Capturing the Soul of the Animal

Lisa Baechtle of Spencer specializes in pet portraits.

For almost two decades, Lisa Baechtle of Spencer has been capturing the essence of some of our best-loved family members — our pets — as works of art. On September 24 she will be taking orders and displaying her work at the Ithaca Dog Fest, where participating vendors purchase booths and the proceeds are donated to canine rescues.

Baechtle has been painting with watercolors for 40 years. “Watercolor always felt like second nature to me,” she said. “I love the way it behaves and the vibrancy and transparency of it.”

Always an animal lover, she found that likeminded individuals enjoyed seeing their furry friends immortalized in paint. “Usually the animal is aging, and they love the animal so much that they want more than a photograph. They want a spirit image, something that has more personality in it,” she said. “That’s what a painting will give you.”

Paintings have the added benefit of allowing the artist to place the animal in whatever setting she chooses. “They can put it anywhere — on a mountain, in a field, anywhere they want.”

Baechtle began painting pets while living out west for four years. She started painting western landscapes with horses in them, and someone asked her to do a painting of a particular horse. She began doing horse portraits and eventually branched out into all animals.

For the painting to evoke the pet’s special spark, Baechtle has found that it’s helpful to spend some time with the animal and its owner. “I’m interested in the animals, but the secondary part of that is how people respond to and act with their animals,” she said.

She takes lots of photos as well and will often snap over 100 images if she’s working with a horse. “Horses take a while to relax in front of the camera, whereas cats and dogs can sometimes be hams,” she explained. It makes sense, she said; horses are prey animals and don’t particularly like being stared at by a stranger.

It usually takes about two weeks to complete one painting, depending on how big it is. The majority of that time goes into sketching while the actual painting usually takes only a few days. She said she sometimes walks away from a sketch for a whole day and will revisit it over and over again, trying new ideas until she gets it just right.

“I like to push the edges in composition,” she said. “I like to do things like three-quarter views and back views with the animal turning around, or I’ll do it backlit, just because. To me it’s boring to just do the face or a side view; sometimes that’s what’s warranted, but not always.”

She also paints wild animals like wolves and bears, or other animals that are totems or “spirit animals” that people want to see represented in their homes.

One of her favorite paintings is of an English Mastiff named Peaches. “She was so much fun to do —just a delightful, mellow, friendly dog, and I loved her wrinkles and crevices; they were so challenging.”

Her favorite job was painting a mural for a woman who had 40 capuchin monkeys. The mural was on the outside of a building. “And every time I could tell she was there watching because I would hear this giggling,” Baechtle recalled. “She was just so delighted that I had painted her monkeys.”

If you have a monkey or a more conventional pet that you would like Baechtle to paint, she will travel 70 miles to meet your pet as part of her commission or even further for an additional fee. Eight-by-ten-inch portraits are $300, and prices increase for larger paintings up to $1,200 for a 22 by 30.

Look for Beachtle’s table at Ithaca Dog Fest 2016 on September 24 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the Cass Park Pavilion, Route 89, Ithaca. There will be dogs who are looking for homes from Tompkins County SPCA, Helping Hounds, Full House Full Heart, Humane Society of Schuyler County and more plus working dogs, shelter dogs in service training, dog toys and gifts for purchase, and food from Alexander’s Food Truck.

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