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Colorado Artist Colors Our World

Suzanne Schirra has been drawn to art since she was a child using crayons. “My work has always been about vivid, bold color. In painting dogs,” she says, “I aim to capture their expressions precisely, then add intensity through my use of color.”

In fact it is her use of bright colors, combined with the realism in her work, that make Schirra’s acrylic-on-canvas paintings unique. While many artists paint animals using bright colors, they usually paint caricatures, or in the abstract. Schirra is one of the few artists who create photorealistic portraits that look exactly like the animal she’s portraying except in bright, electric colors.

Chinese Crested ‘Tallulah.’

She admits that she could have chosen any subject matter using the style in which she paints. However, Schirra felt strongly that an artist who paints any and everything is seldom very accomplished at any of them. The painter who chooses one field, studies it carefully and concentrates on it has a greater chance of success. Because she loves dogs so much, they are her chosen subjects.

As Schirra says, “Dogs don’t live beige lives. They live big, bold, vibrant lives.” She uses color to reflect that, and she concentrates particularly on their facial expressions. Most of her work depicts just the head and shoulders of her subjects, as she feels that the face is where the soul of the dog is expressed.

Golden Retriever ‘Clementine.’

Combining her love of color with her love of dogs creates paintings that positively jump off the canvas. For each painting she works from one photograph. You won’t find many grays or browns in her paintings. Instead Schirra uses rich blues and purples to convey the darkest areas, and then adds complementary colors in orange, reds and yellows, sometimes combined with white, to flesh out each canine.

Each painting takes from 10 days to one month to complete, and the majority of her work is commissioned by individual owners. She paints in many layers, going from dark to light to create depth. She does this over and over again until the dog has come to life, and then uses very small brushes to bring out all the detail and texture of the dog’s coat, as well as its wet nose and sometimes lolling tongue. She then highlights the outline with another vivid color, which makes the image pop.

Westie puppy ‘Wally.’

While she brings to her work a solid background, with degrees in art history and graphic arts, Schirra has continued to learn throughout her career. In addition to studying skeletal and muscular form, and movement in the human, which she capably applies to dogs, she has studied breed standards, as well as different coat types, eye and ear shapes, and noses in dogs. And each new breed that she paints is a lesson in itself, as she learns something new with each commission.

Labrador Retriever ‘Gunnar.’

The Vail, Colo., resident isn’t the only famous person in her family. Suzanne’s late father, Wally Schirra, was one of the original seven astronauts selected for Project Mercury, the first U.S. effort to put humans in space, and the only one to fly in all of America’s first three space programs, Mercury, Gemini and Apollo. But his daughter found her life’s calling with her feet planted firmly on the ground.

Maltese ‘Magnolia.’

Schirra’s work is currently showing at Vail Village Arts in Vail and at the Vickers Collection in both Aspen and Beaver Creek. She is also showing in California and Hawaii and, soon, in New York. To see more of her work, or to commission a painting of your own, visit her website at www.suzanneschirra.com.

Written by

Christi McDonald is a second-generation dog person, raised with a kennel full of Cairn Terriers. After more than a decade as a professional handler’s apprentice and handling professionally on her own, primarily Poodles and Cairns, she landed a fortuitous position in advertising sales with the monthly all-breed magazine ShowSight. This led to an 11-year run at Dogs in Review, where she wore several hats, including advertising sales rep, ad sales manager and, finally, editor for five years. Christi is proud to be part of the editorial team for the cutting-edge Best In Show Daily. She lives in Apex, N.C., with two homebred black Toy Poodles, the last of her Foxfire line, and a Norwich Terrier.
  • Riverview April 25, 2012 at 4:58 AM

    she is very talented!

  • kayla
    kayla April 26, 2012 at 10:54 AM

    watch our pages – we’ll be launching artists and photographers galleries soon and Ms. Schirra’s work will be part of the debut.

  • Tracy Kornfeld April 26, 2012 at 2:05 PM

    I am Suzy Schirra’s webmaster and a, now retired, 30 year dog show competitor in Bichon Frise’s – winning two National specialties and two G2’s at WKC [dammit!]. It is a pleasure to see Suzy’s work mentioned by long time dog friend Christi McDonald. Suzy’s use of colors really makes you look at our dogs through different eyes…yet, you can still see the dogs personality come through in each of her paintings. Thanks to Christi for writing the article without one bit of me bugging her to do so! I think it’s wonderful. Please visit Suzy’s site and also pay a visit to her late father’s site, astronaut Wally Schirra at wwww.wallyschirra.com, who also was a dog lover and always spoke of Suzy’s paintings.

  • Ricky Blackman April 26, 2012 at 2:50 PM

    Will you be interested in showcasing art from othrr media such as original rugs with a canine theme?

    • kayla
      kayla April 27, 2012 at 7:24 AM

      Hi Ricky, thank you for contacting us. We would be delighted to see your work for inclusion in our showcases. Is it possible you could send me link via email kayla@bestinshowdaily.com?
      All the best, Kayla

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