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The dog portraitist
Laura Farrell
Laura Farrell grew up on 35 acres in Ijamsville, and her family always had what she called 'outdoor' dogs. When she moved to Washington, D.C., after graduating from Salisbury University with a bachelor's degree in fine arts, she naturally wanted to have a dog but understood at the same time her Connecticut Avenue studio apartment was just too small for an 'indoor' dog.

So she painted a portrait of her ideal companion -- a mini Daschund. 'It keeps me company,' she said with a small laugh. 'I made it kind of kitsch, against a patterned background with bright colors, that sort of thing.'

The 26-year-old Linganore High School alumna recently incorporated her small business, Laura M. Interiors, a custom decorative painting company, specializing in murals, children's rooms and faux finishes. But ever since she painted and framed her imaginative best friend, she's been getting steady work as a dog portraitist.

'They're not the usual kind of traditional still-life portrait,' Farrell said. Utilizing an eclectic color palette, the works are neither hyper-realistic nor cartoonish.

'Somewhere in between,' Farrell said. 'I'd call them 'painterly.' It's not pop art, which I'm getting into with other things.'

As part of the monthly First Saturday celebration in downtown Frederick, themed the 'Dog Days of Summer' this Aug. 2, Farrell will exhibit her fine-art pieces as well as show samples of her custom murals, faux finishes and dog portraits at The Muse, an eclectic craft, furniture, clothing, paper and art store on N. Market Street. And she'll also be in action, working on one of her latest pieces, a portrait of the chocolate Labrador Rex.

'I'll be there painting from 5 to 9 p.m. and also there to talk and answer questions,' Farrell said. 'Rex will be around, too. He's my boyfriend's dog.'

Whitney Bingham, owner of The Muse, noted Farrell's custom work in murals, faux finishes, children's rooms and interior painting -- as well as her pet painting.

'I really like her portraits,' Bingham said. 'They're different than the usual portraits, more interesting, more contemporary.'

Farrell doesn't work only with canines, however. She recently painted a cat named Stewart for a client and has done horses and other beloved animals for owners as well. Most requests are for dogs, though. She once even painted the dog from the MTV reality show 'Rob & Big' for a fan. Portraits, she said, typically start around $300 and go up from there, depending on the size of the canvas and the number of animals in the picture.

She creates from photographs, sometimes provided by the pets' owners, although she prefers to visit her subjects at home, taking a few photos herself to carry back to the studio. A painting and graphic design major at Salisbury, Farrell joked that her minor, psychology, also helps her capture her subjects.

'I do try to capture their personality, of course,' Farrell said.

Image and text by Frederick News

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