Paintings With Soul

Since October 2006 I've been a daily painter, creating a new pet portrait at least 5 times per week. Over the years I've expanded my offerings to include a variety of animals, pets, race horses, children and other treasured heirlooms. In addition, I accept a limited number of commissions each year.

In 2015 I am honored to be the Kentucky Derby Artist.

You may use the links below right to receive my daily paintings via email or to follow my blog with a feed. I post additional info, including in-process jpgs and other related information, on the studio Facebook page as well.

Meanwhile, thanks
so much for your continued support of my artwork.


I receive hundreds of emails daily, all various inquiries of one sort or another. In a perfect world I would respond to each of these in a timely fashion, but unfortunately I live in a nearly perfect world, and this does not happen. 

Hopefully, the following FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) will address many of your concerns without the 3-5 day wait for a personal response from me via email. You are always welcome to email me, however, and take your chances!

Did you study art?

I have studied art every single day of my life. I break objects down into basic shapes, examine the makeup of their colors, and imagine the brushwork I would use to build them. Every chance I get to doodle or sketch or leave a mark, I grab it. And I've always been this way.

I love to read and study imagery in books. I love to visit galleries and museums and look at real art. I love to talk to other artists and learn how they think and dissect ideas.

And I was very lucky to be able to get a formal education in the arts, too. I have a BFA in painting, with minors in ceramics and photography (pre-digital) and a BA in Art History, both from Michigan State University. And I completed half of an MFA program at California State, Los Angeles, before taking a hiatus to raise my family. I also continue to take workshops and lessons with artists who's work and ethics inspire me.

I continue to take workshops, both online and in person, with the artists who's work or technique most inspires me.

What sort of paints and materials do you use?

I use Golden Heavy Body Acrylics. My panels are sealed with Golden Acrylic Gel, and carry a final layer of Golden ULVS varnish. This creates a surface similar to an oil painting - many cannot even tell the difference!

My substrates vary from Ampersand Gessobords to Raymar panels to Strathmore Bristol Board.

I use a variety of brushes, but am for the most part too cheap to buy anything more than a couple bucks a pop. I prefer flats and brights to the finicky-er smaller rounds and filberts.

My studio is set up so that, if I have 10 minutes available, I can come in, grab my brushes, and lay down a couple marks. Yes, the 10 minute painting window is not ideal, but in my mind, 10 minutes is 10 minutes more than nothing.

Why the focus on animals?

As a child, I was crazy about anything that had four legs. I couldn't physically own all the animals I wanted, but I could pretend so by drawing and taping them to my bedroom walls. This early fascination with creating what I wanted by making art about it continued into my grownup years.

Why your recent obsession with creepy dolls?

I didn't play with dolls much (I was a tomboy with 4 brothers), so this obsession has been a big mystery to me. I do, however, think it has much to do with the death of my Grandmother a couple years ago. Her passing has made me think much about the circle of life, and as my kids (20, 17 and 14) grow up, I'm experiencing a lot of sentimentality related to childhood and emotional ties. To me, each of the dolls I paint has an individual story somehow related to myself or my loved ones, and by virtue of painting them, I am wrapping my arms around that person or feeling and preserving it.

Why did you start Painting a Dog a Day (which is now called Paintings With Soul)?

For several years previous to the daily project, I had been creating larger than life pet portraits. These were labor intensive, and because they were also commissions, I didn't have much wiggle room for experimentation or pursuing my own ideas. I decided to carve out some time each day where I could paint just for myself.

Which I did for a few months quite successfully. I had a platform for continued learning and exploration, and it also provided a great impetus for my studio - I was surprised to discover my collectors embraced the more intimately scaled paintings!

I started in October of 2006 - by January of 2007 the project had caught on, and I completely revised my studio operations to focus on the dailies and the joy they brought so many followers/subscribers/fans.

How do you create a painting each day?

I won't lie to you - it isn't easy. There are day's I don't want to come into the studio. But I make myself do it (guilt can be a very powerful motivator!).

Usually after I've had a brush in my hands for 15 minutes, I find my groove and the magic happens. The biggest challenge is working with commitment through those first 15 minutes.

There are days when things just don't work, but it's just as important on those days that I try to stick it through. Make sure that my psyche knows I showed up to work, despite my muse playing hookie (listen to Elizabeth Gilbert's TED talk on creativity and you'll know what I'm referring to).

Choosing to be a Daily Painter isn't about keeping up with the Jones' (or in this case, the Merrow-Smiths or the Keisers). It's about making a personal commitment to better your skill set by practicing discipline and tackling challenge. If you are considering becoming a daily painter, seriously assess your availability and set guidelines that will provide these things (discipline and challenge) while assuring success. For example, if you can't commit to painting daily, perhaps 3 times/week is enough, or spending 15 minutes sketching each day.

What I'm trying to say is set yourself up to succeed at the most basic level.

If you still want to learn a little more about my process and thoughts, then sign up for the dailies and follow along for a bit. And I always love to hear your thoughts, whether it's via comments on the blog or emails directly to me.

Can you explain to me how you make your paintings?

Um, no. While I am seriously flattered by your question, I simply cannot summarize 40+ years of study into one cohesive answer. 

My style has developed as a personal response to how I see the world, the sorts of things I am absolutely passionate about, and the millions of life experiences that have shaped my decision making up until the exact moment when a particular brushstroke was laid down.

My advice is to choose one topic to work on - like texture or muscular structure - and focus exclusively on that until you are happy with the results. Then move on.

Be relentless. Don't accept second best - your future collectors certainly won't! And don't beat yourself up over those paintings that didn't work - instead, identify why they don't match your mind's eye and work on mastering that particular skill. Then paint overtop them.

Learning to paint is not an overnight process. Be prepared to sweat and cry and crumple things up and throw them away.

There is no universal formula for painting. Improving your own skill set involves years of study, relentless work, and nothing but the highest standards. And what works for one may not apply to another - that's the beauty of creating.

Don't be afraid to experiment - it's only paint!

And if you still want to paint alongside me - so that you can try on some techniques and see if they aren't worth adapting - then let's get you into a workshop! Or, at the very least, follow along with the dailies so that you are certain to catch my lesson paintings.

Can you review my artwork?

While I absolutely love to look at art, I simply do not have the time to analyze and critique all the images that are sent to me. Furthermore, reviewing artwork via the internet is just not the same as seeing the pieces in person. 

Can you find an artists' guild in your area? seek out advice from those who can lay their hands on your paintings and support your efforts consistently. 

If you live in an area where this is not possible, search for an online network as a backup plan - but keep in mind that computer monitors display the same images differently, and typed dialogue can be easily mis-interpreted.

I'd like to take a class with you but cannot travel to one of your workshops. Will you come to me?

Currently I travel to teach 3-4 workshops/year. The student cost varies based on multiple factors - facilities usage, my travel costs, the number of students a venue can handle, and other fees.

Please shoot me an email so that I can add you to my mailing list and get your location onto my radar. It's helpful if you can also provide contact information regarding any spaces or groups in your area that would be willing to host a workshop.

And you can see my current workshop schedule here

When will you offer online classes?

Offering online classes is a big project - it's far more than just developing the content, but also involves building a robust internet-based platform that supports learning at the same level as my in-person workshops. And while I have offered online courses for art journaling, I am yet convinced that the nuances of painting (and particularly of color mixing) would be well represented using digital media. So it's on my radar, but not terribly high on my current to-do list.

I want to commission a painting. How do I do this? How much does it cost?

Take a peek here to learn more about the process. My paintings are costed based on size, surface, complexity and level of detail. I have earned a solid reputation for working with my clients in delivering pieces that exceed their expectations while staying on budget.

We can get started as soon as you are ready. Email me.

Can you donate something to a fundraiser I am involved with?

I get multiple requests daily to make donations, and while I wish I could help every wonderful cause, the reality is that I can not. I have learned that a cash donation is far more beneficial to a group than an object they have to market/sell, so as a consequence I donate a flat percentage of my sales to animal welfare. 

And did you know that artists do not receive a tax deduction for their donations? Nope, we don't. 

That said, any benefactor who donates art to your fundraiser DOES receive a tax credit for their donation. I am happy to provide preferential pricing to collectors looking to make a purchase that will be donated to a worthwhile cause. Please contact me for more information.

How do I market my work? What do you suggest?

Just like learning to paint, there is no one-size-fits-all marketing approach. I am not equipped to help you build one for your own studio - but you are in luck, because there is a wealth of individuals and groups who are happy to do so!

Check out your local Chamber of Commerce, the Small Business Association in your state (or online), and any local DDAs or other business authorities. Libraries are also another great resource for classes and other materials (and in many cases you do not necessarily need to reside in the library's district to take advantage of their materials). I also thoroughly enjoy Alyson Stanfield's content - her books and online presence are fabulous!

What sort of reference photos work?

Stronger reference photos lead to stronger paintings. It is with that in mind that I have specific things I must see in references before taking on any commissions.

I ask for multiple photos of each animal - this is because I want to visualize them in my studio, moving about as they spend the afternoon with me. Photos submitted should be at least 8" wide and at least 72dpi (although I prefer higher resolutions if available).

Do not send me photos you did not personally take. Due to copyright law, I can only work from pictures you have taken yourself, and will ask you to sign a waiver stating you were the photographer for all images submitted. If you cannot sign this waiver or cannot help coordinate permission for use of the photos you submit for consideration, I cannot take on your project. 

Here's a few tips:
  • Turn off the flash on your camera. I only work from non-flash photos (and only make exceptions for deceased pets). When reviewing older photos for submission, if the dog's eyes are glassy/red/white orbs or if the dog has a hard shadow cast of a halo-effect shadow, the photo was taken with a flash.
  • Take advantage of natural lighting. Position your pet alongside a window or doorwall (notice I said "alongside" and not "in front of"). Black dogs photograph best outside in a shadowed area (provided there is no snow in the shadowed area!!)
  • Get the camera down to their eye level.
  • Take casual, unposed photos of your pet sleeping, eating, watching squirrels.
  • The animal must be in focus.
  • The animal must make up at least 1/3 of the photograph.
  • Ask a friend to hold a treat over your shoulder. Make silly, unexpected noises. 
  • The dog doesn't HAVE to be looking directly at you - some of the most effective portraits include gazes off to the side or attention being paid elsewhere.
  • Take a peek at some of the reference photos I've shared - many are on my studio Facebook page (I hold an annual photo contest around Valentine's Day). Look at the elements that are highlighted there and see what sorts of things you can do with your dog!!

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