Darlene Pucillo (who goes by “Puci”) is an artist based in Spokane, Washington. For most of her professional life she focused on fine art paintings. Within the last couple of years, however, she’s branched out into pet portraiture, much to her clients’ delight. Darlene put the paintbrush down for a few minutes to chat with me about her work.
Karen: First things first! Tell me a little about your favorite pet.
Darlene: As a teenager growing up in San Francisco, my constant companion through that difficult adolescent passage was Alfie, a Maltese-Poodle. Alfie and I would walk in Golden Gate Park almost every day. When I returned home from school, there he was in the window waiting for me. And, as I lay on the rug in the living room doing my homework, he would curl up on my back and nap. He lived to see me through school and out on my own.
Karen: You’ve been painting over 30 years, but just recently began painting pets. What prompted you to take the plunge into pet portraiture?
Darlene: I’m still perfecting my skills as a painter–thirty years of painting helps with that. But inspiration is not a skill that can be perfected. It comes suddenly and mysteriously and can leave just as quickly. For me, inspiration arrived one day in the form of a realization that, with my talent of composition using Photoshop combined with my skill as a painter, could enable me to offer owners of animals affordable portraits of their beloved companions.
I had been considering the idea of doing pet portraiture for sometime before I finally launched my online venture while living in Portland, Oregon. Per capita, Portland has a huge population of pet lovers.
I built an online following for my artwork. Sometimes the portraits are done to memorialize a pet that has died. Often the response to these portraits will give a touching insight into the strong emotional bond people have with their animals.
Now relocated to Spokane, I continue to pursue my artistic muse as well as my business of pet portraiture.
Karen: You continue to produce fine art paintings in addition to the pet paintings. Which do you prefer?
Darlene: I love it all, really. I just love to paint and specifically with oil paints. The great thing about the pet portraits is the immediate satisfaction from my customers as well as the assured income.
Karen: How many pet portraits have you completed?
Darlene: I’ve painted about 150 pet portraits to date.
Karen: Do you only paint in oils, or do you also work in other media?
Darlene: Art school, of course, introduces the student to a variety of methods for visual expression, but oil paints continue to captivate me. I love the rich color and consistency of oil paints, the slow drying time and the passion that emerges when paint, brush and painting surface unite.
I’ve also come to appreciate the digital media. It seems magical what an accomplished artist/designer can achieve with a program such as Adobe Photoshop. (This is how I compose my pet portraits for client approval.)
Karen: Do customers ever send you photos that just won’t work for a painting?
Darlene: Yes. That is an issue. A photo with poor resolution or other issues is very difficult to work with, so I try to obtain as many photos as I can to mix-and-match. But when a good photo is just not available, I find that a whole body portrait of the pet surrounded by a well planned background area will successfully convey the personality/essence of the pet.
Karen: Your final paintings seem much more vibrant and alive than the photos on which they are based. What sort of reaction do your clients have when they see the final product?
Darlene: I’ll answer that question with some of my client’s reactions to the finished portrait:
“Hi Darlene-…my friend Katy was so overwhelmed with the painting- she just couldn’t believe how well you captured him- she said the same thing I did- that a painting is surely a much better option over just a plain old photo…” she is getting it matted and framed and hanging it over her fireplace! She said “gorgeous” and then she cried- so thank you again for giving her something she will have forever as a happy reminder of Charlie!”
“Wow! you have an amazing talent….thank you. It looks so much more like her – more alive than the photos can capture.. I love it.”
“Hi Darlene! YES we received the painting and it is absolutely stunning! My dad just about fell over when he saw it…”
That is the most beautiful thing I have ever seen. You did a marvelous job. I just can’t thank you enough. I miss him so much. You made me cry but then I have a hard time stopping these days.”
Karen: Are most of the paintings purchased as gifts, as memorials of deceased pets, or by people who just want to see their pets in oil?
Puci: Probably all three. Many of my customers who commission a pet portrait for themselves will commission more portraits of their family of pets. Many gift commissions are at Christmastime, on birthdays and the like. The memorial portraits are the most poignant commissions.
Karen: In addition to cats, dogs, and their people, do you paint any other types of animals?
Darlene: I’ve incorporated many pets and animals into my other paintings over the years, including horses, tigers, monkeys, hummingbirds, parrots, seagulls, frogs, fish… Currently I’m working on a project that involves endangered species.
Karen: Which is your favorite breed of cat to paint?
Darlene: I enjoy painting Ragdolls and other longhaired cats because the long fur can be painted in loose, long brushstrokes. Tabbies are also fun because the markings are always so unique to each cat. The eyes of a cat are most amazing.
Karen: Of all the cat portraits you’ve done, which is your favorite?
Darlene: My portrait of Target (part of my personal collection) is probably my favorite. Target was so special to me and my husband. He was so cool. He was a Tuxedo Cat who sort of adopted us and our apartment when his owner took off for Germany and left Target with the roommate. We called Target the Frank Sinatra of Cats.
Karen: In addition to your website and Etsy, do you sell your work elsewhere?
Darlene: I exhibit in galleries and I also exhibit in the cafes, restaurants and coffee houses that appeal to me. An example of a great coffee house venue for my pet portraits would be The Iron Mutt in Beaverton, Oregon.
Karen: I know my readers will want to know where they can see your work. If they don’t live in the Pacific Northwest, can they find you online?
Darlene: They sure can! I have a broad online presence, including the following sites:
Karen: Thanks, Darlene, for taking the time to let us have a peek into your creative life! It’s been a real visual treat getting to see your work!
You can commission a painting from Darlene, and it won’t break the bank. An 8″X8″ oil painting is $85; an 8″X10″ is $105, and a 16″X20″ painting is $210. It’s a purrfect way to commemorate a cherished family pet.
And, if you follow Darlene on Facebook, you can get sneak previews of her latest work!
[IMAGES: All images are the copyright of Darlene Pucillo.]