How ‘bout that dog artist?
Milton artist Emily Griffith paints famous pooches and beloved pets
EDITOR’S UPDATE, Aug. 31: The University of Georgia announced Aug. 30 that Russ–previously the interim mascot for the Bulldogs–would assume the title of Uga IX. Northside Woman, which was sent to print two days prior to the announcement, is proud to feature this promoted pup on our cover and in our Women in Art feature!
By KATIE VanBRACKLE
Russ the bulldog arrived for a photo shoot at the University of Georgia (UGA) athletic complex in a bright red sport utility vehicle sporting a ‘MASCOT’ vanity tag.
Upon entering the building, Russ proudly padded through the Bulldog Hall of Fame and past a line of uniformed football players waiting for their moment to pose for a photograph with the famous pooch.
Each young man broke into a wide grin as Russ trotted past. It’s not every day you are in the presence of royalty.
The photography studio was set up just the way Russ likes it. After lapping up some chilled water from a big, silver bowl on the floor and cooling off next to a floor-level fan, Russ settled down comfortably in front of the cameras, ready to welcome his adoring fans. This dog is a star, and he knows it.
Sonny Seiler of Savannah, whose family has bred and raised UGA’s English bulldog mascots for over 50 years, sat in the back of the room chatting amiably with Emily Griffith, an artist from Milton who specializes in celebrity dog portraits.
Griffith is one of only a few artists granted permission by the Seiler family to paint official portraits of their beloved “Ugas.”
“I painted Uga VII and Uga VIII, and I’m really excited about meeting Russ,” Griffith said. “He has been serving as Georgia’s interim mascot since the unexpected loss of Uga VIII, and the fans have developed a really fond feeling for him.”
Capturing the essence of such a famous canine on canvas would be a challenge for any artist, but Griffith has a talent for conveying an animal’s true personality through realistic oil paintings.
The UGA mascots are not Griffith’s only famous clients.
She painted actress Tori Spelling’s pug Mimi LaRue, as well as Pepper, the rat terrier belonging to B-52’s rocker Cindy Wilson. Victoria Stillwell, host of the popular Animal Planet show “It’s Me or the Dog,” hired Griffith to paint a portrait of her chocolate lab, Sadie.
“Every dog has a unique personality and I love them all,” said Griffith. “I once painted a German Shepherd who participated in an international dog show. He had an aloof, almost regal air. And Golden Retrievers just want to ‘do’ for their owners. Their loving expressions really come through in the paintings.”
Griffith likes to connect with her subjects before beginning a painting. She gets down on the ground to play with the dogs while taking eye-level photographs.
Such up close and personal methods can be hazardous at times. Griffith remembers a young bulldog, George, who unexpectedly pounced on her during a meet and greet, causing the two of them to roll down a hill together.
“Did I mention I’m actually allergic to animals?” she said with a laugh, recalling a photo shoot with five cats that left her sneezing for a week.
Griffith calls her painting career a “later in life thing.” Originally from Florida, she worked in television production in California for years before moving to Milton in 2004 and discovering a talent she didn’t know she possessed.
Her first pet portrait was of her own dog, a black and white parti-poodle named Gracie. Pleased with the results, she signed up for classes at the Atlanta College of Art and eventually earned a pet portraiture diploma from the London College of Art.
“I believe you are doing what you are meant to do when it comes naturally,” said Griffith. “It’s a joy to be able to celebrate the human-animal bond through my work. I want people to see my paintings and fall in love with their pet all over again.”
People often hire Griffith to paint portraits of a pet who has passed away.
“It’s gratifying to give someone a permanent keepsake of their beloved companion. It’s very healing for them,” she said.
Griffith’s animal portraits are not limited to dogs. She has spent a lot of time lately driving the dirt roads of rural Milton, getting to know a variety of farm animals. Her compelling portraits of horses, cows, goats, lambs and chickens will be on display at the Crossroads at Crabapple Antiques and Arts Festival on Oct. 6.
Amanda Quintana, a festival organizer, calls Griffith’s work “just gorgeous.”
“Emily’s farm animal portraits are the perfect fit for what we are trying to do with our old-timey festival, and we are so excited to have her with us,” Quintana said.
Griffith received a People’s Choice award for Best Artist at the 2011 Johns Creek Arts on the Creek and was named Best Animal Artist by Atlanta Magazine in 2010. Her work has been selected for multiple national juried art shows.
A believer in giving back, Griffith uses her unique talents to benefit local animal charities such as Canine Assistants (CA), based in Milton. Griffith donated artwork for CA’s notecards and is currently finishing a portrait of Pirelli, the CA puppy born without one foot who now serves as Atlanta news station 11Alive’s morning mascot.
Another of Griffith’s pet charities is Georgia’s English Bulldog Rescue, a group that works to rehabilitate and find good homes for English Bulldogs who are sick, neglected, abused or injured. Griffith donated an original portrait of Uga VIII for the rescue group’s annual Bully Ball.
Though her portrait of Russ will not be ready in time for the Crossroads at Crabapple Festival next month, Georgia fans will still find plenty of Uga prints and notecards at Griffith’s booth, along with colorful paintings of less famous but equally adorable pooches and farm animals.
“I love what I do and it shows in my work,” said Griffith. “People who enter my booth always smile.”
Meet her in person at the Crossroads at Crabapple Antiques and Art Festival, Oct. 6, 9 a.m. – 4 p.m. in historic downtown Crabapple: crossroadsatcrabapplefestival.com.