“How did this single commission painting request turn into two very different paintings?”


Well, let me tell you how it all happened and scroll to the bottom if you want to see the finished artwork!

My friend Sue is the biggest dog-lover I know. She spends hours each day walking and playing with her dogs. She loves to share story about her dogs, and I mean all the dogs she has ever owned. She stops to talk to anyone who has a dog. She greets dogs before saying hello to humans. She takes care of my dogs if our family needs to travel. She loves to hear stories about what my dogs are doing. She is one of the kindest and most genuine people I know, and I am grateful for her friendship and love.

So when I told her last year that I wanted to paint a commission piece for her birthday, I had no doubt that it would be of one of her dogs. I wasn’t surprised when she emailed me her favorite photo of Joey and Connor. The photo showed an alert and standing Connor with an older Joey laying before him. 

I never had the chance to meet Joey, but apparently he had quite the energetic personality. He was a red golden retriever who loved going to our neighborhood park. Sue would occasionally get a call from a fellow neighbor saying, “Hi Sue, I just saw Joey heading to the park.” Joey loved it when Sue’s son had friends over. The more rowdy the better. Joey was just one of the guys.

I was fortunate enough to know Connor. He was a golden retriever who clearly loved Sue and all the attention she lavished upon him. I would see them out for daily walks. When Sue asked my son to dog sit one weekend, I was happy to go over with him and play with Connor in the back yard. He was excited to see us and quickly began bringing his toys over to share. He absolutely loved chasing his collection of tennis balls, and we spent over 30 minutes playing catch with him. He was quite the athlete and didn’t seem to tire of the repetitive game.

I was really excited to paint for Sue. There is always more pressure when painting for someone else, but I knew how much Sue loved her dogs and how meaningful this painting would be to her. As I began to mix the paint and apply it to the canvas, I had a gnawing sense that something wasn’t right. I reminded myself that my doubts usually stemmed from being a self-taught artist, and that my final artwork usually turned out nicely. I continued to paint.

By the end of my session that day, my painted canvas went into the trash. It happens … sometimes. I would give it another try on another day.

But the days turned into months and every time I saw Sue I would tell her, I’m going to get to your painting soon. She kept saying there was absolutely no rush and I knew she meant it. And then another month or more would go by. I got another canvas and tried again. This time, the painting was looking slightly better. Maybe this one would work. But then Sue got bad news about Connor and before I knew it, she had to say goodbye to her dear fur baby and endure the hardest part of pet ownership. She was devastated. I was sad for her because I too have had to say goodbye to many pets over the years, and it is never easy.

On top of that, I felt guilty that I hadn’t finished her painting before Connor died. I really should have finished that for her. I had plenty of time to complete it – what was I thinking? I sat down at my easel determined to complete her painting that very day, and yet, I couldn’t paint. I was too sad looking at sweet Connor’s face and thinking about the great loss that was being felt down the street. I set the canvas aside and knew it would call to me again when I was ready.

Several more months went by and Sue fostered a few dogs and started looking for another dog to bring into their family. She didn’t want to rush into anything and her family had always worked with shelters and other pet finder groups to choose her dogs. She still talked about Connor on our weekly walks as she worked through her grief. An image of Connor kept coming to me as she spoke of him … and it was always a happy, smiling Connor with at least one tennis ball in his mouth.

That was my eureka moment! Connor would be smiling and presenting me with his treasured tennis ball, and Joey would be relaxing in the grass at the park. 

I had found my inspiration was really excited to start creating!

Back to the Studio,


P.S. Did you read my whole email? If so, email your favorite pet photo and story with me (amycwhitaker@me.com) and you just might win a free portrait!

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