After being in the corporate world for 25 years, artist Karen L. Dortschy rediscovered her passion for painting during a wine and paint party with friends in 2015. Today, she owns Haute Dauge Portraits, where she gets to create portraits of honorary four-legged furry family members. Here, Dortschy talks about passion, pets and painting.
Lake Norman Publications: How did your focus become pet/animal art?
KD: The wine and paint party was a “paint your pet” experience, and I just loved painting the hairs and whiskers of my dog. I am an avid animal lover, and I decided to only paint subjects for which I have great passion. So, you’ll never see me painting a display of fruit, or landscapes, because I don’t have passion for those. I really do fall in love with every pet I paint, whether it’s a dog, cat, horse or bearded dragon!
LNP: What was your first pet portrait?
KD: After that wine and paint experience in 2015, I decided to paint a portrait of my sister’s Shih Tzu, to give as a gift to her. That turned out to be really difficult, as I didn’t really understand the science behind art – of how to create light, balance, depth, etc. I spent almost 40 hours on that portrait, often painting over portions of my work. My sister just loved the finished painting, though. In fact, her neighbor saw the painting and became my first paid commission. That little Shih Tzu passed away last year at 16 years old, and the painting became even more meaningful to my sister.
LNP: What is the easiest animal to paint? The hardest?
KD: The easiest pet for me to paint is one that is still alive. I always ask numerous questions about the pet’s unique personality, mannerisms and ask the pet parents to share stories about the pet. When the pet has passed, the pet parents are grieving, and it’s so hard for them and me to talk about the pet. But it’s also healing for them, as they share positive memories with me. I still fall in love with the pet’s spirit.
LNP: Advice to animal artists?
KD: You have to fall in love with the pet you’re painting. I always paint the pet’s eyes and nose first on the canvas, so that the animal is “looking” back at me. I don’t understand how some pet artists never find out anything about the pet they’re recreating on canvas. To me, that is crucial. Also, every pet is unique. So while people think every boxer looks alike or every Siamese cat looks similar, each one has exclusive markings, eye color and, of course, personality. Also, be flexible! One client wanted N.C. State red as the background of the portrait. Is that what I would have painted? No, but the finished portrait of her black Lab mix was beautiful with that red background, and it matched her home décor perfectly.
LNP: How does the Lake Norman area inspire your work?
KD: I enjoy being able to connect to other artists when I occasionally attend open painting workshops at Mooresville Arts. I took art lessons for several years with another Lake Norman-based artist and attended an open art studio through the Huntersville Parks and Recreation department for about two years. Also, LKN people just love their pets, and I’m always thrilled to meet many of the pets that I get to paint. Many local businesses display my art, including Lake Norman Chrysler Jeep Ram Dodge, Main Street Animal Hospital and Pet Pilgrimage. Numerous others have referred me to clients, and I’m so grateful.
LNP: What motivates you to continue this work?
KD: When a beloved pet has passed, I feel like I bring his spirit back to life for the pet parents. Clients cry when they receive the finished portrait, and they have a treasured heirloom that enables them to enjoy the pet for years to come. What I create is a very unique gift for the recipient, and I’m proud that my paintings have been given as wedding, anniversary and birthday gifts. It is so fulfilling to me that I can do this for others, and that what I create brings so much joy.
LNP: Anything else you'd like people to know about you/your work?
KD: I was in corporate marketing for my entire career, but nothing prepared me for the emotional connection I make with people when I’m painting a portrait of their pet. Since 2015, when I started painting professionally, I am blessed to be able to combine my passion for art and animals in a way that touches so many people.