Wiener dogs get their due at an art exhibit

The expression on the little dog's face is supremely clear. Ginger the dachshund has clamped her teeth on a tennis ball, and her big brown eyes are fixed on you. You know what she's thinking: "Let's play!"

Every dog owner has seen this look, and artist Laura D. Hoffman has captured it in a painting, one of several of her works on display at Cal State Fullerton through May 27.

The name of the exhibit is "Unleashed!," an appropriate title since each of the portraits shows various dachshunds at play, begging for treats, running in a dog race and sleeping in the humans' bed, with not a leash in sight.

"Dogs are now seen as members of the family," said Hoffman, an adjunct design instructor at the Fullerton university. "And in many families, they take on the roles of children.

"It's amazing how many barriers are dropped as soon as someone interacts with an animal or a drawing of one."

Dachshunds are a popular breed, with their long bodies and short legs. They were originally bred to chase badgers and hares since they could fit inside tunnels and rabbit holes. Now their chief job is to be a household pet, and for Hoffman, an artist's model.

There's Sarah, Hoffman's 2-year-old, black and tan, smooth-coated dachshund stretching out in a dog bed that is too short for her so her back legs rest on the floor. Sarah is there again, cuddling and napping with her favorite human, who happens to be Hoffman's husband, Ted.

Riley, a tan and white puppy, is shown snoozing with his head on his human's tennis shoe. Riley belongs to Hoffman's sister and brother-in-law, Karen and Gregory Schmauss. Best of all might be "Racing Wienies," the painting of four low-to-the-ground scent hounds running toward the viewer so fast that they appear to be flying.

Hoffman is an accomplished artist, illustrator and photographer. She started drawing at the age of 3 and never stopped.

She has illustrated several early-reading books, including "Moose on the Move," "Penney the Rude Penguin" and "Nothing Rhymes with Orange," a history of Orange County for children. She also is a commercial photographer who teaches digital photography at Saddleback College.

But in putting together the current exhibit, the graduate-student curator, Selena Robles, suggested that Hoffman focus on her dachshund work in order to tell a story about people and their beloved dogs, which is particularly reflective of Hoffman's family.

"My family came from Germany," Hoffman said. "They had dachshunds when they lived there."

"I love their spirit," Hoffman's mother, Ingrid Altman, said of dachshunds. "They are intelligent and have nice personalities. They can be noisy, but that is part of the spirit. They never bore you."

There were always dachshunds in the house when Hoffman and her sister were growing up in Downey.

"They're like little torpedoes on furry frames, and they love to get themselves in the middle of just about anything," Hoffman said. "They can be funny, whimsical and silly. They are part of my psyche."

"Unleashed!" also refers to Hoffman herself. While artists tend to work in private, preferring to hide how they produce their signature works, Hoffman is determined to show the steps of the process she goes through, which is a mix of traditional and digital.

First, she draws with a graphite pencil. Next, she scans the drawing into the computer and uses a program to lay a thin, nearly transparent "wash" on the image. Hoffman uses software called Corel Painter, which emulates acrylic, watercolor, color pencil and air brushing, to add dimension and detail.

Bringing in such details, or "values," is the hardest part, she said. The artist needs to pull in enough light to create and capture energy, to give life to a two-dimensional medium.

It is not any easier to "paint" through a computer than by hand, Hoffman said: "It is still painting. You still need to do the same number of brushstrokes."

The image is then printed on canvas, which is glazed and framed.

"It is a sandwich," Hoffman explained. The first and last steps are done by hand, with the middle done digitally.

A highly detailed portrait of Sarah's face illustrates the process clearly, with separate canvasses of the pencil drawing, the washed drawing, the painted details and the final product.

That final portrait also captures the complex personality of the dog and her keen interest in what's going on around her. At least it appears to do that.

"Even using technology, you can create a work that feels raw and emotional," Hoffman said. "If I can connect people to their emotions, I have done my job."

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IF YOU GO

What: "Unleashed!"

Where: Atrium Gallery, Titan Student Union building, Cal State Fullerton campus, 800 N. State College Blvd., Fullerton

When: 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Mondays through Fridays, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturdays and 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sundays through May 27

Cost: Free admission

Information: (657) 278-2468

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