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Artist Beth Bourland Gets to Know You and Your Pet

Before Alameda artist Beth Bourland starts a pet portrait, she studies as many photos of her animal subject as possible, but that’s not all she does.

“If I can, I meet the pet. That’s great,” she said over tea, coffee, and cookies on the back patio at Julie’s Coffee & Tea Garden in Alameda on a warm spring day. “Dogs don’t sit still. Dogs don’t pose.”

Bourland’s medium is watercolor, which she prefers for its transparent quality and “the fusion that occurs, unlike any other medium.” Watercolor paint means she must work more quickly than artists who choose acrylics or oils. Bourland zeroes in on pet eyes and faces, her goal to convey the pet’s personality through the collective brushstrokes and final painting, which she personalizes with unique traits. Sometimes she will include a special toy, tennis ball, favorite blanket, or other detail she gleans from interviewing the pet parents. Her finished portraits are very appealing: Bourland has an unwavering ability to get the details down, from realistic catchlights in eyes and perfectly pink panting tongues to curly and slick coats and drooping eyes. Even drool.

Yes, a client who commissioned a Christmas present for his parents of a beloved coonhound instructed, “Be sure and show some drool.” A good sport with a sense of humor, Bourland complied, painting a little telltale string of slobber, because, after all, drooling happens to be a major characteristic of the breed. “They liked it.”

“It can be humorous, if that fits,” said the artist about her work, explaining she can use a more cartoonish or caricature style if clients prefer.

Along her painting way, she has encountered a few challenges in pet portraiture. Generally drawn to the pet’s eyes, Bourland said thick overgrown brows hid a black poodle’s eyes from her view, so that painting required some improv on her part.

Like many pet portraitists, Bourland, an artist since childhood, started out casually, doing a few pet portraits for friends and then delved more deeply into the niche market. “I always drew as a kid, encouraged by my father who was a draftsman, builder, and amateur artist,” she said, recalling drawing on restaurant placemats on family outings.

Even if she has only photos to work from, Bourland said by the time she completes the watercolor portrait, she feels like she truly knows her pet subject.

Many of the paintings she does — more than half — are memorials for deceased pets, and she takes such commissions seriously and as an honor, observing, “Pets are just like a family.”

“It’s a nice memory. It’s sad, but the love remains, and the family members seem to cherish it,” she said. “Pets are like people, too.”

Because the typical cat is more reserved than the average dog, Bourland said felines are a little more difficult for her to get right, but she’s up to the task. She has painted breeds as diverse as German shepherds and Shiz Tzus and said she finds pit bulls fun to paint for their muscularity and sturdiness. Bourland is an accomplished painter of other animals, too, and can count a horse, rabbit, and parrot among her models. When not working on animal portraits, Bourland may be painting scenes of marinas, coastal towns, docks, and everyday scenes. She loves traveling beachy places like Key West.

The artist offers three unframed sizes (4 x 6, 9 x 12, 11 x 14) for her pet portraits ranging from $65 to $145 (or more for larger sizes or special projects). The most popular size is $145 and includes a mat to fit a 9 x 12 frame. Contact Bourland through or email her at

Alameda artist Beth Bourland puts her love for animals into her watercolor portraits. These paintings, top and below, are examples of the portraits she has was commissioned to do. Bourland likes to meet the animals she will be painting, if she can, and then works from photographs.  Atop is the beloved hound (also below) whose drool the artist was urged to depict. Her artistic style can be bright and intense or muted and understated. 

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Main article photo by: Portraits courtesy Beth Bourland