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February 3, 2009

Meet Kirk Fanelly, Spay Day Photo Contest Artist

The Humane Society of the United States


  • Kirk Fanelly


  • Kirk Fanelly

About nine years ago, Kirk Fanelly began hearing a persistent voice in his head that urged him to paint portraits of the animals he grew up with.

"The voice was simply mom on the phone, and she wanted the pets painted. Four dogs, two cats, a rabbit and horse later, I ran out of pets and began accepting paid invitations to paint others' animals," he said.

Fanelly, one of the artists who provided oil portraits to the finalists of the 2008 Spay Day Photo Contest, is also providing 10 finalists of this year's photo contest with portraits of their pets based on the photos they enter in the contest.

A gift

All the pets Fanelly has painted have been special to their owners, he said, but one of the more memorable ones was a painting he did as a gift for a client's sister.

"Her sister had recently made the agonizing decision to have her dog put to sleep due to chronic health problems," Fanelly said. "After receiving the painting as a gift, she sent me one of the kindest notes in appreciation of her sister’s thoughtfulness and the painting I made. She wrote to me how wonderful it was to be greeted by the painting of her lost loved one every day."

A dachshund named April

One of Fanelly's favorite animal painting experiences was of a dachshund named April.

"A friend commissioned me to paint her gallerist's dog," he said. "I met him and his partner at their place in Manhattan, took photos of April, and had a wonderful dinner and conversation about April and art. I remember April turned into a different dog whenever the doorbell rang, so we took pictures of her ferociously tearing around the corner to attack the phantom guest."

Breed all about it

"I think it's funny when people ask if I paint a particular breed," Fanelly said. "I don't mind doing multiples of the same breed because each animal and owner are different, but I really enjoy variety in my paintings. I'm looking forward to painting a ferret this spring. I'm also in negotiations with a possum portrait."

Fanelly said one of his favorite things about doing pet portraits is meeting new people and animals and seeing new interior spaces.

"I also enjoy the owners' appreciation of the final painting. Personally, I think most of the animals would take treats over a portrait … or a dirty sock for that matter."

Expert advice

If you're thinking about painting portraits of pets or animals, dive into it, Fanelly said.

"But make sure you take time to enjoy the process of painting first and foremost. If you feel like you’re making the same painting over and over or trying to paint like someone else, you're probably missing the point. Try to work from your own photos whenever you can."

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