Tomah artists excels at pet portraitsWhen Laura Hein looks at a shelter dog, she sees paint strokes.
By: By Jessica Larsen, La Crosse Tribune, Wis., Superior Telegram
TOMAH -- When Laura Hein looks at a shelter dog, she sees paint strokes.
The fur, a blend of brown, yellow and white. The snout, a light tan. And the eyes, a deep black and spot of white. It's there she captures the spirit.
Hein started her brush with art in elementary school. Now, the college student uses oil pastel to paint pet portraits as a side business between homework assignments.
"People are absolutely crazy about their animals," she said. "They love them. I mean, they're man's best friend. ... These portraits are like a portrait of Grandma that you keep in the house. You remember her, even if she's passed on."
The Tomah resident volunteers at Chasing Daylight Animal Shelter. That's where she found her first model -- a black and white mutt with a quirky demeanor.
As people saw the finished piece, which now hangs at the shelter, Hein got more and more requests for her to paint other dogs.
"The reaction I got I didn't expect," she said.
Oil pastel takes a special hand, she said. Not many venture it because of the difficulty in mastering the colors and not blending them into a brown mess on paper.
Hein got her start after she saw the oil pastels on the top shelf of her high school freshman art class.
"I knew no one used them because they were up there," she said.
Once a chalk artist, a few practice sheets later with oil pastels and Hein found her new niche.
Each portrait takes up to 40 hours depending on the size.
She starts by mapping it out on a computer and using a grid system to plot the photo. After a detailed pencil sketch, Hein brings in the oil pastels.
She always starts with the eyes.
That's the most important part, she says. If she can't capture the dog's eyes perfectly, it's not the same pet to the owner.
It was the eyes of Hein's past painting that made Gina Mason-Haberlin pick Hein for a portrait of her dog Rueben, which died a couple years ago.
The hound and St. Bernard mix had deep, black eyes.
"They talk to you," Mason-Haberlin said.
Mason-Haberlin cried the first time she saw Hein's portrait of Rueben.
"It was like having Rueben back with me," she said. "It was very much like he was there looking at me. It's like part of him is still there with you."
Art always captured Hein's interest. In elementary school, she preferred the "messy stuff in art compared to the boring stuff in school."
That mindset seemed to follow her to college.
She went in set to major in pre-law and political science, only adding studio art courses to ease the semester.
But the art classes just pulled her in more, and she's now considering sticking with that instead.
Either way, Hein will continue her pet portraits throughout college.
It's a hefty task, she said. And halfway through each painting, Hein questions why she's gotten herself into such a big project again.
But then she thinks of the dog she's painting and picks up the pastel and gets back to work.
(c)2012 the La Crosse Tribune (La Crosse, Wis.)
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