’s call for examples of creative avatars, I combed my Flickr contacts for some that I thought expressed their owner’s art and make you want to click through to their photostream:

944A2F16-538A-44E8-8F3F-D9197EC40C20.jpg 2C4CEBB9-ADDC-4BBD-9F0B-CD5F2CF78F2F.jpg 01D50560-DAF4-49AB-A5F3-FCB575A7CBF9.jpg 8B0DE435-5EE6-48CE-8AE8-5C41206DEF69.jpg C2761314-9ACE-4FC4-9E87-C92AEB42B09D.jpg

donley_sq_icon.jpgMy avatar is a simple reduction of a normal-sized (8×8 inches) graphite self-portrait I did a couple of years ago from a candid photo. After reading Lisa’s excellent blog post about taking, choosing, and creating a creative avatar, I’m going to be re-thinking mine. All that detail doesn’t reduce well and I’ve been told the pose isn’t the most flattering to me (heck, I liked it because it didn’t look “fat”! ;-) Another project for January, after the holiday rush!

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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!

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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