Local Artist Finds Her Calling in Pet Portraits

Local artist Jolynn Dicke holds a handful of paintbrushes.
South Minneapolis resident Jolynn Dicke combines her love of animals and the arts.

Jolynn Dicke has been an art fiend since her high school art teacher, Mrs. Pinc, introduced her to the subject. From art history to sculpture to painting, Dicke enjoyed every aspect of art. When it was time for college, she pursued a business degree and put her art to the side—until she began volunteering with the Minneapolis Institute of Art (MIA) in 2012.

“I really enjoyed oil painting [in high school] and hoped to do something in art in college,” she says. “[But] I stopped making art, got a business degree and had a successful 35-year career in human resources.”

Dicke, who also enjoys traveling, biking, exercising, gardening and Twins baseball, felt burned out after her nearly four-decade stint in the corporate world. Looking to her creative side, she began volunteering with MIA, and joined MetroSketchers and Urban Sketchers Twin Cities. Both groups host open, unguided drawing and painting sessions.

Dicke also shares her love of art through her watercolor pet portraits. “A coworker asked me to do a portrait in charcoal of his son and son’s dog together. There was one reference photo of the dog that just begged to be painted in watercolor. So, as a bonus, I gave him the portrait of Riesling, the yellow lab … Then a friend asked if I would paint their trio of Australian shepherds for a birthday gift for her husband. It just started taking off from there,” says Dicke.

A miniature book, currently in progress, which will feature more than 100 cats.

Dicke has since moved completely to watercolor—which she calls her stress relief—and occasionally plays around with other media like acrylic paints. Though painting with watercolors can be challenging, she says it can also be forgiving and can be used loosely or with precision.

Although dogs and cats may come to mind when thinking of pet portraits, Dicke has painted portraits of horses and goats as well. But crafting a portrait might be more time-consuming than one might think. “I always get asked, ‘How long did it take to paint that?’ [But] the actual painting is the quick part,” she says. “It’s the planning and prep that take time. On average, I spend 40 hours per animal on the painting.”

Because photographs aren’t always a high-quality reference, Dicke spends a lot of the planning time on filling in any photo deficiencies. Many of the portraits are of pets who have passed away, so there’s no opportunity to get a better photograph. The original may be blurred or have glowing eyes, which makes it a challenge to paint.

After determining the composition, coloring and a complementary background, Dicke outlines and draws the pet in light pencil and uses masking fluid to keep the paper white (as there isn’t technically a “white” watercolor paint). After the background is completed, she moves on to the actual painting, which is the quickest step in her creative process.

A watercolor portrait of a black Lab named Lucy.

Lucy, an elderly black lab, is one of Dicke’s recent portraits where she was supplied with a superb reference photo. “I really was able to capture not only her likeness, but her spirit. She practically painted herself,” says Dicke.

Another favorite is a larger portrait (12” x 28” compared to her typical 8” x 10”) of four Yorkies, nicknamed “The Boys.” “Their individual photos were just so-so, and when I actually met the dogs after the painting had been [completed], I realized I nailed each one of them in my painting. [It was] very satisfying, as I had a lot of time invested in that work,” she says.

Despite the fact that Dicke specializes in pet portraits, she also enjoys painting landscape and garden scenes and is working on improving her drawing of human faces. However, she’ll always continue painting pets, as it’s become her painting forte.

“I realized that pets are such an important part of our families, and it’s a subject I seem to have a knack for,” says Dicke. “I look forward to retirement, when I can play with my art all day.”

Jolynn’s Painting Tips

If you’re interested in testing out the waters with watercolor painting, Dicke recommends jumping on in.

“Like anything else, working with watercolor is a matter of practice and learning how the paint and water work together. It can be loose or used with precision … And you can do it virtually anywhere! I always carry a small watercolor set and an aqua brush (an all-in-one brush and water tool) with a small sketch book. It’s an inexpensive way to get started, and though you get better results with more expensive paints and paper, it’s not necessary for the beginner.” 

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