One recent night in a home in West Hartford, 10 artists got together for a painting party.
Cyrus and Shania, two terriers, led the pack with frisky energy. Carlin, a pug, contributed his own flair to the three abstract canvases. Molly, a lab-hound mix, didn’t hold back either. Three Cavalier King Charles spaniels — Charlotte, Kingsley and Gage — were mellower, but they did their part. So did Euli, a Chiweenie (chihuahua-Dachshund mix). Two Carolina dogs, Harley and Suzu, ran around the canvases watching the littler dogs create, adding to the creative energy with barks and jumps and sometimes putting their own paw prints on the canvases.
The critters are the team behind Paws that Draw, a West Hartford-based organization run by Sharona Kravitz, who uses local rescue dogs to create artworks. She then frames and sells the artworks and uses the proceeds to rescue more dogs.
She sells her “pup art” at facebook.com/Pawsthatdraw/ and participates in Open Studio Hartford every year. Paws that Draw also will have an exhibit the entire month of January in the concourse gallery at the Legislative Office Building in Hartford, where the legal eagles can mingle with artwork by the cultured pups.
“The artworks don’t look like anything you’d recognize. They are interpretive art,” Kravitz says. “When people see the artworks, they’d never know it was painted by a dog. We want people to enjoy it as a piece of art.”
Kravitz, a former professional photographer, did dog rescue herself for many years, starting in 1986 and ending in 2009. Now she concentrates on Paws that Draw. In the four years since she started selling dog artworks, she has used the money to rescue, vet-treat and rehome 15 dogs, all of them from shelters in the southern United States.
She re-homes the rescues to Hartford-area animal lovers. The rescues’ human families become Kravitz’s friends. The rescues become her artist crew, who are sometimes joined by visiting artists and foster dogs.
“If you come to my house for dinner, you have to bring a dog and that dog needs to paint — or you’re not getting fed,” Kravitz says.
To create the artworks, Kravitz starts with canvases in a variety of sizes — 5 by 7, 8 by 10, 11 by 14, on occasion a 16 by 20 — and squirts them with a color variety of acrylic paints. For an ocean scene, she uses blues, greens and white. If she wants a floral, she likes purple and gold. Sometimes she goes for pink and yellow.
“I’m the colorist,” she says. “I put the colors on the canvas and brush them a bit, but the dogs do most of the work. The important thing is the texture and the paw prints.”
Kravitz puts the canvases in plastic grocery bags and drops them onto a tarp spread on the floor of her living room or on her deck in the warm months. The dogs run all over the canvases, pressing down the paint with their paws and sometimes their noses, sometimes sitting on the canvases or rolling on them.
When dogs hesitate to participate, Kravitz drops dog food and treats onto the plastic bags and the tarp. When she does that, the art-making goes wild, with pups stomping all over the canvases as they compete for munchies on the kibble-strewn painting surface.
Kravitz takes the canvases out of the bags and lets the paint dry. Then she does it again with another layer of paint, and again and again until she feels the artwork is finished.
“It could have 10 layers of paint by the time we get through,” she says. A finished painting is a matter of instinct: “I think, it needs a little more of this, a little more of that. ... It’s a crapshoot. Sometimes I look at a piece and ask myself, ‘how the hell did that happen?’”
Kravitz titles the works when the pooches are finished.
“We don’t know what we’re going to get. They’re dogs, after all,” she says. Her framer, Laurel Janow Larco, gets into the act at this point.
“Sometimes you look at the painting and see nothing, and then you flip it over and see something entirely different,” Janow Larco says.
Paws that Draw artworks — the dogs also take commissions — range from about $45 to about $275. Kravitz disregards what the supplies cost her and concentrates on the how the art sales will benefit the dogs.
“There’s really no profit margin,” she says. “The prices are so close to what it costs me that there’s nothing left.”
Paws that Draw also donates artworks to charities for dog-welfare auctions.
Ellen Zeve of West Hartford adopted Gage from Kravitz and has brought the dog to the painting parties for three years.
“The results are amazing, and they’re all one of a kind. You’ll never get the same thing twice,” Zeve says.
To contact Kravitz, email email@example.com.