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Where to get a portrait of your pet done in Toronto

Posted by Luke Champion / June 5, 2013

Pet Profile TorontoWhen I arrive at Tania Boterman's studio in Kensington Market, she's in the middle of a piece for her upcoming show: "One Bird, So Many Feathers." It's a series of pen and ink drawings centred around these twisted, feathered hearts. They're starkly beautiful, with just the right amount of creepy to keep them interesting and just enough colour to make them standout.

Pet Profile TorontoShe's being kicked out of her studio at the end of the month, when she'll be moving herself and her pet cat into a new apartment/studio out towards the Junction. On top of all that she's also had to put up with pestering emails and text messages from me for the past couple of weeks about something completely unrelated to any of this. Tania Boterman also does portrait commissions — of people's pets. Dogs mostly, but she says any cute face will do. It's a cottage industry she fell into by accident, but since she started she's done well over 100 on word of mouth alone and with Woofstock coming up this weekend, no doubt there are plenty of proud pooch parents in the market to immortalize their precious pups.

I met with Tania on a dreary afternoon to talk about art and listen to sad animal stories.

What makes a good pet portrait?

The expression. If I can nail the eyes — that's what I worry the most about — the rest of it will kind of fall into place. So I look for a cute little expression, because you know I'd still like it to be a piece of artwork I don't want it to be like Robert Bateman.

Pet Profile TorontoWhich is your favourite?

This one for sure [Hank, below]. Because of it's size — it's big. But also, I generally work with tons of black and there's not quite as much black as usual. Also, this is one of the first ones I did in pen and ink...I used to do strictly oils and acrylics and now I don't use any of it at all, and this is one of the ones that made me stop, so it kind of changed everything.

Do you do exclusively dogs?

No, I do a few cats too.

Pet Profile TorontoHow about people?

I've done a few kids, but there's surprisingly not as much of a market for it (laughs).

Why do you like drawing animals?

I don't know, I just sort of went nuts drawing animals, I've been doing it for 10 years now. It started with drawing these polar bears fighting and people really liked them, so then I did a whole bunch more and that just kind of led to flamingos and continued from there.

How is doing a commission different from your own work?

They're two different things. I find commissions far more stressful, but I usually have more of an idea when I do a commission. Like I go into it with absolute knowledge of what I need to produce, whereas in my own work, it involves a lot more experimentation and all sorts of ideas come through.

And there are expectations with commissions, which I worry about a little bit, but when someone is hiring me I assume they're hiring me because they like what I do and they're expecting something similar to things I've already done. Like, now I'm over feeling uncomfortable about it. It used to be more of an issue.

How many commissions have you done?

Maybe like, 100 or so? There's a lot of them out there, and it's kind of surprising. I'll run into people and after a minute or so, it will occur to me that I've painted their dog — or cat.

Pet Profile TorontoAre they generally for living animals?

This is a dead one [above]. Yeah, it was a wedding gift originally, but you know what? I think this is the anniversary of him dying, which is so weird. When I borrowed it for this I mentioned that it would be featured in an article and they were so happy because they said we were coming up on the anniversary of his death.

But yeah, often people will hire me for animals that are about to pass away — it's really weird — and then people will get super emotional...they can be very intense.

So I Imagine you get a lot of pet stories

Oh yeah, tons. One of my favourites is one of the more heartbreaking ones. This guy had a shop out of the Danforth and his dog is this beautiful yellow lab who was about to pass away and you could really tell. So I had to come in and take pictures and he was so sweet with it, lifting him up onto the couch and we had to kind of make the dog look not as sick as he was. You could tell he was heartbroken about what was going to happen next, that he really wanted to memorialize. You know, you can't help but get super-duper sad about that.

Are you an animal lover yourself?

I am! I have a cat and when I have some time I want to do her portrait, but I'm not like, an activist or anything

How long does a piece take you?

It depends, a couple of days. Most people are cool to wait, but this one guy explained to know I asked him when he wanted me to have it done, and he said: "well, you know what it's like when you really want something?" So yeah, as soon as possible.

What is the price range?

It depends of the size, but generally anywhere from $200 - $1000.

The opening for Tania Boterman's One Bird, So Many Feathers is June 6, 7-10pm at AWOL Gallery and runs until June 16th.

All photos by Michael Chrisman except #3 and #4, provided by the artist



Alexander / June 5, 2013 at 09:39 am
The feathered heart has skill...the others look like high school level...just awful...not worth $20 let alone $200 or $1000
anon replying to a comment from Alexander / June 5, 2013 at 09:59 am
Alexander - what the F is wrong with you? It's good work. Why be such a doucher troll?
bee / June 5, 2013 at 10:13 am
These are really beautiful.. keep up the good work!
Sloane / June 5, 2013 at 06:27 pm
Actually, I think the feathered heart looks more juvenile than any of the pet paintings.
Megan Boardman / June 5, 2013 at 10:26 pm
I think all of Tania's work is incredible! Most people who can't see how great it is just because it is so "out of the box". Keep it up Tania :)
mondayjane / June 6, 2013 at 09:40 am
I really like it. Especially the dogs. I would totally hire her for a portrait. She seems to have a foundation of real talent and her skill is keeping it simple and charismatic.

Ignore trolls btw - the worst thing about any comment section is the dumbass who uses it as a forum to get his rage on.
B. Teri Boterman / June 6, 2013 at 02:58 pm
I have the good fortune of knowing Tania from when she was a wee baby. As my neice grew she always had an interest in art and a soft heart for animals. I have watched as she has matured in her talent as an artist and am extremely proud of her and passionate about her work. What you do with your hands Tania is amazing, you are a genius in your choice of self-inspired work. Keep up the amazing works...I love the pen and ink much more depth to them!
yvon richard / June 7, 2013 at 08:53 am
what Im seeing here is an artist who is able to project the spirit of the animal through the eyes,and that is what I believe to be the main element in any portrait,people or animal.....beautiful work,keep it up,,dont pay any attention to the insecure comments ....................................
bills8091 / August 30, 2013 at 10:12 pm
That looks great. I don't have a pet yet because I didn't have anywhere to keep them. I did find though so I'm going to get one soon.
Tara / November 26, 2013 at 09:57 pm
Just thought I'd mention - check out Marcia Leeder for actual pet photography portraits. She is the SHIT. I follow her on my Facebook, found out about her by my previous manager.‎
Dade Murphy / August 17, 2014 at 07:50 pm
Just had my black lab "Jake" drawn by a local artist in toronto. His name is Chris Trudeau, check out his body of work at

His drawings are mainly charcoal with some tints of colour sometimes. Really great stuff.
Betty / February 12, 2015 at 02:46 pm
I hired Ted at Cre8tive painting, he did a beautiful job on Oscar our shorthair cat that died.
Todd / June 22, 2015 at 04:20 pm
I've got to go with Ted Hamer, just google him he did a portrait that we gave for christmas, absolutely stunning!
Celeste / February 10, 2016 at 03:19 pm
Pet portraits are a big market here in TO. I've been doing it for 15 years. Lots of dog people, it's great :)
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