Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Pet Passions: Danielle Theos

She is passionate about the animals she paints. Oh, Danielle Theos has done some Art Deco pieces and “quite a few landscapes,” but she prefers her subjects four-footed. The Long Island-based artist has painted just about every bred of dog or cat imaginable – everything from large and lordly Irish wolfhounds and Sphynx cats with their nearly hairless and soft-as-suede bodies to miniature Schnauzers and long-haired foxy-looking Somali cats. She works on a variety of surfaces: ceramic, wood, canvas, silk, metal, and rocks. Yes, rocks. “I constantly look for new surfaces to create something unique to paint,” Theos explains.

Strangely enough, painting wasn’t her first love – writing was. Because of her father’s work as an international journalist, she traveled around a lot and studied in France, Hungary, and Romania: she learned about other cultures and ended up taking degrees in art, marketing, and literature while still in Europe. Her focus gradually shifted to art. She still writes occasional articles and blog posts; but writing has taken “a second place in my life right now.” Custom orders keep her “very busy. I do work seven days a week, so you can really tell I love painting.”

The cats and dogs in her work are very detailed, very realistic. But a certain playfulness is never far away, as in her portrait of a black cat wearing a white hat and pearls shows. “I do like whimsical,” Theos admits. “My pets inspire me – their silliness, the things they like to play with. Sometimes I would get an order for a portrait like I did of the black cat you saw on my website. I was told that the cat is a diva, so that’s how I created the painting with the cat wearing a hat and pearls.”

She likes to start off by painting the animal’s body, not its face…probably because she doesn’t care “to do anything the conventional way. (My teachers could probably tell you stories.) I like to do things my way, so I leave the eyes for the end. That’s when the painting comes ‘alive.’” Her most special painting? That of her first border collie, Rusty. “I did the painting after he crossed the bridge as a sort of healing. The painting hangs on a wall in my little studio. He was very special, and now I’ll always have him with me.”

But she manages to connect on some level with all the animals she paints. “I had a few customers order ornaments with pets who had passed that year,” the artist recalls. The customers all said that the ornaments “made them cry because they were such a vivid reminder of them [the pets]. I think I get more emotional in my work when I know the pets passed. We’ve all been there, and it’s not easy to cope with.”

 Theos’s feeling for animals goes further than that, though. She has been involved in a number of “organizations who do tremendous work, even going out of state to save pets, like Roger’s Rescue[, an all-breed dog rescue serving New Jersey and Pennsylvania,] and the Colonel Potter Cairn Rescue.” She also donates a percentage of the proceeds from her sales to various no-kill shelters. “I refuse to donate to organizations who kill pets,” she says emphatically. “I believe all pets deserve a second chance, no matter what. I know that overpopulation is a problem, but there are always solutions.”

Theos’s husband got Cruiser, their border collie, from a breeder in 2004 because “he looked exactly like Rusty.” But the majority of their pets are second-chancers. The two cats, Lucky and Destiny, were adopted from the local shelter; and Jet, a Lab-cross, came from the North Shore Animal League in 2008, after the Theoses lost another beloved dog, their Labrador retriever, Blackie. “Cruiser and the cats were devastated,” she explains, “so we looked for a dog who looked like Blackie. Jet was found in the garbage as a small puppy and had many surgeries before he could be adopted. If you see him now, it’s hard to believe he’s been through so much not long ago.”

Kelsie, their third dog, showed up this past September. “We think somebody dumped her in our neighborhood because they didn’t want her anymore,” Theos remarks. “One day, somebody kept knocking at our door, only it was a dog which seemed old and hurt.” She was abused and afraid but came up right up to me like she knew me. I guess she did because I took her in, and she is now happy and playful. Still a bit afraid of strangers, but we are working on that.”

Pets and painting….the two passions have become entirely entwined and a major part of Theos’s life. She hasn’t forgotten about writing, though. “One day, I would like to write again,” she reflects. “Maybe even a book and do the illustrations as well.”

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