by Rick Delanty
An artist lives in San Clemente today who seeks to express the very soul of a wide range of domesticated animals in her watercolors-on-board. It is the focus of her art business, Soulful Pet Portraits.
This artist, Michelle Delanty, is in her mid-30s and appears to possess the extraordinary ability and technical skill to see inside our loveable pets; to describe their personality and feelings and capture their colors, fur types and patterns therein.
Michelle has loved animals since she was a child living with her parents who were educators in San Clemente. Her father, also a professional artist, provided her with clay from which she crafted exquisite figurines of animals and birds with her tiny fingers. Over the years, her family enjoyed the company of a long line of household pets, including birds, turtles, hamsters and gerbils, and eight cats.
Drawing animals was her favorite subject throughout high school. She took a class with her dad and learned to paint three-foot-square male and female portraits. At Cal State Long Beach, and in her studies abroad in Florence, Italy, she enlarged her painting skills painting landscapes and figures. But animals were always her true love.
An observation by Trisha McCagh in The Animal Whisperer inspired Michelle as she developed her personal passion for animals in her art: “Animals are the bridge between us and the beauty of all that is natural. They show us what’s missing in our lives, and how to love ourselves and others more completely and unconditionally. They connect us back to who we are, and to the purpose of why we’re here.”
When Michelle married her husband Mike, he owned a unique female boxer named Kesha. Even as she launched her teaching career in the art department at Valley Vista High School, she painted Kesha at home in her favorite medium, watercolor. She painted her in a rainbow of colors and in a variety of poses, even one in which the dog sported an aristocratic white collar, characteristic of Rembrandt’s 17th-century Amsterdam works.
One day a friend asked Michelle to paint her pet dachshund, Roar. Desiring to give her friend the best possible interpretation of her beloved pet, Michelle recalled the loving relationship between her friend and her dog and the impact that love had on her friend’s feelings and behavior. She became even more alert to the different relationships that all kinds of people have with their pets. As she studied those relationships, she found that pet owners felt that the love they received from their pet was of the purest kind, since it was unconditional: animals know no evil, jealousy or discontent. They share every part of their owners’ lives with them and go through every trial with them. Michelle believes that relationships that humans develop with their pets teach valuable lessons concerning how all of us can learn to appreciate the human relationships we have.
As more and more collectors of her work began to provide photographs requesting portraits of their beloved pets, it was these observations and feelings that began to fuel Michelle’s passion to describe not only the outer appearance of these special creatures, but their emotions. To do that, she decided that she would learn to paint the eyes of her models as “windows to the soul,” and it would be there - in the center of the face - that she would see and portray each pet’s particular personality. She changed her color palette to reflect the subtleties of fur patterns and lighting and became a student of reflected light and the modeling of three-dimensional form. She began to use archival materials, such as Ampersand boards made of high-density aspen fibers, and gouache paint (opaque watercolor) from Holbein and Winsor-Newton. Different brands and types of varnish were explored, until just the right sealant was found. Presentation of the final artwork is of primary importance to this artist who employs sturdy, high-finish framing and ships her work (with a thank-you note) in secure packaging.
At art fairs Michelle displays her work in a professional booth, with giclee reproductions, business cards and contact information. Her website is continually being updated, at www.soulfulpetportraits.com
. Always ready to accept new commissions, and eager to work with anyone who loves God’s special creatures, she has begun expanding her work to painting commissioned portraits of infants, children, and other figures as well.