The first thing that strikes you about Jessie Jordan's pet portraits is the incredibly lifelike eyes. Second is probably the layers of old issues of WW and The Portland Mercury visible underneath the layers of paint.
The Vancouver, Wash., artist says she reads both local papers, and instead of throwing them away when she's done, Jordan scraps her favorite bold prints and big headlines and adds them to the pet portraits she's commissioned to paint.
"Honestly, in this day and age, if you're not doing what you can to reduce, reuse and recycle, you're lame," she says. "Then they can make something that will last forever, and it's not just tossed into a shredder or something like that."
Painting has been a hobby of Jordan's since high school, but three years ago, she began offering commissioned pet portraits. Last year, her business started booming. Often, she's asked to paint memorial portraits, but plenty of people also want to glorify their pets while they're still alive.
Jordan, who owns a blue tabby cat named Keekee and a 14-week-old akita-shepherd mix named Bowie Von Dog, says she understands why her clients would rather have a painted portrait instead of a photograph.
"It's like, 'Somebody put a lot of time and effort into my animal,'" she says. "They're like, 'Oh my gosh, you get it, you love this animal, I love this animal, the person that painted it obviously loves animals, this is awesome.'"
Here are some of Jordan's favorite critters she's painted.
Bullet the Pit bull
Before she applies the paint, Jordan essentially creates a newspaper collage in the shape of the pet. For the most part, the upcycled texts just add some extra detail, but Jordan sometimes uses them to emphasize a specific feature. Last year, she was commissioned to paint a pit bull named Bullet. Jordan drew loving attention to Bullet's paws with astrology section headers that are visible under the layer of white paint.
Ari the Cat
Since the majority of Jordan's clients live in Portland, she sometimes meets the animals she paints during consultations with the owners. Other times, the hours it takes to transfer an animal's essence onto canvas compels Jordan to ask owners if she can meet their pet. "I'll be like, 'I have to meet this animal,'" she says. Last fall, she painted a large-scale portrait of a cat owned by her friend's mom, and by the time she was done, Jordan had to experience Ari's puffiness in person. "I was like, 'I have to come and snuggle this cat,'" she says. "It was the fluffiest cat you'd ever seen, ever."
A Trio of Pugs
Usually, Jordan infers a pet's personality from a reference photo and the pet's name. "It normally gives me enough to kind of put a personality with the photo," she says. "It's always the eyes that capture me, honestly. You can just really tell an animal's personality through their eyes." She was particularly moved by a couple who asked her to paint three individual portraits of their tiny pugs, whose reference photos said as much about the dogs as they did about the owners. "I could literally tell the happiness that these three dogs brought to these people," Jordan says. "They didn't have kids or anything, so you could just tell these were their kids." Jordan's portraits depicted three distinct personalities—one portrait is closely cropped around the pug's big eyes and wrinkly face, while the smallest dog is painted next to a baseball that's bigger than his head.
Bitty the Baby Goat
Jordan is typically commissioned for cat and dog portraits, but she's painted a few alt-pets, too. Recently, she was commissioned by Green Acres Farm Sanctuary in Silverton, Ore., to paint a fluffy baby goat named Bitty for a raffle to benefit the sanctuary. It's hard to think of a more effective appeal for the animal sanctuary than Jordan's tender rendering of Bitty's velvety pink ears, beady eyes and wobbly little legs. "They're not able to communicate and tell their story or say anything at all," Jordan says. "So I feel like once I get these animals on canvas and emotion in the eyes, they're telling their own little story."