Art NotesArts & Culture

Immortalizing Furry Friends through Pet Portraits

CINDY JERRELL: All creatures great and small have always been a major source of inspiration for multimedia artist Cindy Jerrell, whose creations range from beautifully painted wooden shadowboxes starring anthropomorphized characters, to whimsical puppets with moving appendages, to eerie, otherworldly digital compositions.

Finding a unique way to channel her sense of humor, Jerrell offers two main types of commissioned pet portraits outside her main body of fine art: sepia-toned photographs of pets decked out in vintage clothing and accessories—similar to the cat gracing this week’s cover of Flagpole—and mugshots of animals caught being naughty.

“Personally, I don’t need to see animals in clothes to understand that they have personalities and intelligence and emotions, but sometimes a photograph of an animal suggests so much character and background story,” says Jerrell. “The pet portraits are a collaboration with the owner of the pet, and they are all about adoration and anthropomorphic fun.”

She began creating portraits using images of her own pets and snapshots taken while visiting the animal shelter each weekend to make mini-profiles for Flagpole’s Adopt Me section. After selling them through her Etsy shop Hotdigitaldog for awhile, she branched out through accepting custom orders. So far, she’s made an astounding 500 pet portraits for people all over the world. 


Nethie Lockwood

“Many people give them as gifts and then tell me how the pet owner reacted by either bursting out laughing or crying. No one ever sees this gift coming,” says the artist. “A few have told me the framed portraits now hang with the human ancestor portraits on a wall of honor.”

Jerrell’s home is a bit of an animal sanctuary; there’s Gigi, “a CockaPekaPoo who has ruled [her] life for 16 years with an iron paw,” nine cats—Finny, Violet, Pickles, Slinky, Boo, Sissy, Punky, Pirate and Lacey—two ducks named Eleanor and Shirley, a chicken named Penny and a temperamental, fluffy-footed rooster named Marvin.

“A chunk of these animals have come from my many trips to Animal Control over the years while doing Adopt Me for Flagpole,” she says. “You didn’t think I came home empty-handed every time, did ya?”

NETHIE LOCKWOOD: Another local artist who is more than familiar with capturing the likeness of furry friends is Nethie Lockwood, a painter who has specialized in pet portraits since graduating from the Ringling College of Art and Design in Florida in 2003. 

“I like trying to capture the emotion of a moment,” says Lockwood. “In college, I did a lot of work with this obsession. I realized animals have an emotional openness [that] people never will.” After using a friend’s cat as the muse for part of her senior thesis, the artist was greatly moved by the realization that her friend had formed a very personal connection to her artwork. This ability to bring joy into people’s lives has motivated Lockwood to offer commissioned portraits for more than a decade.

“My favorite part of making a portrait is putting the detail in the eyes. It makes me feel like I am bringing the painting to life,” she says. “It’s nice to have the pet I have been staring at for hours suddenly stare back at me.”

Lockwood is the proud mother of a “sweet little princess” corgi mix, a “devious, wild man” dachshund mix and three cichlids.

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Will Eskridge

WILL ESKRIDGE: Known for promoting awareness of issues pertaining to animal welfare and habitat conservation through his artwork depicting wildlife, Will Eskridge is also talented at creating lighthearted portraits of domestic pets.

“My dad is a veterinarian and my mom is an artist and musician, so I guess it was natural for me to evolve into an animal artist,” says Eskridge.

Though using photographs for reference—animals rarely sit still for long, after all—his contemporary images are typically painted in a loose, expressive style rather than a photorealistic one, which allows for flecks of bold colors to pop in each creature’s coat.

Eskridge and his wife share their home with Mr. Furley, an Old English sheepdog and husky mix who was adopted from the pound; Lola, a black Labrador who was handed down by a family member; Hank, a Pekingese and shih tzu mix who was abandoned in the neighborhood; Alfred Hitchcock, an orange tabby who was never retrieved after an appointment at his father’s vet clinic; and Loretta, a tortoise-shell cat who was found in a dumpster near a plant nursery. 

Like Lockwood, one of Eskridge’s favorite aspects of creating portraits is painting the eyes. “It’s always in the eyes. The eyes really are the window to the soul, and these animals have definitely got soul.”