Danielle Ambrosia is reticent about the details, admitting there was pressure for her to choose another career. As a single mother it may seem like bravery or foolishness to fashion a life as an artist, but when a phone call from a potential client interrupts our discussion it’s a sign of her success. She is in demand and has found her niche.
Danielle is a full time pet portrait artist. She has taken other commissions; human portraits and historical portraits, but she adores animals so she has no trouble with the subject matter. She works primarily in graphite and coloured pencil crayons, achieving a great deal of depth with accuracy, detail, and great use of shade and highlights. This can be more time consuming, but more easily achieves accuracy more quickly than using a brush and the results are impressive to the eye. So although she is an adept handler of acrylics, oils, watercolours and gouache she prefers drawing. She can work form quality photographs that are provided by the client, but mostly she works from her own photos, so she is required to take good photographs from which to work.
Born in Calgary and arriving in Thunder Bay when she was ten, she credits one of her biggest influence being her PACI High school teacher Robert Magnusson with pushing his students to do their best. “He never gave us a perfect mark, and I thank him for it.” And she credits her father, Jim Comuzzi, owner of Rooster’s Bistro, with his support as well. He provided her with a large and brightly lit studio space above Rooster’s in which to work.
Inspiration for her approach came from traditional and modern hyperrealist artists known for their large-scale drawings and paintings. She says that one day she might branch out to produce this kind of gallery work, but she is aware that it’s harder to produce enough pieces for a good show and hard to sell bigger drawings as they are much more expensive. The risk is higher.
Danielle is also aware that there is not a lot of prestige in the art world as a pet portrait artist. Showing in a gallery or receiving grants from the Ontario Arts Council for doing animal portraiture would be very difficult. Hers is a commercial venture and a labour of love where she is happy to make a living doing what she likes while simultaneously extending and celebrating people’s sentimental relationship with their animal friends.
This is by no means an unworthy artistic venture, because the term ‘sentimental’ does not imply a lack of value. Traditionally, especially during the Romantic Movement, sentiment was a great humanist value implying that bonding, empathy, and being “one with nature” were worthwhile goals for art. Since more and more evidence surfaces to show that animals share more human traits than we realize, respecting our animal friends is only natural, especially when we often have so much trouble dealing with other humans. As there’s nothing like having a true friend, which pets can be, why not celebrate and honour them?
Danielle is making a living doing just that. However, her love of animals has to meet with the practical world of selling herself and her abilities. She is adamant that artists have to learn how to market their work and sell themselves. She provided a number of specific pointers regarding social media but says most of it comes down to self-confidence and lots of practice. Her marketing skills vastly improved after she worked in a gallery in Santa Fe. After only three days she impressed herself by selling a giclee print by popular American artist, Malcolm Furlow for six thousand dollars, which is very impressive for what is essentially a poster. Danielle smiles and adds, “I like his work, but it never influenced my own. Selling the print influenced my sales and marketing approach.” Danielle now does commissions for people as far away as Newfoundland and Florida.
“You have to be confident in what you’re selling so you have to know what your skillset is and be able to talk about it easily. And we’re blessed in the age of free social media where we can market ourselves, but you have to put the work in. Time, motivation and effort are especially important.”