The dog days of summer

Jane Davidian is being overrun by dogs.

Not the tail-wagging, wet-nosed, four-legged man's-best-friend type, though.

These pooches have dog faces but human bodies and peer at you from an assortment of wood panels. Barack and Michelle Obama, Tiger Woods, Johnny Depp, Tina Fey, John Wayne, and Matthew McConaughey have been immortalized with oil colors.

The paintings, stamped "Celebrity Dogs," are Davidian's brainchild. And she is hooked, much to the amusement of her husband.

Davidian is one of 120 juried artists featured at this year's Art-A-Fair. This first-timer from Fayetteville, Ark., will travel frequently to "sell some doggies" at the only festival in Laguna Beach open to out-of-state residents.

Having attended Art-A-Fair's preview night, Jane is scheduled to return at the end of July and again in August. Her niece has stored 107 paintings that were shipped to California in preparation for the exhibition and mans the booth where 25 are displayed at a time.

According to Mary Gulino, vice president of marketing for Art-A-Fair, Californian artists are also joined by some from Texas and Arizona. Of the lot, Davidian will be traveling the farthest.

Gulino, a fan of Davidian's mock tabloid covers, favors one featuring Angelina Jolie and her two children.

"People love her work," she said. "It would be fun to see her do a painting of a canine version of Jennifer Lopez!"

The veteran artist first picked up sketching when she was 5 years old, her hands flying across pages bearing depictions of animals, friends and family members. Spurred on by encouraging feedback, Davidian kept going. She was 13 years old when she received her first set of oil paints as a Christmas present.

Continuing to dabble, because she "just loved drawing so much," she featured her work in a friend's Art-A-Fair booth in 1969. That was the year she sold her first painting — one of Jim Morrison — to a Florida resident.

Thinking back to 2009, when she took a shine to dog-related art, Davidian pinpoints a trip to Walmart.

"I was standing in line and getting disgusted with the tabloids on display," the artist, 59, recalled with a laugh. "I thought, 'This is such garbage, I'd rather be reading about dogs!' And it just clicked."

Davidian ran with her decision, and voila — "Sex and the City," "Biker Babe," "Doggy Style" and others were born.

Subscribing to the adage that "people look like their dogs," she uses human personalities and appearances as a jumping-off point. Painting upward of three hours a day, Davidian deems art her "therapy" and something particularly vital while she was raising four daughters.

A dog lover at heart, she owns an Old English Sheepdog, a rescued English Pointer and a mutt that is her "baby." Her pets have accompanied her to art exhibitions, where they were instant hits. Her artworks are a hit, too — although occasionally she'll draw a blank with customer requests.

"When I go to shows, I never have all the right breeds," the Fountain Valley High School graduate said. "I think I have my bases covered, and then someone asks, 'Do you have such and such?' and I say, 'Nope.' It's hard; there are so many [types of] dogs out there."

In her hometown, Davidian shares a 10,000-square-foot warehouse space with her husband, David, an iron-works artisan. The front 3,000 square feet are dedicated to her gallery and studio and the rear to his metal fabrication. There, she simultaneously works on 10 to 15 paintings that range from 8-by-10 to 36-by-48 inches and are valued at between $200 and $3,500.

For research, she attends dog shows, where she photographs some "really fun dogs that you don't normally get a chance to see."

As a joke, each artwork comes with "adoption papers" — although the buyer is simply adopting the painting, not an actual animal.

Although Davidian has not been contacted by any of the celebrities she has featured, she hopes that someday that might happen.

"I'm curious to know if they are upset or flattered," she said, chuckling.

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