Dog portrait artists launch new business Molly and Maud
During lockdown friends and artists Wendi Weller and Denise Liebermann bonded over their love for creating dog drawings… So much so that they have launched Molly and Maud, offering unique commissioned portraiture of pooches. Gill Sutherland visited the pair at Wendi’s Maple Barn studio in Pebworth on the first day of Warwickshire Open Studios.
Tell us how you met.
Denise: We did a workshop on needle-felting and we got talking. We have so much in common and are so similar: same age and we were both originally were oil painters but through kids and business and everything else it was put to one side.
How did you came up with the idea for the business?
D: We both had our own businesses. Wendi had a hairdressing business, and I had a corporate business for about 20 years. We both got to the same stage just as lockdown kicked in when we said, ‘what the hell do we do now?’. Lockdown was like a snow day at school for a year. We could just play every day.
Wendi: We were on Facetime and Denise said I’ve drawn a dog. I said if you’ve drawn a dog, I’ll draw a dog. Then we sort of did this dog a day for a year.
Friends and family started to say, ‘will you draw my dog?’.
As things took off we decided we needed to call ourselves something, so we went Molly and Maud, the names of our grandmothers.
How are things going with the business?
D: It started very slowly to click into place. You know you don’t want to hope too much but now we’re teaching workshops where people draw their own dog for a day and we’re doing commissions as well of our own art. That will develop and develop.
W: Technically this is our launch. Obviously, we kept getting locked down. We’d just about get a bit of marketing ready to try and get ourselves out there, our cards into different shops and what have you, and then we’d get locked down again. So this is almost third time lucky really. Hopefully the open sudios will bring new attention.
If someone wants a portrait of their dog, what is the process?
D: All have to do is email photographs to us to work from. It’s lovely if people are local and they pop by and we can take our own.
W: But we haven’t been able to do that either because of lockdown. Going forward we’d love to meet the dogs and we’d love to bring them into the studio. And sometimes what you may think is a really cute photo of your dog is actually not a good photo for a painter.
D: You need angles and a bit about their personality. We don’t want to just produce a replica of a photo – we want to make art. We want more than that – add some contemporary edge to it.
Do you approach the portraits in the same way?
W: We work similarly but very differently. I like to put the eyes in because I like them with me and to keep me company but Denise doesn’t do that.
D: And she’s the nose queen.
W: Very occasionally we’ll work on a portrait together together.
D: We start with a very loose charcoal drawing. We love charcoal.
W: You do an outline of a dog then you build up layers really.
What’s the appeal of dog portraits particularly?
D: We are fascinated with the relationship between dogs and their owners. If you don’t have a dog, I think it’s difficult to explain but that connection, that bond, the loyalty, the trust – dogs are fascinating. Every dog we do is different.
W: You could paint 10 working cockers and every painting you’d do would be completely different, even if it was a litter, because we try and get their personality. It might have a twinkle in its eye. You just get that in a painting and you just know. Sometimes you just paint that one mark and you just go all shivery.
Denise has cried when I’ve painted something…
D: We are ridiculous really. Life drawing [people] is brilliant I loved it and everything – but this is more interesting. I do like the human form but when you start looking at a dog’s nose or the tilt of the head or the shyness or the gentleness…
W: We want now to develop and do some more interesting things. We’d quite like to do some quirky compositions. We might bring the odd human leg in!
Have you been dog lovers all your lives?
D: My husband never wanted a dog. We have two boys and eventually when they left home he just cracked and it’s just the best edition to my life really – the exercise and the social side. Archie’s our oldest dog and he’s 11 and he’s a wire fox terrier and parson’s jack Russell cross, he cannot stand being alone. Stanley’s a poodle and whippet cross and he’s a completely different character, just the most joyful little fellow who just loves you.
W: We’ve had two dogs always for 30 years. Now we’re just down to one. She’s a shih tzu and bichon cross called Grace and was a rescue from an Irish puppy farm.
You offer workshops, tell us about that?
D: We hold them monthly and they are for all levels. We talk about drawing as being like handwriting – it takes a bit of practice and everyone’s got their own style. Whatever they produce is from them, so it means something.
W: In workshops we teach about tone and composition and in about three or four hours they start looking at their first drawings and see how far they’ve come. It’s so satisfying.
D: We can also host parties. We just had a 50th birthday celebration where they had a workshop and a meal.
W: We want to take it further and host residentials and things. We’d do it as a team; my husband would be good at front of house and Denise’s husband is a chef – as well as being our framer, which is a new skill he’s had to learn!
You have such a great dynamic, there’s a joy coming across.
W: There’s this amazing thing where you turn a corner when you’ve got past 50 and you have more quality time to do what you love. We absolutely love what we’re doing.
D: When we couldn’t get together during lockdown we’d do a video call in our own studios and we’d just leave it on all day and we’d just sort of natter away and giggle a lot. We’ve got a really good dynamic.
W: We have been told we should do a podcast because we do get a bit silly. Although we’d have to not swear.
D: We could call it swearing, gin, and hot sweats!