Teare’s specialty is anthropomorphic illustrations of pets dressed up like the elite of yesteryear.
The Philly Happening Artist Series is a reoccurring feature that showcases unique Philadelphia artists.
By Devon Hamilton for Philly Happening
Have you ever dreamed of having your cat and dog’s personalities captured in colorful brushstrokes, as your favorite characters from The X-Files, Scully and Mulder? Or imagined your heroic bulldog dressed as William Wallace ready to charge into battle?
If so, Steve Teare, an illustrator and musician living and working in Philadelphia, is the man for the job. Teare has found a niche in the Philly art scene creating whimsical and humorous pet portraits depicting animals as historical figures, celebrities, or anything else that might strike your fancy.
Since moving to Philly in 2004 to attend Temple University, Teare has made his home in West Philadelphia, flourishing in this “artist’s city.” Donning several artistic hats from illustrator, to musician, to teacher, Teare considers himself lucky to live in such a great city and be able to keep himself busy and fulfilled.
“We [Philadelphia] have an incredible history, density, diversity, museums and galleries, and yet we’re a relatively affordable city,” Teare says. ” I’m especially grateful for how Philly has treated me over the last 6 years or so. I have been able to teach art in many different schools as well as cultivate an expansive network of artists and communities and nonprofits that afford me the opportunities to be a working creative person.”
Philly Happening recently caught up with Teare to talk about his artistic inspiration, his other artistic endeavors, and his upcoming creative ventures.
P.H.: How did you start doing pet portraits?
S.T: My girlfriend suggested I try it out a couple of years ago. I started by giving a portrait to my then-roommates when they got married. I’m better at cartoon or comic book-type drawings so I went for an anthropomorphic representation of their four cats. I like to look at old fashion designers’ sketches from the 20s to 50s, and I based the cats’ outfits on images I found online. Their response was favorable, so I began to advertise online.
P.H.: How do you go about capturing the “essence” of someone’s pet?
S.T: I rarely ever meet the animal I’m drawing, so I think perfectly capturing the essence is tough. When customers send photographs of their pet they also often include long and strange descriptions of the dog or cat’s attitude, habits, celebrities they resemble, the pet’s political stances, etc. I suppose all this information unconsciously influences me when I work on the piece.
P.H.: What’s your process and how long does it usually take to complete a caricature?
S.T: Once someone is interested in buying a portrait, I offer to make rough sketches of the composition until they are satisfied. This usually takes one to three sketches on average. My main aesthetic for this whole operation is anthropomorphic illustrations of pets usually dressed up like the elite of yesteryear; Victorian, 1920s socialites, etc. Of course I’m flexible, and I’ve been able to accommodate a wide variety of requests.
P.H.: What are some of the craziest, funniest, or favorite portraits you’ve ever done?
S.T: Cats in a 19th century opium den. Dogs and cats as the cast of The X-Files. Dog as Mel Gibson as William Wallace. Two rats in casual clothing in front of a New Jersey spot called “The Pub.”
P.H.: What is your background in art?
I’m primarily an illustrator, a pencil or pen-and-ink kind of guy, and expressive drawing has always informed my work.
P.H.: What is your day-job? Or are you pursuing art/music full-time?
S.T: At the moment I have many day jobs…sometimes night jobs as well! I teach art a couple days a week at a Quaker elementary school, I tutor high school students in all their subjects, and I do illustration work for newspapers and websites and other things. In between all of that I make a lot of these goofy pet portraits for customers.
P.H.: What other artistic projects/endeavors are you involved in?
I play in a Philly band called “Flat Mary Road.” I’ve written and illustrated several fiction comic books, but more recently I’ve been producing these sort of comic book articles for a political cartoon website called “The Nib.”
P.H.: What are your favorite parts of the Philly art scene? Favorite things to do in Philly in general?
S.T: Since I’m mostly a comic book artist, I’m biased and feel most excited by things happening in the local cartoonist community. But this city has so many great music acts, a thriving theater community, performance artists, comedians–the list goes on. I have a good time wandering aimlessly through neighborhoods like Bella Vista, the Italian Market, Chestnut Hill, and the Delaware River Front. I like the music and cocktails at the Trestle Inn, the noodles at X’ian Sizzling Wok, and the vintage children’s books at Brickbat Books.
P.H.: Who are your favorite artists (musicians,poets, ect.) in Philly? Who do you currently follow or work with?
S.T: I’m happy to have good friends who are also amazing cartoonists; Lance Hansen, Beth Heinly, Art Baxter, Anuj Shrestha, Meghan Turbitt, Box Brown, and Pat Aulisio are all incredible comic book artists for whom Philly provides a home. I went to college with Mat Tomezsko, and he has since progressed from a solid portrait artist into an exciting abstract artist whose work was featured as part of last year’s DNC. There are too many great Philly musicians to list, so I’ll just say that most recently I’m excited about a great newer group called “Seldom Family.”
P.H.: What’s up next for you?
S.T: I hope to illustrate a great many pet portraits in the future, but I also want to have enough time to pursue similar projects like what I’ve done for “The Nib.” My illustrated reporting has so far mostly been focused around issues of education, but I’m also interested in researching individual moments in American history and relating them to our current political climate. Other than that, I hope to print a comic of a project I’ve been working on over the years called “The Inner Monologues of Suited Stiffs.”
P.H.: Is there anything else you would like to share about your work or your experience living in the city?
S.T: The only thing I can think of is that I’m glad I started out as a teacher and that I’ve kept teaching in my schedule. Teaching energizes my creative pursuits and vice versa, and the obviously important work of being of service to young people and their community gives one a feeling of belonging.
To contact Steve about a pet portrait:
Direct message his pet portrait Instagram handle (@custompetportraits) or send him a good old-fashioned e-mail @ [email protected].