Julia McClurg, Lulu Bella – pet portraits

by admin on October 1, 2009

Artist Julia McClurg paints offbeat pet portraits that are at once whimsical, naive, and full of life. Named after her own Italian Greyhound dog, her Lulu Bella brand includes her commissioned dog and cat portraits as well as other creative projects. A former punk rock musician and hairstylist, Julia studied graphic design and did art as a hobby until the universe intervened. Now a full-time artist, this animal activist creates captivating animal portraits that run the gamut from restrained simplicity to psychedelic pop art.

Painting 068 by Julia McClurg for Lulu Bella

Painting 068 by Julia McClurg for Lulu Bella

The personalities of your animal subjects come through so well, the description ‘pet portraits’ doesn’t seem to do your work justice. How do you think about and describe your work?

Oh, wow, how do I describe my work? I guess just the fruition of my two passions — animals and art. I’m an animal rights activist, so the connection, meeting the animals, taking their photos, connecting with them really helps. So I just tell people that I paint people’s pets!

Painting 187 by Julia McClurg for Lulu Bella

Painting 187 by Julia McClurg for Lulu Bella

Painting 198 by Julia McClurg for Lulu Bella

Painting 198 by Julia McClurg for Lulu Bella

Painting 193 by Julia McClurg for Lulu Bella

Painting 193 by Julia McClurg for Lulu Bella

Tell me about your background as an artist. Were you formally trained, and how did you start out originally?

It’s interesting — I would definitely say I’m much more of a fine artist. In retrospect, I wish I would have just followed that path from the start. I studied graphic design, and that education helped me with my craftsmanship and helped me tighten up and hone those skills, I think. So I’ve always kind of been way more out there as far as my artwork goes, but this has been something that people can connect with and really kind of understand and grasp. And it’s enabled me to make a living, and now I’m able to kind of do some other stuff on the side.

Painting 171 by Julia McClurg for Lulu Bella

Painting 171 by Julia McClurg for Lulu Bella

How did you first start painting dogs and cats? Was there a moment when you realized ‘hey, this is a good avenue for me?’

Yeah, I cut hair for a number of years, and this guy whose studio I used to share asked me to bring some of my artwork over. The pieces I happened to grab were more dog-themed, and they were these droopy, goofy, abstract pieces. And someone saw them and asked me to paint their pet. And then when I brought those to the salon to give to her, someone else saw them and asked if I would paint their pet. And then someone else asked if I would do a benefit for a children’s hospital, and it kind of just snow-balled from there. It was kind of just out of nowhere, and I could have just stopped there. But I was really passionate about it — I really enjoyed going home and painting the pets. And I realized, ‘wow, there is a demand for this.’ It was at first a hobby, but I’m the type of person who likes to dig one deep hole. I’m not one of those people who likes to dig a lot of shallow holes, so if I do something, I’m pretty much in it for the long haul.

You know, I was in a garage-punk rock band called The Hectics (we were two girls on guitar and a guy on drums — we had no bass whatsoever, and I am still not sure how we pulled that off!), and I did a music magazine before that. And all of those things were shallow holes, but I was very passionate about them and did well. But it was just one of those things where, you know, we did the band and we got to play at Red Rocks. And it was like, ok, we got to open for Patti Smith and for the Indigo Girls, and then it was time to move on. I guess, at the end of my life, I want to be like the Renaissance woman that did all that crazy stuff. But my art started making money, and it was just one of those things where I thought I’d much rather paint a dog than load a bunch of equipment around for $5 and a hangover!

Painting 246 by Julia McClurg for Lulu Bella

Painting 246 by Julia McClurg for Lulu Bella

Painting 231 by Julia McClurg for Lulu Bella

Painting 231 by Julia McClurg for Lulu Bella

Some of your best pet portraits are those that are not highly detailed or realistic, but more naive. How did this style evolve for you?

I think it’s really just staying inspired. It’s the color, keeping it whimsical, not too serious and not over-thinking it. And then stepping back from it and thinking, ‘this is fun.’ And I think the naive quality stems from me just not having patience to recreate a photo-like piece.

Painting 191 by Julia McClurg for Lulu Bella

Painting 191 by Julia McClurg for Lulu Bella

Painting 225 by Julia McClurg for Lulu Bella

Painting 225 by Julia McClurg for Lulu Bella

Painting 215 by Julia McClurg for Lulu Bella

Painting 215 by Julia McClurg for Lulu Bella

I see in some of your portraits you inject a bit of psychedelic color into your work, which gives these pieces some added energy and humor. What inspires some of these color choices?

I think just keeping it fun and whimsical, just always trying new things and experimenting. I’ve been doing this for nine years, and I don’t want to get locked into one certain style or medium. For the portraits themselves, I try to stay in the oils, but I think the acrylics lend themselves to being brighter, so every now and then I will incorporate some of that. But, overall, I’ll paint with anything in my different projects.

Painting 185 by Julia McClurg for Lulu Bella

Painting 185 by Julia McClurg for Lulu Bella

Painting 192 by Julia McClurg for Lulu Bella

Painting 192 by Julia McClurg for Lulu Bella

I love the way you show off the best assets of these animals — a long body, big ears, sloppy jowls, googly eyes. Is this the starting point of a piece?

It depends. Right now, I’m into white-on-white — so if I see a white animal, I’m always excited — ‘hey, can I take a picture of your dog? I want to paint it!’ But I love painting short-haired dogs, I love painting linear dogs. Furry dogs can be a little cattywompus, but they can be a lot of fun too. I like the more streamlined stuff, but I have a blast painting fluffy dogs too.

Painting #123 by Julia McClurg for Lulu Bella

Painting 123 by Julia McClurg for Lulu Bella

Painting #227 by Julia McClurg for Lulu Bella

Painting 227 by Julia McClurg for Lulu Bella

Painting #043 by Julia McClurg for Lulu Bella

Painting 043 by Julia McClurg for Lulu Bella

Painting #126 by Julia McClurg for Lulu Bella

Painting 126 by Julia McClurg for Lulu Bella

Painting 109 by Julia McClurg for Lulu Bella

Painting 109 by Julia McClurg for Lulu Bella

A white-on-white dog portrait by Julia McClurg for Lulu Bella

A white-on-white dog portrait by Julia McClurg for Lulu Bella

Are you working from a photo of the animal, or do you usually meet the animal in person? Do your human clients usually give you some input about the personality of their pet or make certain requests for the type of painting they’d like to have?

Usually I go to the person’s house and take photos, unless the animal is out of state or deceased, and I work off of those photos. And I definitely like to get a sense of the animal’s personality in its own environment and then also the decor of the house to kind of get a sense of what the people are into. Some people are very conservative and are into more earth tones, and then other people have a crazy loft with huge walls, and they want something super stunning and very pop art. So that definitely gives me a sense. And I find that I want people to love, love, love their painting forever, so it’s one of those things where I’ll let them give as much input as they want. Or sometimes I’ll just say, ‘ok, I can run with this.’ Some people will just say, ‘you’re the expert — go crazy. I just want a painting of my dog.’

Painting 213 by Julia McClurg for Lulu Bella

Painting 213 by Julia McClurg for Lulu Bella

Painting 128 by Julia McClurg for Lulu Bella

Painting 128 by Julia McClurg for Lulu Bella

I see you’ve done some paintings of celebrities’ dogs. What are some of the highlights or moments you’re most proud of?

I don’t have a single, solitary proudest moment. I think that people have been so supportive of my artwork has been pretty amazing. It’s really cool to go someplace and hand someone my business card and have them say, ‘oh, I’ve seen your work!’ I just feel very lucky and very happy.

I have had a few paintings outside of Colorado, for sure — Mexico, California, Austin, Philadelphia — I’m definitely branching out, and I do mail quite a few paintings out of state. I have some paintings on display at a gallery in Santa Fe. So I am branching out, but I love painting at my house here in Denver. I have a great house with great energy and my dogs in here, so I’m not in a huge hurry to leave!

Portrait of actress Kristen Davis's dog by Julia McClurg

Portrait of actress Kristin Davis's dog by Julia McClurg

Portrait of designer Philip Lim's dog by Julia McClurg

Portrait of designer Phillip Lim's dog by Julia McClurg

Portrait of singer Sheryl Crow's dog Rex by Julia McClurg

Portrait of singer Sheryl Crow's dog Rex by Julia McClurg

You’ve described some twists and turns along your career path. What advice would you give to other creative people who are either just starting out or who find themselves at a crossroads they didn’t anticipate?

My feeling — and this may sound kind of snobby — but I think you have to sell in before you sell out. That’s kind of a term I used back in my music days. It’s not like you have to work your butt off forever and ever and ever, but I think you definitely have to figure out where your niche is and be persistent. So, yeah, I worked in a salon for a long time and did this on the side, and then took that leap of faith. Probably I’ve been doing this full-time for almost four years, and I took that leap of faith in quitting my other job. I definitely love the art, and it is my passion. I think no matter what you do, whatever you’re passionate about, the universe will tell you what you’re supposed to be doing. If you’re not getting clients anymore, it’s probably because you’re not passionate about it. I just listened to it, and I was rewarded for sure!

And it is a sacrifice. You start off slowly doing it, and you don’t just quit your day job expecting it to happen overnight.

White-on-white dog portrait by Julia McClurg for Lulu Bella

White-on-white dog portrait by Julia McClurg for Lulu Bella

Painting 071 by Julia McClurg for Lulu Bella

Painting 071 by Julia McClurg for Lulu Bella

What’s next on the horizon for you?

Right now I’m doing two other things: the Lulu Bella line and just kind of running with that. I’m doing chairs, actually painting on the furniture, and I’ve also come up with a whole line of lip balm, perfume and soap under the Lulu Bella brand. Lulu Bella is my Italian Greyhound, in her worldly travels and her paintings. And then, as far as the installation stuff that I’m doing, I’m doing chandeliers and am getting into doing some fun yard art stuff and seeing where that goes. 

But the pet portraits are my true passion, and I love, love, love doing it. But it’s just one of those things where you’ve got to keep on trying new stuff just to stay excited. Because if I work on a chair all day, then I’m really excited to go paint a portrait of a pet the next day, so it kind of balances out well together. Or if I do a serious portrait of someone’s dog, then I’m really excited to go paint a goofy Lulu Bella.

What are some of your favorite things, and what do you love most about your work?

I love taking my dogs out to the dog park, I love to run, I love to hang out with my husband. And I feel so lucky to be making a living as an artist and living in this place of gratitude. To be making a living as an artist, especially in this economy, is pretty awesome. I love having that ability to get up and have that flexibility in my schedule and do what I love. I love what I do. My friend tells me you’ve got to live like you’re on vacation everyday, and I feel like I do that and feel very fortunate that I’m able to do that. And it took a lot of courage to just quit that job. But if it’s soul-sucking, it’s not really doing anybody any good when you’re in a position like that. I think we’re all here for a reason, and we’re all gifted and we’re all given something. When I realized not everybody has this gift, I started sharing it and thought ‘wow, this is working out!’ I kind of had to train myself to listen to that, to what the universe wants me to give.

Julia McClurg

Julia McClurg

 

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{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

Christine 10.01.09 at 8:55 am

I am by no means an animal lover, but these paintings are amazing! The personalities of these dogs just leap out in ways that their owners naturally see, but for someone like me (who has never had a dog), it’s really striking. I love the vibrant colors and modern feel. Julia’s background is really interesting…thanks for sharing!

Russell 10.01.09 at 8:57 am

Great portraits! I have to tell my friend about you. I think he’ll want a portrait done.

Jill 10.01.09 at 10:21 am

Love it, love it, love it! I wish I had all of these paintings hanging in my house because they would make me so happy everyday! And how cool that Julia was in a punk rock band and did hair…such a great story. The universe pointed her in a great direction :)

Tara 10.01.09 at 4:18 pm

Julia painted our dogs – I think it is her best one, of course (though it is not one used in this article!)! 😉

Sadly the brothers/littermates that she painted (2 Great Pyrenees) were deceased, but she still managed to capture their two very different personalities perfectly just from photos and some descriptions from me. It is hanging in our entry and always gets comments – even from people who have seen it before! Love her.

Candace 10.02.09 at 10:19 am

We love, love, love you Julia!

Candace 10.02.09 at 10:20 am

You’re an inspiration to other artists.

hidden exposures 10.03.09 at 11:48 pm

julia painted my dog and cat and i love what she did. her enthusiasm for art as well as animals comes out ten-fold when you meet her. she definitely is one of those radiant people that you know you gained something by having met.

thanks for a great article!

karen n. 10.05.09 at 3:35 pm

Julia painted my Vizslas and it’s one of my favorite possessions. She captured their spirits in the painting!! Amazing!
She is a vivacious and effervesent being…

thanks for the good read!

Debra Dodson 10.08.09 at 11:14 am

Wow…I am really impressed with your work! Would love you to meet my Siberian and have you paint him. I just need to get him from Cabo San Lucas to Denver or bring you here!

admin 10.08.09 at 11:34 am

Julia is able to work from a photograph and information you provide about your pet, so you don’t have to be there in person. Her contact info is on her website, which is linked in the interview. – Kathryn

Rita Rohr 10.08.09 at 1:26 pm

Julia We love dogs too. Loved your paintings of the different type dogs and how funloving they all seem We lost our yorkie-jack to throat cancer last December. Arnie was so special. The dog the previous owners didn’t want anymore. However, my husband and I felt we had hit the jackpot, after having Arnold a year. We had our beloved pet only 10 years and would love to meet with you someday and have you paint ” Arn”. Hugs Rita and Dan Rohr

Juliana 02.13.10 at 8:37 am

We love you Julia, you are not only a talented artist but you are a beautiful human. Glad you are in my life and so happy to see others celebrating yours!

Rachel 02.13.10 at 6:00 pm

Very inspiring! I enjoyed seeing some of your other portraits. Sullivan loves your work too. It makes him giggle. 😉

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