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Canine Caricatures Immortalizes Man's Best Friend and More in Illustrated Form

By Pamela Sosnowski

As an animal caricature artist, John LaFree knows that details matter when accurately capturing a pet's likeness on paper.

"First and foremost, I want to make sure I get a strong likeness of the animal," he said. "I want all of the markings and coat colors just right. Are there pink tones around the nose? Does one ear flop over more than the other? Even if these features are just slightly unique to the animal I'm drawing, I strive to point out those 'slightlys'. And that's where the 'caricature' part comes in; the exaggeration of the 'slightlys'."

LaFree is a Wesley Chapel-based artist with his own pet portrait business, Canine Caricatures. For a starting fee of $100, he'll create a whimsical, colorful likeness of your furry family member that doesn't just look like the animal, but captures their unique personality as well. To execute this he needs not just photos of the pet that get uploaded to his website for online orders, but comments from the owner about their pet's quirks and personality as well. It's these descriptions that often find their way into the finished piece.

"Most people have never taken the time to put their dog's personality into words," he said. "And when they do, the descriptions tend to be very 'human'. So when a person tells me that their dog is a 'diva who loves to dress up' or 'is very lazy, but dreams of being a superhero'?well, let's just say that I take these descriptions very literally. That's the fun part."

LaFree has always been passionate about artwork, and recalls perusing the Sunday comics, comic books, and MAD magazine as a kid. He was especially enamored with the work of Mort Drucker, tracing over illustrations using tracing paper, which essentially taught him how to draw. He worked at Busch Gardens in Tampa as a caricature artist for several years before segueing into animals. He launched Canine Caricatures in 2010 and hasn't looked back. His work has been featured in several magazines, advertisements, and children's books.

The name of his business may be a bit misleading; LaFree will actually draw any animal including cats, horses, rabbits, snakes, gerbils, and more. All illustrations are drawn on 12x16 paper using markers and Prismacolor art stix, and typically take one to four weeks to complete depending on the order queue. Each caricature requires a non-refundable $25 deposit, and LaFree will email customers a preview of the artwork for review before it's shipped.

He can include multiple pets in the same illustration, and/or a human owner for an additional cost.

With so many pet lovers in the world, Canine Caricatures has no shortage of orders. As LaFree explains, pet owner needs a caricature of their beloved pet.

"We all know at least one person who has more photos on their phone than they have of their children," he said. "And we all know at least one person who doesn't have children and treats their pets AS their children. And sometimes, that person is the same one we see in the mirror. These are the people who need a Canine Caricature."

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