North Hills artist specializes in animal portraits

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Faithful, affectionate, patient, obedient and always delighted to see you. Such devotion deserves to be immortalized. This Valentine's Day you can celebrate your loved one for all eternity by commissioning a portrait that captures the inner beauty and outward charms of your ... pet.

Let's face it, many people have a better relationship with their dog than their spouse, and some even prefer canine companionship to the human variety. So it's no surprise that pet portraits are a growing breed. North Hills artist Kim Freithaler paints people as well, but her specialty has become animals as the demand has increased over the years.

"Pets have really become part of the family," Ms. Freithaler says. "Dogs used to have made-up names, and now they have people names like Molly. They are no longer tied up in the yard. Now they're in bed with the owner. They have truly become a member of the family, and that extends to their portrait."

Ms. Freithaler has volunteered at Animal Friends for years and in the process met many animal lovers like herself.

"Often they've had a pet who has passed away who they want to remember, and they have photographs."

Ms. Freithaler prefers to paint pets from photographs -- she jokes that "generally a dog doesn't pose." But if the pet is living, she likes to meet the animal to get a sense of its personality and mannerisms and check the color. Many pet owners have a favorite photo, perhaps in a setting that has memories as well. If there aren't any good existing photos, Ms. Freithaler will take her own.

"Sometimes I can create an image from a composite of photos if they aren't the greatest. It matters how good and how clear the photo is. Obviously the better the lighting, the better the photo."

If the background is unattractive, Ms, Freithaler can simplify it, remove it or replace it with something more appealing. She can also construct a portrait using several photos. For instance, one client requested a painting of two cats on an antique chair and gave the artist three different photos that she combined. Another wanted her daughter painted on a galloping horse, and Ms. Freithaler is happy to paint owners with their pets.

A good portrait of an animal can be challenging to create because, unlike humans, there is less to work with in the form of expression. That makes it all the more important to get it right.

"All white poodles don't look exactly the same. When it's your pet, you will be able to recognize those differences and say yes, that's my dog versus that's a white poodle I painted. With animals it's a lot more critical to get the expression right. Dogs at least have eyebrow muscles. Sometimes they will just tilt their head, or a cat will cross her legs. They have mannerisms that can be incorporated into the portrait."

Ms. Freithaler has fostered more than 30 cats through Animals Friends. She currently has two foster cats, her own cat and two dogs. One of them, a boxer lab mix named Stitch, was born with a cleft palate and hair lip and was in danger of dying. Today, Stitch is 8 years, old and his portrait hangs in the prestigious William Secord Gallery in New York, which deals in fine animal art.

Prices begin at $1,000 for an 11-by-14-inch portrait and go up from there depending on the size, number of subjects and complexity of the painting. Ms. Freithaler says it generally takes about a month to finish because she paints in oils. To view her gallery or for more information, go to or call 412-445-9367.

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Marylynn Uricchio: or 412-263-1582.


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