Artist Dawn Tarr offers a new take on pet portraiture
Her artwork has been on the Ellen DeGeneres Show, Animal Planet, and the Bonnie Hunt Show. Among the celebrities who have her pet portraits are TV personalities Anderson Cooper, Conan O’Brien, Rachel Ray, and Shorty Rossi of Pit Boss.
Painter Dawn Tarr of Snow Hill has been painting her whole life and even shares a birthday with the famous painter Vincent Van Gogh. She calls herself an Impressionist painter and pop artist. Her style of pet portraiture is whimsical, capturing the pet’s true personality. Sometimes she paints just the pet and sometimes she paints the pet with its owner. Oftentimes, the pet is doing something human, like drinking a cup of coffee, playing cards, or dressing up in clothes.
Tarr recalls her big break. At the time, she was struggling painting workboats and putting her art in local restaurants on the lower Eastern Shore, hoping it would sell to the public. One day she sent Ellen DeGeneres a portrait she had painted of her dancing with a purse from a woman in her audience. Two years later, the portrait appeared on DeGeneres’ show where she gave it to Kendall Jenner. That was just the beginning of Tarr’s journey to fame. DeGeneres showed Tarr’s pet portraits on the show a few times, and now her pet portraits are in homes across the globe.
“I remember saying to myself, ‘Score!’” Tarr said. “I live here in the cornfield and don’t get opportunities like this. When you put your energy out like that it starts coming your way.”
Tarr is usually working on 20 pet portraits at a time. Sometimes she meets the dog and other times, she uses a photo and what people have told her about the pet to paint the portrait. She always asks what subject matter people would like included in the portrait of their pets, such as a favorite ball, an activity they enjoyed, or a memory. Sometimes she mixes media to give the portraits dimension. Eighty percent of the portraits are for pets who have died.
“I am super honored to do this,” she said.
Tarr, who graduated from Snow Hill High School and attended the Columbus College of Art & Design, has been painting her entire life. While living on a farm in Snow Hill and taking care of the animals there, she developed a deep love for animals.
“My animal art comes from somewhere else and through me. It’s been there my whole life.”
To get herself out of the studio, where she spends most of her time, Tarr also offers painting classes one to two nights a month at which students have the chance to paint their own pets’ portraits. Tarr first sketches the pet on an 8-inch-by-10-inch canvas from the pet photo a participant brings in and then the student paints the sketch with acrylic paint. She teaches both at The Globe in Berlin and at The Apothecary at 22 North Harrison Street in Easton.
“I am always amazed at how well the paintings turn out. People really get into it,” she said. “I think people have lost their creative spirit. They come in thinking they can’t do the painting and they leave amazed at what they have created. I think it’s a great way to escape from the burdens of real life.”
Tarr has expanded her painting classes to include making cutouts that people paint and decorate, including mermaids and crab basket flowers.
“I am trying to keep it fresh,” she said.
She has a heart for area causes, often donating her work and classes to benefit local organizations. Shorty Rossi has several of her pit bull portraits which help him bring awareness to pit bull rescue, something he is passionate about.
“It is gratifying to be able to pay my bills and also have an impact on something positive,” Tarr said. “I would like to eventually have my own building with a gallery to offer art classes to people of all ages, a place for ... kids to do art and to help the recovery community here in Snow Hill.”