These are the dog days for Lucy Gafford. And that’s a good thing.
“Apparently dog people seem a lot more serious about sharing their love of their animal for some reason,” Gafford said. “Maybe it’s just because dogs seem more interested in their owners than cats do.”
That translates to dollars for Gafford, one of Mobile’s most sought after artists for pet portraiture. That’s right, I said “pet portraiture.”
It started innocently enough for the young artist. Animal studies were a product of the native Mobilian’s background.
“I always loved painting and drawing animals, it’s kind of natural to me because I was raised around a ton of pets whenever I was growing up,” Gafford said. “I eventually started getting requests to do them for people, and now it’s basically what I get the most business from, as far as commission work.”
Her generally creative predilections spurred Gafford to earn a bachelor’s degree with a double major in painting and sculpture at the University of South Alabama. The energetic young woman quickly made a splash in Mobile art circles, stepping up to compete in the Art Throwdown in October of 2012.
In 2013, she put together one of the quirkiest and well conceived shows in Mobile with “Home.” Gafford recreated a surrealist take on her wellspring incorporating a variety of media and abundant humor to take visitors through the family dwelling she chooses to recall.
Family pets, dogs, cats and an unfortunate bird were among the characters portrayed in the gallery at Mobile Arts Council. One happy pooch with mouth agape and tongue lolling was immortalized in clay and caught the eye of a former instructor turned fan.
“Ms. Reasonover from Murphy High School came out to my shows and everything,” Gafford recalled. “She wanted to buy two of the heads from that show and I’m kind of like attached to them so she commissioned me to make little wiener dogs instead.”
Word spread. Before long, the artist was getting offers for various projects.
“I’ve done probably three cat paintings and I’ve done probably 20 or 30 dog paintings,” Gafford said. She also has dog heads in clay, a Boston terrier, the aforementioned dachshund, even a forlorn canine wearing a wig.
“Some people have specific requests, like for their pets to be in outer space or something like that,” Gafford chuckled. “It’s more challenging so it makes it more interesting and fun to place them in some fantasy scenario, to add clothing.”
Bringing the animal’s personality to the fore would seem essential. The ususal difficulties with schedules and proximity are easily circumvented.
“I’ll get the owners to take pictures, a front shot, a top, under the head, both profile shots as well as kind of like the ideal pose,” Gafford said. “Any picture that has the expression they want. Like an open mouth thing or it can be yawning or it can look regal, anything with their personality.”
Some family pets can be leery of strangers. Gafford believes if she showed up with a camera, or started taking measurements with calipers it would be self-defeating.
“It’s easier for everybody if they can email it to me and I can get it done though it’s not as exciting as me analyzing the animal,” Gafford said.
When she isn’t answering commission requests on her Facebook page, Gafford has other pursuits. She teaches at the Boys & Girls’ Club through the Mobile Arts Council’s Charting New Directions program.
“I’ve been doing that since the start of this past school year,” Gafford said. “Riley Brenes has been working there for about half a year longer than I have and essentially, he’s the one who hired me.”
She’s also readying a show for October with her trademark levity. Its subject matter is even more universally loved than pets.
“I’m painting a series of realistic food on paper plates, like Chinet,” Gafford said. “So far I’ve just painted different pizzas. I plan on doing like spaghetti, crawfish and corn, I have a giant list full of items that I’ve gotten behind on because of commissions. Plus, it’s wedding season so I have lots of churches to do.”
She’s also on the search for studio space. Gafford’s apartment doesn’t afford her room and the commute to a working kiln can be hazardous.
“It’s kind of scary traveling with unfired fragile ceramic stuff in your car,” Gafford said. “If I brake too hard, an ear will fall off.