Over two decades ago, Atlanta native Mitzi Canter Rothman took her daughter’s advice to paint a pet portrait as a gift. With a bachelor of fine arts/drawing and painting, Rothman had her pastels handy and rallied to the challenge. With dogs of her own: Iddie, Oliver, and sometimes granddogs Stretch and Genny, Rothman has since perfected how to best photograph her subjects for the reference images she needs for portraits that have pleased hundreds of animal owners from Florida and Ohio to West Virginia. Rothman said, “I have wonderful memories of capturing beagles, corgis, terriers, chihuahuas, labs, and everything in between. There’s Lola, Zorro, Edna, Pancake, Sarge, Sapphire, Winston, Bama, Millie, Rags and Roxie … ”
A grandmother and resident of Decatur, Rothman is known for her interpretative style rendering her subjects with “wit and charm.” Note those words were coined at her booth at a festival when she was approached by a hippy, disheveled looking man who was mumbling “art speak” and noted that her work captured pets with wit and charm. Her memory kicked in and she was jolted that he was her former professor.
Particularly striking is her use of colored background papers ranging from mustard to scarlet and indigo. Some of her most poignant works are multiple family dogs in one view. Her cat portraits are known for capturing detached elegance and inscrutable attitudes.
Rothman got her start by renting booths at festivals like Virginia-Highland, Inman Park and Congregation Or VeShalom’s Annual Bazaar. She hung samples at boutiques and dog-centric places to get new commissions. She has done parrots on a branch, an occasional horse, and a handful of cats, and is especially keen on her canine subjects. She prefers to work from her own photos, enabling her to control the conditions.
She said, “It’s best to get them in a ‘sit’ or ‘down’ position looking at the camera when I am at eye level. Dogs are normally curious and cooperative. Some even sit on my lap. Most are trained to sit and lie down, so it’s easy to fill the frame with a command to perk up, hearing jingled car keys. Some judge me as a pushover and totally misbehave.” (For out of towners, she will work from the owner’s photo). “For dogs, it is about their exuberance, steadfastness and genial vitality,” she mused.
With the image to the left of her easel, she does not plan or sketch ahead of time. She just “hits the paper running,” starting with vine charcoal, graduating to pastels. If she doesn’t like how it’s going, she grabs another piece of paper and gets going. Rothman laments, “It can take around four to eight weeks to complete. On rare occasions, if I don’t feel like I can deliver something to be proud to hang on the wall, … I return the deposit.”
Rothman has enough fun episodes to fill a TV sitcom. Once she “photographed” two of the best posed corgis with no film in the camera. She has followed cats under tables and been on a deck with a seemingly perfectly mannered retriever whose owners neglected to reveal that he was a “biter.” She summarized, “Dogs climb in your lap while cats climb in the camera bag. I have been happy to have referrals from happy pet parents and repeat customers over the years when they had to sadly say ‘good-bye’ to a cherished pet and welcome a new one.”
Rothman charges by the pet and the art comes unframed. “I’ve loved every minute of capturing people’s pets, but right now I am not taking on any new projects to get all caught up; and I am considering a switch from pastels to watercolor as a less messy new medium.” Some fortunate Rothman owners have her original drawings done with the child/owner alongside.
Visit Rothman and learn about her artistry at www.mitzirothman.com.