Paint, palette and pets

Some artists create entire portfolios exploring single subjects.

They might spend years perfecting the waves in dozens of seascapes, sketch countless nudes in varied light or gather season after season of fruit to assemble another still life.

Gini Fischer is not one of those artists.

Working out of a sunroom-turned-airy studio in her Wilton home, Fischer is perhaps most succinctly described as a portrait artist, designer and architectural renderer. A quick glance at her website, though, showcases the true breadth of her work, from posters to portraits, logo designs to architectural drawings, murals to faux finishes.

“I’m an artist who will take on anything,” she says. “I’ve designed tombstones. I’ve done theater sets.”

But on this late-winter morning, WAG is here to talk about the most accessible aspect of her work — her animal portraits.

The walls, shelves and stacks that Fischer raids to show example after example yield tributes to horses, dogs, cats, roosters, chickens and waterfowl.

“This is a study of ducks, which is not a traditional pet,” she says of one canvas. “Our library has a courtyard, and it’s always been a nesting area for mallards.”

Fischer considered herself an artist from her earliest days, growing up in a large family in Norwalk.

“I’m the seventh of nine kids. My dad was a Norwalk cop,” she says.

“In a big family, it was easy to get lost,” though she found a way to stand out.

“I’m nearsighted, so if I lost my glasses, I didn’t watch TV,” she says, instead turning to creative projects and quickly becoming labeled “the artist” of the family.

She realized the power of art at an early age, as she describes visiting her father at work and seeing portraits of past police chiefs on display.

“I was very amazed by that,” and impressed by “the importance” of the paintings.

As she grew up, her art also grew.

“Even in high school I was taking portrait commissions.”

(It all came full circle this past October when Fischer’s oil portrait of Harry Rilling, Norwalk mayor, former police chief and a man she had known since she was a child, was unveiled and donated to the police department for display.)

Fischer’s official career began at a package-design firm, where she quickly advanced from gofer to lead artist. She did, though, leave to travel Europe — with no regrets. She lights up as she talks of five weeks of exploring art from Aberdeen to London, Paris to Nice.

When she returned, Fischer began a journey that would take her through various roles in the art world, including work as an art director, graphic designer and illustrator for advertising and marketing firms. She also developed expertise in creating art for architectural, construction and interior design projects.

It was a time, she jokes, when she did “portrait work for love and architectural design for money.”

Now, with her two children in college, Fischer is devoting more time to her portrait work — especially animals — with an audience seemingly at the ready here in horse-and-hound country.

Fischer, who has shown at River Road Gallery in Wilton (where her portfolio is kept on hand), also showcases her work at Patricia’s Presents in Ridgefield.

Patricia Polk, owner of the gift shop that’s filled with animal-themed inventory, says that in addition to the subject matter of Fischer’s work, it has a distinct appeal.

“I think her work is beautiful,” Polk says. “I think she captures the soul of the animal.”

That’s accomplished not by chance but experience — and enthusiasm.

Fischer says she often finds subjects at the Fairfield County Hunt Club or the Wilton Pony Club.

“(The) horse-and-rider combination really appeals to me,” she says.

She pulls out a particular work, a horse captured at rest.

“I just love the light on the horse.”

Creating a buzz can be challenging, Fischer notes.

“It’s so hard to explain to someone what I can bring to a portrait,” she says, but even a casual look over her work shows incredible attention to detail and a style that’s quite realistic.

“I work very traditionally,” Fischer says, adding that she was much influenced by studying with international artist Daniel Greene (whose North Salem studio WAG visited for a March 2015 profile).

Within her animal portraits, Fischer is perhaps best known for her equestrian-themed work, though dog commissions seem to be an ever-growing focus.

“If at all possible, I get to meet the animal,” she says, as it gives her a true sense of its temperament.

When it comes to dogs, she has a routine she likes to follow.

“What I’ve learned is to just hang out with them until I become the ‘boring thing.’”

Then, she says, they are relaxed and she can photograph them, sometimes taking up to 200 pictures.

Once Fischer is ready to begin, she pares the photos down to half a dozen and starts the multistep process, consulting with clients throughout.

“Once the composition and the photo reference (are) decided on, I’ll work to bring it all together.”

She’s very aware of texture, especially when it comes to painting an animal’s fur.

“I don’t like my paintings to have substance, thickness because it interferes with photo realism. …I have a technique of making the fur furry.”

Throughout the commissioned process, Fischer keeps the clients’ expectations in mind.

“I defer to my clients in terms of expression,” she says. “Usually the portrait of a pet is about the relationship.”

Fischer, whose household includes saltwater fish, a gerbil and two cats, clearly has a love of animals — and is always up for portraying her own “extended” family, the cats in particular though they remain elusive subjects.

As one ambles by, she says, “I’ve sketched a couple of my own when they’re snoozing, but I never get enough time.”

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