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Charlie and Picolo Pay Close Attention!

Two very different creatures pay close attention to very different things

I loved an orange cat for many years and am currently smitten by a very fine and loyal dog. Each earned a place in the family heart while displaying typical breed character. My family saw them as two very nice animals—but they didn’t like each other! The cat was feisty and the dog (just a big puppy) was too rough. That two so different animals might form a fast friendship seemed unlikely . . . or so it appeared to me until this newest commission showed otherwise.

With different outlooks on what’s important

Charlie likes to chase squirrels! But here he represents the very best in dogdom for his utter attention to people as he looks out from the canvas. Picolo on the other hand is attentive to the bird. One thing to value in cats is their independence–they find their own pleasure in their own way.

The joke is almost always on the cat

Canine and feline each have their wonderful qualities but they are very different creatures. Here’s a reminder of how big those differences are in these humorous takes on the subject. Trust and loyalty . . .   Is it for suckers? Dogs and cats in the same situation will react so differently you’d think they were from different universes! Cats are independent creatures who don’t require you to love and appreciate them. Dogs are social and friendly, expressively happy and eager to earn your love.

Do you prefer one or the other?

In seeking the story before I began to plan and paint, the client sent a video; I watched as Charlie and Picolo teased and tumbled, nipped and rolled, cuffed and cuddled, then settled side by side to rest for their next bout. Some people are completely biased toward one or the other, viewing dogs as too submissive, fawning, needy and even a little stupid, or observing that cats are arrogant, wily, aloof, and a bit mean. But that’s unfair to both of these fine animals.

The big lesson is to get along!

Charlie and Picolo have found common ground to delight in their differences and still be friends. That is the story (and a lesson) told in this painting. Can’t we all just get along even if we don’t agree?

Sam needs his Forever Home; donation portrait to the Dog Art for Old Friends benefit to be held October 16, 2015. at the Omni Nashville

Sam needs his Forever Home; donation portrait to the Dog Art for Old Friends benefit to be held October 16, 2015. at the Omni Nashville

Senior dog needs forever home

The shepherd painted here is Sam, worn out from life on the farm and enjoying a satisfying midday rest among the cornstalks. But he’ll rise to greet anyone who comes along with an enthusiastically wagging tail. Sam understands the value of the trade—he’ll give love and loyalty for a good retirement home and someone who appreciates him.

Old Friends Senior Dog Sanctuary

Old Friends Senior Dog Sanctuary is a Forever Foster home-based Sanctuary in beautiful Mount Juliet, Tennessee. An important part of their mission is to raise awareness of the joys and challenges of living with older dogs. Senior dogs, especially those with medical problems or disabilities, face a much greater chance of euthanasia at shelters than younger dogs because it’s difficult to find adopters for them due to their shorter additional life expectancy and unknown veterinary costs. Most of these wonderful senior dogs will be able to live happily with a good quality of life if given a chance. They make wonderful companions because they are mature, calm and loving.  

It can be more difficult for them to settle in, and once they do, it is difficult for them to move again. For this reason they strive to find them forever foster or adoptive homes where they can live out their retirement years as a loved family member. Currently OFSDS provides lifetime retirement homes for 47 senior dogs at the Sanctuary and many more in temporary and Forever Foster Homes. They are an all volunteer 501(c)(3), non-profit.  They say, “We do not concern ourselves with the quantity of time that they have left, rather the quality of the life that we can provide them for that time.” Learn more about their mission at the OFSDS home page and blog and then LIKE them at Facebook!

Dog Art for Old Friends Benefit auction

The Nashville community of arts and artists including many names you would recognize has become a key supporter of the Senior Dogs Sanctuary. This year Light Pixie Studio is pleased to contribute to such a worthy cause. The second annual Dog Art for Old Friends benefit auction will be held at the Omni Nashville on October 16th with 100% of proceeds to help Old Friends. Tickets are available online for the live event and silent auction previews and bidding underway from May 1 to October 16, 2015.

What do we love in another?

Is it their thoughtfulness, generous spirit, cheerfulness, that they are trustworthy, patient, and loving? Perhaps that they are capable and kind, self-aware and wise, confident and disciplined, maybe even that their ambitions are a complement to your own.


Dogs are People Too

Meet Raeven, sweet girl, who is all of these things and more to Steve and Lorna. She has been their day-to-day Valentine for more than 90 dog-years. And she still bounds into each day with enthusiasm and playfulness.

When every day is Valentine’s Day

Here we see her waiting on the back porch stairs as she always does, as she always has. Where every day is Valentine’s Day. Beside her mature self is the puppy of her own childhood. She smiles like that and sits like that, relaxed and happy and in love with her family.

Life’s Doggy Bag

Her wish for everyone is that they have someone special, someone who waits and listens for a recognized footstep, the sound of a familiar engine rounding the corner near home. Someone who’s idea of Valentine’s Day is to share life’s doggy bag with YOU!

Happy Valentine’s Day to you and everyone you love!

A new portrait of three Golden Retrievers is finished. It takes months to complete a major commission but it’s a satisfying enterprise. This client was a good communicator and the story came together nicely. Having spent months thinking about Champ, Max and Sam, now is a good time to tell their story and to describe some of how I work, how I determine what to paint, what’s most important to convey, and how the process works from the client’s perspective.

Golden Retrievers At Play in the Northwoods

Meet Champ, Max, and Sam

Golden Retrievers: On the right is Powerful Sam

Meet Champ, Max and Sam! They show the main features of their Golden Retriever breed and were loved for individual personalities by the family who knew them well. Firstborn Sam sitting proud and tall at right was a big puppy with huge feet. He grew into his size in physique and in character as well. Outgoing, stately, and strong, he was leader of his pack, obstreperous at times and a bit of a rebel. He lived a hearty life and left it all too soon.

Mild-mannered Max

Max in the middle shared with Sam the retriever’s classic red-brown coat. His smaller frame suited his more reluctant personality, the result perhaps of being elbowed aside regularly by powerful Sam. Max was the steady, calm one, quiet in the house and a mild-mannered fellow in the field. He may have been a timid soul but he won everyone’s heart and is still missed. “Just because you don’t say much doesn’t mean people don’t notice you. It’s actually quiet ones who often draw the most attention. There’s this constant whirlwind of motion and sound all around, and then there’s the quiet one, the eye of the storm.” Amy Efaw in After.

A show ring washout, Champ won blue ribbon success as the family dog

Standing at left is Champ, bred for show where he didn’t quite make the grade. It was his great good fortune to be adopted as an orphan pup and to succeed as the family dog. His paler coloring reflects Lord Tweedmouth’s earliest cross-breeding efforts with the Highland yellow retriever. Gentle of spirit, last born Champ is accommodating and helpful, beloved by all. At nine years of age his energy is flagging and there are serious health concerns on the horizon which prompted this painted reverie, a collage of memory across more than twenty years that unites three beloved dogs.

At Play in the Northwoods

There is a respite in the Northwoods where canine and human kin go to play hard and relax hard. It is a magical and loved place in the Pinelands, backdrop to so many glad memories. Imagine the dogs here after a romp in the woods having found a bright beam of sunlight as it lowers across the flat landscape toward end of day, happy together in the leaves, all three in their vigorous prime, imagined as it might have happened but in fact did not. As their family wants to remember them.

Painting an imaginary scene to recreate a fond memory?

Several months ago I was contacted by the family of these dogs. Sam and Max have been gone for a long time and Champ was recently diagnosed with the same terminal illness. Time is short as it is for us all. Having decided that they cannot bear to think of the coming loss, they wanted to do something positive to remember the best times with all three of their dogs and to permanently honor them in their home. And so began the conversation that resulted in this scene. I listened to their many experiences, how the dogs differed from one another, and heard what were the most important abstract qualities to capture in each. In other words, who were these dogs as individuals? Along the way there were many clues and I took lots of notes. Over the weeks several packages of photos arrived in the mail and emails recounted newly recalled stories. Now that the painting is finished, they say I’ve captured eloquently their much loved furry friends, their buddies. Soon all three will stand guard together for the first time to watch over the family and remind them of glorious days at play in the Northwoods.

Subtle details in the plan and layout of the painting

An important benefit of working as I do is that, within reason, there’s a broad spectrum to play with shapes, color and lighting long after oil paints would have shut me down from tweaking. I work at the surface of an idea for a while and then begin to burrow deeper into details as I get to know the subjects. Photos can be helpful at the beginning but remembered insights matter far more. For one thing the camera distorts—shapes, colors, lighting, and it knows nothing of experience or insight. I sketch on paper, then experiment with color. In this case, I explored techniques for showing light through fur. Poses came from their unique personalities. I looked out my own window for inspiration on the forest though mine is northern hardwood and not pine.

Better than a photograph

What I do is very different from a photograph. It’s rather magical to take an abstract idea and develop it. Not all of my clients are as communicative as this family and their collaborative team of friends and neighbors who were invited in to see each new version and to comment. The basic question was, “Have I captured what you remember, not just their appearance but the essence of the dog you know or knew?” So far every client has come to love their particular painting though, unlike this very helpful client, some commissions evolve with limited conversation between them and me.

I chose the Northwoods on a cool autumn day as the scenic backdrop because that is the favorite place. Sam sits turned slightly away to show his independence, Max rests at Sam’s feet and looks into a vague distance in keeping with his reluctant self. Both dogs are grounded while Champ is up at the ready with a smile on his face in an invitation to play because he continues to make that effort in spite of age and illness.

 Last thoughts

As for my professional opinion, I like the overall scope of the painting very much as it tells a story and preserves a history. The dogs intrigue me as they interact with one another while retaining their separate lifetimes. I like rich color in the foreground and in our heroes; behind them are dusky shadows making it about the dogs more than their environment. I believe this family will come to appreciate At Play in the Northwoods even more as time passes. That is my hope.

Golden Retrievers are the Best Friends Forever of the canine world

A final note: Golden retrievers are the gregarious BFF of the canine world and one of the most popular breeds in the US. These large dogs are enthusiastic about life and make good companions and family members. They were bred to collect the hunter’s quarry from marshes and open water. In the 1880s Scotsman Lord Tweedmouth crossed the common yellow retriever with a water spaniel and over the years the bloodline added Irish setter and Bloodhound to develop today’s Golden Retriever characteristics. Provide them with vigorous play and keep their minds challenged with games and training and you’ll have a happy dog.

Corgi Merry Christmas
Let the Feasting Begin
One successful painting begets another!

A year ago I painted a commission of a very special Pembroke Corgi which I posted here as Lifetime Achievement together with the portrait and story of Northwynd Everlasting “Sprite” who won the Pembroke Welsh Corgi Club National Specialty. Recently that commission brought another.

A Corgi Merry Christmas!

A white and Merry Christmas is upon us. Here we have two other Pembroke Corgis, Lu Lu and Aggie, who were invited to the holiday table. Through the back window cold snow and freezing rain lay heavily upon the lawn. This pair waits patiently for what they hope will be more than savory smells but a true Corgi Merry Christmas! Sharyn finished this painting called Let the Feasting Begin just in time as it is to be a surprise found under someone’s Christmas tree next week.

Corgis are easily recognized for their beautiful fur and short legs. As a breed they are known for intelligence and loyalty. Vigorous, lively pets, they are good with children and make excellent watch dogs. When bound for the show ring, animals are trained with food as their primary reward so it took great discipline for this pair to pose with such inviting smells so near! A product of careful breeding at Encore Corgis where traits of beauty, confirmation, and disposition are prized, these two were also the beloved pets of the client who commissioned this painting as a special gift for his wife’s Christmas.

A good chance to learn

Over the years I’ve learned a lot about animals that are famous in their own circles but about which I knew nothing. Their owners are always generous to share with me the qualities of character and nature that make their animals special. It is my job to figure out how to illustrate these abstractions in a concrete way.

A successful year for Light Pixie Studio

It’s been a very busy year for Light Pixie Studio. This is the last commission promised for Christmas giving. Phew! There are three more to begin after New Year. I know my readers are very busy too. My goal at the Light Pixie blog is to show images that tell good stories and write in a compelling, concise way. I want to inspire creativity, give a bit of knowledge and pleasure, and to never waste your time.

A renewed resolution!

I am renewing last year’s resolution once again–it is to keep writing and painting and photographing and moreover to post more regularly if not more often. Thank you for stopping by to look and to read. I value each one of you and the likes or comments you share. Thanks especially to those who buy my work and the many others who’ve signed up for blog updates.

Wishing each of you time to spend with those you love, joyous memories, and a warm place to shelter from winter’s cold. May the New Year bring happiness to you and yours!

Sharyn Richardson

It’s hard to photograph a black dog!

If you’ve ever photographed an all black dog, you know the problem. It is almost impossible to capture the texture of fur or to see clearly the interior contours of shape and body. Black is made of all colors and it absorbs light very efficiently. As a result it’s often easier to paint a portrait than to take a quality photograph.

Black dog Janey, an English Cocker Spaniel

Here we have dear Janey, an English Cocker Spaniel whose mission in life is to love Mark and Mary. And in return they love her abundantly. So how can you take a photograph of your black dog? So, how do you polish a black dog?

Polishing a black dog for maximum impact

Dear Janey

Strategies to photograph something furry and black

If you have a studio full of equipment, speed lights, beauty lights, and reflectors you already know what to do. But if your photos of an all-black animal (dog, cat, horse, rabbit or whatever) are indistinct, if the eyes blend seamlessly with the ears, if the fur is flat and you cannot tell if it’s curly or straight, front end from rear, take heart. Simple tools at hand and simple strategies give a much better result.

It’s about the light, beautiful light

Light is key and, in the case of an all-black animal, more is better than less. Plain natural light is more pleasing than onboard camera flash which tends to look harsh and often produces the animal-equivalent of red-eye, fixable but a nuisance. Black guard hairs can be made to shine in sunlight if the angle of light is right. In this case Janey faced into the setting sun seated at a glass table top and beside a broad expanse of lake shore. So the natural sun at late-day and low angle shown directly into Janey’s face at the same time that it reflected up from lake and table top. It was a beautiful light! And Janey’s eyes glisten with lovely catch-lights! Look closely at them and you see the bright western horizon.

Get it right: tips and tricks to photograph a black dog

Newer consumer-level cameras have many features that once were available only on professional models. Prices for these specialized features are now reasonable and competitive. If your camera has selectable modes, choose higher contrast. Use a higher dynamic range. Increase vibrancy to better distinguish blue-black from brown-black from grey-black. Ensure sharp focus with a tripod or set the camera on a level, solid surface. If all else fails, hold your elbows tight into your waist, take a deep breath and hold it while you squeeze the trigger–don’t push or punch.

Polish the black!

Once last thought: I often prefer shallow depth of field–lower f-stop/larger aperture–because an out-of-focus background contributes more abstract color and interesting patterns without distraction. Here the effect isn’t pushed toward a strong bokeh, a Japanese term for blurry background circles. Even if you don’t know the term, you will recognize the technique. It’s popular because it’s a beautifully creative use of light. Show your black animal to advantage. Polish the black!

To see how I solved a similar problem in a different way with two black Labs: see Best Dogs Ever for their painted portrait..

Here’s my newest commission and another Best of Breed animal. Meet Northwynd Everlasting “Sprite” who was born a tiny 4.6 ounces but grew into a star. Last year Sprite took the highest honor a purebred Pembroke Welsh Corgi can achieve in winning the Pembroke Welsh Corgi Club National Speciality!  With a sparkling career of many awards she’s a credit to her pedigree and to her breed, the product of a noble line, sired by a champion and mother to a pup who is already winning highest honors.

This painting shows baby Sprite looking at her puppy self in life’s mirror. Looking back at her and at us is the adult Sprite with her National Speciality ribbon adorning the frame.

There are two recognized corgi breeds, the Pembrokes and the Cardigans. The royal Windsors prefer the Pembrokes and actively encourage the breed. To win the National Speciality is the ultimate Best of Breed recognition for the dog and moreover for the breeder, owner, and trainers. In this case one dedicated woman wears all these hats. When asked what best describes all the work and worry, the years of commitment leading to Sprite’s success, she answered with the words that now title this painting.

I’d never heard of the Rainbow Bridge until recently. In context of planning this painting it was abundantly clear what was meant. That a meadow full of beloved pets might exist where they wait patiently and playfully for their beloved owners is both comfort in grief and a wish for love and companionship. How touching to imagine it! The preciousness of life is what this touches so be sure to squeeze the good from today and everyday.

Keisha and Cubby: Waiting at the Rainbow Bridge

 Keisha at left was described to me as the couple’s favorite dog of all, a constant friend and companion, full of joy and eagerness, sweet of disposition, joining faithfully in morning walks and loyal always. At right is Cubby who, owned by a distracted neighbor, knew a very good thing in the happy company and care to be found next door. In their place now is Ruby, a solidly round little pup who fills today with her antics.

This painting was to be a surprise birthday gift for the man but his wife was too enthusiastic to wait a month to give it. That and a lucky circumstance allowed me to be present in the gallery to see his reaction for myself. That makes this painting especially meaningful to me as well. To translate someone’s loss into a special memory is my own little piece of paradise, a painted poem.

For anyone who has ever loved an animal friend, here then is the poetic prose entitled Rainbow Bridge written by an unknown author sometime in the last twenty to thirty years:

Just this side of heaven is a place called Rainbow Bridge.
When an animal dies that has been especially close to someone here, that pet goes to Rainbow Bridge. There are meadows and hills for all of our special friends so they can run and play together.
There is plenty of food, water and sunshine, and our friends are warm and comfortable.
All the animals who had been ill and old are restored to health and vigor; those who were hurt or maimed are made whole and strong again, just as we remember them in our dreams of days and times gone by. The animals are happy and content, except for one small thing; they each miss someone very special to them, who had to be left behind.
They all run and play together, but the day comes when one suddenly stops and looks into the distance. His bright eyes are intent; His eager body quivers. Suddenly he begins to run from the group, flying over the green grass, his legs carrying him faster and faster.
You have been spotted, and when you and your special friend finally meet, you cling together in joyous reunion, never to be parted again. The happy kisses rain upon your face; your hands again caress the beloved head, and you look once more into the trusting eyes of your pet, so long gone from your life but never absent from your heart.
Then you cross Rainbow Bridge together

Late morning, we see a wolf at its kill. Golden eyes stare defiantly as if to say, “This is mine!” Facial posture including curled lips, bared teeth, intent stare, raised hackles signal a wolf ready to defend its turf. He may growl and he may snarl, but the stare tells all–this is a dominant animal on guard and ready. Such a direct stare is a blatant challenge, asserting rank and status, an important communication tool for this bold, strong-willed canine.

Wisconsin wildlife, Wildgame Innovations, 10 January 2012, 11:21:12 a.m. 50° F

The wolf at its kill



This is a Standard Poodle named Piper who came home for the holidays! She’s a bundle of exuberance and smart; the normally sedate, resident house cat tried to stay aloof but enjoyed the interloper’s antics enough to come down from his high perch repeatedly to watch, interact, and get chased back up again. Apparently great fun for both!

Poodles were first bred in Germany and recognized as a distinct breed by the 1500s. Did you know that this breed is known especially for its water retrieving skills, but equally capable in finding rare truffles and as a circus performer? The poodle has a curly coat that makes the doge more buoyant but requires regular clipping because it has hair rather than self-shedding fur. The traditional pompom haircut with close-cut hind quarters served to help the dog swim faster and the joints stay warmer.

Piper is a true athlete, already at three months old she has a large working vocabulary and is attentive to her humans. This breed wants to please and Piper is no exception. We’re quickly getting the idea that she believes she’s one of us, a full-fledged human being. No one intends to tell her otherwise.

She runs, galloping or pronking, really a kind of bounding, springing lamb-like movement. The enthusiasm of a puppy, especially this one, is contagious!

Request your own image on a USPS postage stamp. Email Sharyn@lightpixiestudio.com to find out how she can help you create your own one-of-a-kind design:

  • Make every letter special
  • For any occasion
  • Reasonably priced
  • Wedding announcements
  • Birthday invitations
  • Holiday cards
  • Promotional advertising
  • A unique and special gift

This is my newest work. Jim loves his dogs and the time he spent with Sadie and now Cody working with them in the woods and fields. Sadie on the right was a fine girl with a robust personality and an active sense of humor. Some years later Jim acquired Cody who is also a good hunter and friend. Jim wanted to commemorate both dogs in a more permanent way than a photograph and hired me to do it. When we first met he commented wryly that when he dies his children might just throw a painting of the dogs away . . . but if he’s featured in the painting as well, they’ll keep it. The commission grew when Jim asked to include a pheasant and a wood duck. The painting was almost finished when he requested the U. S. Navy Veteran logo be painted onto his cap!

Jim describes the final result as very satisfying to have a memento of the life he’s chosen, lived on his terms surrounded by what he values. How wise to find a way to celebrate life when you’re young enough and robust enough to live it.

I enjoyed this commission very much and am proud of the obvious enjoyment Jim takes from having it in his home.

Best Dogs Ever

Best Dogs Ever


This is Shane, a therapy dog and a hard working one. When he was a growing pup he showed such intensity and focus that his family decided he was well suited to early training in obedience and therapy work. This painting where he’s smiling directly at you shows a fine, intelligent boy!

Recently he was asked to join a therapy group that visits Camp Atterbury, a military base south of Indianapolis and a major hub for soldiers mobilizing and demobilizing. It will be a different type of work for Shane as it is much more active. They are scheduled to bring 45,000 troops back from overseas by the end of January 2012 so he is going to be a busy dog.

Shane’s also been known to relax by the pool in a Hawaiian shirt . . . you can just imagine Jimmy Buffet music playing in the background. While it doesn’t reflect the competent fellow he’s become, someday I’d like to paint that too.