Painting Dog Portraits & The Gifts Dogs Give Us Unconditionally

Painting dog portraits is something I’ve done for as long as I can remember. Last weekend I continued working on my digital painting skills by doing this portrait of a dog named Scoby.

Painting dog portraits & the gifts dogs give us unconditionally

If you’ve ever had kombucha, you may understand his name a little better. His momma, Donna Schwenk, is the founder of Cultured Food Life and is a dear friend.

Painting dog portraits - Portrait study of a dog named Scoby

This is a portrait study of a dog named Scoby painted digitally in ArtRage

I got to meet Scoby last year when I had a leak in my roof. Donna’s husband, Ron, came to my rescue to fix it and brought the mighty Scoby along. Apparently, he goes everywhere with Ron and is obsessed with him. The reference photo I worked from was Scoby looking for Ron when he went around the side of my house. He couldn’t wait for his daddy to return.

Why I Love Painting Dog Portraits

I am a huge dog lover and have had dogs all my life. This is why I love painting their portraits. As I get older, I see how much dogs have been there for me emotionally through life’s ups and downs. The psychological benefits of dogs are widely known and I’m sure they are part of the reason why dogs are so loved.

Painting dog portraits - Henry

Portrait of “Henry” – oil on panel

What I’ve learned about dogs is that they are a 100% safe place to focus love and affection. I can’t think of another animal on the planet, including humans, where this is a truer statement. Of course I haven’t met all the animals on the planet, so I’m sure there may be others out there somewhere. But in my world, it’s dogs.

No matter who you are, what you look like or what your mood is, a dog is always ready to give you love completely. They’re not thinking about how you didn’t clean the kitchen or forgot to take out the trash. They don’t care if you were late for a meeting – they just see you as someone worthy of love. Receiving love without judgement is a very powerful gift that dogs give us freely.

Painting Dog Portraits - Dog portrait of Rocco

Portrait of “Rocco”, oil on canvas.

What Dogs Are Teaching Us Everyday

Dogs show us how to be better human beings through their example of unconditional love.

Most of us are “looking for love in all the wrong places” outside of ourselves.  What a dog knows is not to go looking for love from someone, but to just give love. No strings attached (unless you have bacon). I believe this is what so many of us are missing when it comes to living life here on planet earth.

Painting dog portraits - ginger

Portrait of “Ginger”, oil on canvas

We are waiting for someone else to focus love and attention at us rather than to simply be loving and allow that love to flow through us. We live in a society that is so focused on getting that we forget that when we give from the heart, we get back what we give ten times over.

The Deep Pain of Losing a Beloved Dog

A few days ago, I lost my beloved Beardsley. I fostered Beardsley for one whole day before I adopted him. He was four years old at the time and I had him in my life for eleven years. His health had been failing over the last year, but his spirit was stronger than ever and his determination to live life was very mighty! It seemed like he would never give up but on his birthday, the day of the great solar eclipse, he let me know he was ready to go.

Painting Dog Portraits - Etching of Beardsley

This is an intaglio print I made a few years ago of my beloved Beardsley

It’s hard to know how to grieve for a pet in today’s world. Many think that they can’t show full emotion because it’s “just a dog”. I’m here to tell you that times have changed. Dogs have more status in our society than ever before and the grief of losing a pet is just as strong and painful as losing a beloved person.

Permission To Grieve

I took a day to grieve privately and then warned people at work I was going to be a crybaby at times when I came back. Then I gave myself permission to grieve and by doing that, I felt I had a little more control over my emotions. There was so much support from my team is was amazing.

Painting dog portraits - Copper

Portrait of “Copper” – oil on panel

As a group, we’ve gone through a lot of tough times over the past couple of years and have shed a lot of tears along the way. We’ve made it safe to be a human being there. This doesn’t mean we are always overly emotional and crying, it just means that we aren’t ignoring tough stuff or making people feel shame for not being “strong enough”.

They Are Always With You

Living in a world where “rational is right, emotional is wrong” can make it hard to believe in things you can’t observe directly with your five senses, even though Harvard Medical School has researched and written about evidence to the contrary. I think we can all relate to wanting to have a sign from our loved one that they are OK on the other side, but it seems a little crazy and like wishful thinking.

Painting dog portraits - Leo

Portrait of “Leo”, oil on panel

I wasn’t expecting a sign from Beardsley but to my surprise, I got three of them. Somehow he knew I would probably rationalize away one or two signs, so he decided to hit me over the head with three. I’m not going to share the signs here because I don’t want some random person giving me their overly-analytical rationalization of the evidence.

I’ve shared the signs with people who are close to me and they were as blown away as I was. Beardsley has shown me he is as determined in spirit as he was physically. And that has made me even more of a believer in the non-physical aspects of life. Call me crazy, I don’t care!

If you love dogs like I do, then make a point to act on the lessons they are teaching us everyday:

  • Look at the world with great anticipation
  • Live in the moment
  • Be excited about life and the ones you get to share it with
  • Look for reasons to love and appreciate everything and everyone around you
  • Jump to be joyful
  • Play

This is a tall order for me personally which is why I marvel at how easy it is for dogs. They have no rules or stories made up in their heads about who they love or why they love them – they just do. What a gift.

Thank you, sweet Beardsley. I will miss you always.

Painting Dog Portraits - My little man, Beardsley

Beardsley – a.k.a B-man, a.k.a. Little Pants Man


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