For pet owners, there’s nothing like looking into the eyes of a beloved furry friend, and it’s especially missed when they pass away. Artist Robin Zefers Clark understands this better than anyone, as she is not only a dog lover, herself, but has captured the eyes - and perhaps the soul - of many a beloved pet in her artwork.
Ameri-Can, located in downtown Ellicottville, has been carrying Clark’s works since the store opened in 2015. There, Clark’s pet portraits have captured the hearts of many who see their own dog in one of her pieces. Clark explained that all pet breeds tend to appeal to the store’s visitors. “It doesn’t seem to matter what dog I do a painting or drawing of - it looks like their dog!”
In addition to dogs, Clark also does cats and horses with watercolor and hyperrealistic colored pencil techniques. An artist for over 30 years, Clark’s impressive work belies the fact that pet portraits are a relatively new venture for her.
Clark remembered, “I did some pet portraits, and of course human portraits for many years. Maybe about three percent of what I did was animals. Last year, around August, we had a really hot stretch. On Facebook, I told people ‘Let’s have a little fun. If you submit a photo of your dog, I’ll do Dog Days of Summer. For a couple of weeks, I’ll paint dogs.’ I ended up with 35 dogs!”
Clark draws from her own experience as a dog lover. Her golden retriever, Babe, was her original inspiration for pet portraits. “I lost Babe about 2 years ago,” Clark said, thoughtfully. “I referred to her as my studio assistant because she was always with me, even when I worked. After she died, I did a painting of her. I realized how nice it was to see that. It’s a different kind of link, the link you have with your dog.”
Clark’s mediums are just as fascinating as the subjects of her work, which include area landscapes, in addition to animals. Hyperrealistic colored pencil painting has been a new endeavor for her since last winter. However, these aren’t the colored pencils you remember from grade school …
Clark explained that the colored pencils she uses are light-fast and very stable. Artists can choose from wax-based and oil-based pencils, which allow for smoother work and lots of layering. “As strange as it seems with that much detail, it is the most relaxing medium I’ve ever worked with. Most pieces have 20 to 30 layers of color—that’s what gives it depth. I’m used to working with water color, which is so fluid and you’re always thinking two steps ahead. With pencils, you can just keep going, and you could do 90 to 100 layers if you wanted to!”
Clark’s process involves starting with the eyes before moving on. Many of her hyperrealistic pencil paintings take about three weeks to complete, or more, depending on the quality of the reference photo. “I always start with the eyes because if I get the eyes wrong, the portrait is wrong,” she said. “People will see two very realistic eyes when coming into my studio. Animal eyes are striking.”
Clark received her Master’s degree in art from RIT in 1982, and taught art at Cattaraugus-Little Valley Central School for 33 years. She is very happy to call this area home. “I love it here,” Clark said. “Whenever people complain about it, I think ‘What don’t you love about it?’ We have everything! Incredible scenery, four seasons - it’s beautiful.”
Clark’s Brookside Studio is located nearby at 8363 Maples Road in Little Valley, where her work is also available for sale. For more information about her work, including commissions, visit www.brooksidestudio.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Fans can also follow Clark on Facebook at Brookside Studio Watercolors or on Instagram at robin_zefers_clark.