Suzanne Schirra, painting the pooch |

Suzanne Schirra, painting the pooch

Wren Wertin
Kelly FitzPatrickSuzanne Schirra works with acrylic on canvas when she makes her dog paintings. Zooming in on the head and shoulders, she strives to capture their inquisitive expressions.

Suzanne Schirra1s dogs look as if they were walking next to the crayon factory when it exploded. And they liked it.Schirra creates dog paintings using acrylic on canvas, and today marks a reception for her and her canine friends at Vail Village Arts from 4 to 7 p.m.3I just love dogs, she said. 3They1re my favorite thing<well, them and bright colors.She doesn1t lie. An entire wall is dedicated to Schirra1s bright dogs. Hot pink, electric blue and exuberant green are some of the backgrounds upon which the dogs are painted. Dalmatians, beagles, labs, huskies<one per canvas, they1re always looking at the viewer.3It1s almost like solving a puzzle, she said. 3I try to fill up most of the canvas with dog, mostly their head. I focus on the eye<it has to be really realistic because I go off on the colors.3Going off means a black dog is sure to have some purple or blue in it, and a brown dog orange or gold. In almost all instances, she outlines the dog in a bright color that is a direct contrast to the background she1s painted. Not only does this serve to give the image even more punch in a 3-D sort of way, it also makes the dogs seem to have visible auras.She began working in the arts at age 4 and never looked back. After accumulating a pile of degrees from various art schools, she spent a season in Florence copying the Masters1 work. Upon her return to the states, she studied graphic arts, and went on to work in that field. Her current paintings take the realistic techniques of her classical background and infuse them with bright exclamations of color and clean lines, which harken back to her graphic design days.Schirra1s paintings zoom in on a dog from a photographer1s perspective. She has even painted from photos using a wide-angle lens. The trick is in the expression of the canine.3I love that inquisitive, tilted head, Schirra said. 3I like to catch the happy or content look. Even if a dog is really old, you can still catch that look, almost like a puppy.It1s no contest whose company Schirra prefers; dogs win every time. She paraphrased a quote she keeps coming back to, something to the effect of: I prefer dogs to humans because they wag their tales instead of their mouths.She1s not alone in that sentiment, if her back log of commissioned family-dog paintings is anything to go by.3People approach dogs without reservation. You don1t go up to humans like that, she said.Schirra1s first dog was actually her brother1s. Baron was his name, a German shepherd. The four-year-old Schirra adored him, and her life has been filled with dogs ever since, though not always her own. Gravitating toward labs, her past work schedule prohibited having a healthy dog of her own. She lives with cats, and might dip into cat paintings in the near future. Schirra recently took the plunge from part-time artist to always-artist, and she spends her days in her home studio.3For a long time, I didn1t have the drive to be a full-time painter, she said. 3Now I can1t imagine being anything else. I get up and paint every day, as if I were going to a job, except I only take one day off every couple of weeks.Schirra and her dogs can be found at Vail Village Arts, located next to The Alpenrose restaurant at 100 East Meadow Drive, from 4 until 7 p.m. For more information call 476-2070.Wren Wertin can be reached via e-mail at or phone at 949-0555 ext. 618.

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