We had to do a hard thing a few months back. When I met my husband back in 2011, he had two dogs that he had rescued from the Humane Society. This past fall they were at the ripe old dog age of 15. These dogs were with us from my introduction (the big one may not have been crazy about me at first), to our first home as a married couple (and then our second third and fourth) to the birth of all 3 of our kids and while we joked about the little one being an asshole, they were really great dogs. Putting down an animal is something I hope to never have to do again but I take solace in the fact that they were so loved and I’m pretty sure they would tell you if they could that they had a pretty great life around here, especially once those kids started throwing food on the floor.
I knew I wanted to make some kind of paw print artwork with the dogs before they left us to remember them – my mom had sent me an image several months back of some flower artwork made from dog paw prints. Something I could definitely do with a little instruction so I ventured down the Pinterest rabbit hole to look for some options that wouldn’t be too detailed or time consuming because at this life stage, I just can’t.
I found this beautiful print and decided that I wanted an all over pattern as opposed to a single picture. The mistake I made was that I didn’t click through and read her tutorial until after I had purchased supplies and was ready to go.
This piece shown used a watercolor technique. She states that she had her dog step in water, then walk on the canvas and after that she filled the areas in with watercolor paint. What she made sound like a pleasant walk in the park ended up being a bit more like catching a fruitfly with 2 toothpicks for me. Even though I chose acrylic paint as opposed to watercolor, my dogs were not keen on walking on the paper I laid out. They actually preferred to step over it. One dog, I had to basically drag over the paper, and the other, surprisingly, let me do a little stamping with her paws.
This art specifically was to be used as more of a memorial. I knew I wanted to incorporate their dog tags, which are blue, so I searched around for color palettes (also on Pinterest) that included the color blue. I picked up 3 paint colors for each dog, but ended up re-using one of the colors for both pieces and ditching one entirely. I got Martha Stewart brand acrylic paint from Michael’s. They are simple and gentle and easy to use. You don’t need anything too fancy or expensive for this.
You don’t have to be a stickler to matching the color palette exactly. Sometimes (many times) you can’t find exact color matches anyhow without doing some mixing so you go for a general feeling and pick what feels right. It’s your art so you can create it however you want!
I have large pictures of my dogs already that I made last year so for this art, I felt like I wanted something more small and delicate.
If you’re looking to frame a piece of art with a mat, I cannot recommend Mat Boards Plus enough (they also have fantastic customer service). Seriously, they’ve got great stuff that’s also super affordable and ships fast. Also if you don’t think you can do something fancy like frame something with a mat accent, let me tell you, YOU CAN. I found this picture frame and purchased as an 8″x8″. This means that the opening is 8″x8″ and the entire frame itself is closer to 10″x10″. All these numbers can be so confusing sometimes. I loved the idea of a square frame and when it arrived, it was exactly what I was looking for. I got the acrylic panel (the clear piece that goes on top) so when it arrives, there is a sticky layer of plastic on each side that needs to be removed but then it is beautiful and clear and lightweight.
The cool thing about the mat boards is that they are customizable in size, opening size and color. This one I used was an economy mat in the color Canvas. I also added a v-groove. Without this, the mat would just be flat. This mat board was an 8″x8″ (outer dimensions – same size as the inside dimensions of my frame) and I added a custom opening. There are some standard sizes listed but you can also create something custom to fit your piece specifically. When I went to customize, the maximum opening I could get was 6.5″x6.5″ so that’s what I got to get maximum paw print exposure. It seems small but it ended up being the perfect size.
I picked up textured, 12″x12″ off-white scrapbook paper from Michael’s to use as my art base because I liked the look of the texture in my initial inspiration piece. I chose 12″x12″ so that I could paint as much surface area as possible and then choose the best composition from there. It takes the pressure off from trying to paint a small, specific piece perfectly. And let me tell you how important that is when painting with dogs (or any animal for that matter I assume).
Honestly I’m still not exactly sure what to tell you about this because I’m not sure I did it right. When I made these, we were in an apartment with limited space. I didn’t want to lug all my stuff around and get paint on the sidewalk outside or in our garage, because again, the whole renting thing. I sacrificed our area rug for this art since it has been peed on and barfed on enough that I knew it didn’t need to move with us again. If I had been in my house, I think I would have laid out a big tarp or tablecloth in the garage as a starting point. I then had a big piece of cardboard with the 12″x12″ paper taped in the middle.
For the first one, I had blobs of paint squirted out onto a piece of foil on a cookie sheet and dipped the paws in it before having the dog step on the paper but this method got too much paint on the paws and we got more paw print blobs instead of obvious prints. We also got smears of paint where I was trying to drag the dog over the paper, lol, it was a mess.
For the second dog, I made a sort of paint moat around the edges of the paper hoping the dog would walk through them and then put prints on the paper. Again, we had sheer avoidance and the dog jumping over the paper and the paint repeatedly. For her, she actually let me dip her paw in paint and use it to make prints, which I was surprised about. The first dog wanted no part in me touching his paws.
After you have a decent amount of coverage, you can play around with the piece until you find the part that you want to use. I did this by moving my matboard around until I found a place that I liked. I then traced the outside of it with a pen and cut it out. Simple, right?
The End Result
After that you simply put it all together. These specific frames use an acrylic instead of glass so they have a protective layer on each side that needs to be removed before they can be used. Other than being careful not to cover them in dirt and dust once the protective sheets are off, it’s pretty easy to work with and put together.
They were perfect. Exactly how I wanted them to be. I love that they are a beautiful piece of art as well as being a tribute to our long time friends.
Have you done artwork with your animals? I would love to hear what you did and how it turned out!