Sally Muir’s Paintings Capture All the Very Best Things About Dogs
The artist, who’s new collection, Rescue Dogs, is out in May, paints her subject with the color and abstract flair they deserve.
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Sally Muir’s foray into pet-inspired art began as a personal project she hosted on Facebook. Ten years ago, the artist created a page on the platform called “A Dog A Day” with a simple goal — posting daily canine-focused art. Some of her portraits were watercolor or oil paintings, while others were charcoal or pencil sketches, but regardless of the medium, the artist stuck to her promise. The page took off and remains active today. Despite being a lifelong dog lover and pet parent, Muir’s artistic emphasis on pet subjects wasn’t intentional.
“It was accidental. I used to paint children, and occasionally I’d be asked to include a dog, and from there, I got asked to paint dogs more often and I realized that I really loved it,” she explains.
Muir’s next project, the forthcoming book, Rescue Dogs, out May 23, features very particular canine subjects. After being motivated by the several rescue dogs she’s had throughout her life, Muir put a call on social media for other adopted pups to capture. But for this new collection, the focus goes beyond detailing their look and expressing their personality: It highlights each dog’s story. Every portrait in the collection is accompanied by a small blurb describing the dog’s journey and how they found their homes and families. It’s something Muir hopes demonstrates that rough beginnings do not condemn animals from happy endings. “I love the fact that these dogs that weren’t wanted at some stage of life are now cherished,” she adds. “I hope it encourages people to think about maybe getting a rescue dog.”
Rescue Dogs heavily features Sighthounds — a breed close to Muir’s heart. “They are very gentle and noble, and I just find them very heart-rending,” she says. Sadly, they are also a group of dogs that often occupy a lot of real estate in shelters. “I love Sighthounds but, unfortunately, they are one of the breeds that seem to be very badly treated by humans. From Greyhounds to Galgos, there are many Sighthounds in rescues.”
Muir’s first book, A Dog A Day, launched in 2017 as an extension of the original online project. It depicts a range of dog portraits including various breeds, sizes, and personalities, something Muir attributes to the individuality of her subjects.
“Each dog, like each person, is unique. There is so much variety in the dog population that it’s endlessly fascinating,” she says. So, how is Muir able to capture the singular essence of each dog? Like her subjects, it’s distinctive. “It varies a lot from dog to dog. Sometimes, it’s the expression. Sometimes, it’s the way they stand or the tilt of the head and ear position. It’s really different for each dog. I try not to have any sort of formula,” the artist explains.
Inspired by the paintings of Hans Holbein the Younger and Alice Neel, Muir has developed her own style. She describes it as “quite experimental and free, but I hope, with a solid basis of good drawing.” The dogs she profiles are a combination of commissions and social media requests, in addition to her own pups. One of her dogs, an aging Whippet named Lily, helped inspire her 2021 collection, Old Dogs. The book features a series of sketches and paintings of senior dogs to reflect how powerful it is to care for an older dog.
“I had come to realize how touching the older dog is and how much they need us in different ways to when they were younger,” Muir remembers. “There is something beautiful about the gray eyebrows and milky eyes of the old dog that I love to paint.” She adds that she especially enjoys the act of painting someone’s pet as they are nearing the end of their life; this offers a permanent way of remembering them. Muir even recalls one individual who used to sit with the painting of their recently deceased dog during meals. It’s something she says she found “very touching, maybe slightly weird, but very touching.”
Muir’s appreciation of this grieving process comes from personal experience. About a year ago, her original muse behind Old Dogs, Lily, had entered her final days. Muir managed her sadness in a way only artists can. “I drew Lily almost every day in her last months, I think as a way of holding onto her as she was slipping away from me and observing her closely on a daily basis.”
She hopes her newest work will draw attention to the breed’s plight and increase adoption interest. Ultimately, Muir’s passion is still in her subjects. “The dogs I paint are really my inspiration,” she says.
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Sean Zucker is a writer whose work has been featured in Points In Case, The Daily Drunk, Posty, and WellWell. He has an adopted Pit Bull named Banshee whose work has been featured on the kitchen floor and whose behavioral issues rival his own.