Painting man’s best friend
By Denise Baran-Unland For The Herald-News July 30, 2012 2:34PM
This watercolor of Mae, Border collie agility champion, hangs inside Lucky Dog Academy in Plainfield. SUBMITTED PHOTOS
Updated: September 7, 2012 5:18PM
PLAINFIELD — Heather Dwyer, owner-operator of Lucky Dog Academy in Plainfield, is stunned at the beautiful portrait she now owns of Mae, Dwyer’s border collie, former rescue dog turned champion agility competitor.
The piece showcases Mae in two poses. The foreground features a smiling Mae happily gazing into the distance. In the background, Mae leaps over a hurdle. Its creator is watercolor artist and portraitist Nader Batayeh of Plainfield.
“Nader did such a wonderful job with the painting. I especially love her eyes. He really captured her personality,” Dwyer said. “I have known Nader for years, so when he mentioned doing pet portraits, I was excited to have him do a painting for me of Mae.”
Batayeh was thrilled at Dwyer’s praise for his work. “Heather felt that Mae was an ‘old soul,’ so I was happy I could capture that for her,” he said.
Since his junior high school days, Batayeh, 45, has been creating people portraits, but not until a colleague asked him to paint his four shih-tzus as an anniversary present did Batayeh expand his subject matter.
“They were so darn cute,” Batayeh said. “Even though they’re the same breed, they all had different personalities. I thought, ‘This could be fun.’”
Unless the customer requests a different size, all Batayeh’s pet portraits are 18-by-24 inches.
He charges $120 for watercolor (his favorite medium) or $100 for black and white pencil. Batayeh usually works from several photographs, although he is willing to meet his canine and feline clients when possible.
“I’ve only worked with dogs so far, but I’m open to other animals,” Batayeh said. “I think cats would be fun.”
Batayeh feels the creative license of watercolor better characterizes a pet than a simple photograph can. To ensure he’s properly conveying the proper disposition, Batayeh draws and paints in layers, stopping to review each step with the owner.
“Many people want to see the progress and that’s easy to do with Facebook and through email,” Batayeh said. “However, some people would rather wait to see the final result and that’s fine, too.”
The advantage of watercolor, Batayeh said, is his ability to layer colors to create a depth similar to oils, but without the extended drying time, since Batayeh prefers quick results. Acrylics do dry quickly and Batayeh has used them, but they do a poor job of adding intensity.
That intensity is why Dwyer loves Mae’s portrait. Dwyer considers Mae her soul mate and inspiration behind opening Lucky Dog Academy. Although Mae had once been shuffled from one foster home to another — six in all — after she belonged to Dwyer, she became a certified therapy dog, winner of more than 40 agility awards and an actor in the 2012 summer family film, “Shakey.”
In addition, Mae graced the back cover of the Fall 2010 issue of American Dog magazine.
Once Dwyer realized how greatly she had impacted Mae’s life, she became a certified dog trainer.
Mae’s portrait now hangs inside Lucky Dog Academy. Students, impressed with the uncanny likeness, can’t wait to have portraits of their dogs, too, Dwyer said.
“Dogs are part of our families and they aren’t with us long enough,” Dwyer said. “It’s nice to have a keepsake like this, I’ll cherish it forever.”
To contract a pet portrait, contact Batayeh at firstname.lastname@example.org