Mamatoga Style: Your Toy Portrait

For today's Mamatoga Style we interviewed a local artist and mom who has a familiar, but maybe somewhat quirky, subject. The artist, Jennifer Maher, runs her own company called Your Toy Portrait, and yes, she paints portraits of beloved toys. When I first heard of her work I knew immediately we had to feature her here. I've never seen a portrait of just a toy, I've seen them included in portraits occasionally, but the idea that a much loved toy would be the featured subject of a portrait sounded so special. Besides seeing first hand the bond my own kids have with their special stuffed animals (BunBun and Doggie respectively) I myself am the proud owner of a Gund pig I received as a gift when I was a child. I gave her the imaginative name of "Piggy" and she is still close at hand, even though I no longer sleep with her, I swear. We wanted to find out more about Jennifer and her creative business so we recently asked her a few questions about her life and Your Toy Portrait. I grew up mainly in the Chicago area, and I moved to New York State for graduate school.  I got my MFA from SUNY Albany in 1997.  Right out of school I got a job working at a small, family-run art-tile company called L'esperance Tileworks www.lesperancetileworks.com , and I stayed there for eleven years hand-painting Victorian and Arts-and-Crafts tiles.  During that time I continues to paint, showing regionally whenever possible.  I also began coordinating the art exhibits at the Uncommon Grounds coffee shops in both Albany and Saratoga.  The company moved from Albany to Rock City Falls (just west of Saratoga) and, as my husband Greg also worked in Saratoga managing Uncommon Grounds, we moved from Albany first to Round Lake and then to Ballston Spa.  Our daughter Sonja was born in February of 2008.  I took her to work with me until she was nearly a year old (very challenging!!) and at that point, due to the economy, Lesperance had to lay off its entire small staff.

I have always collected quirky little stuffed animals and toys and used them as subject matter in my paintings.   My earliest painting of toys is a self portrait from 1995 which includes my stuffed lion and tiger. Even our wedding cake was topped with tiny Japanese ceramic toy animals! I had done a couple of exhibits of small paintings of my family's own favorite toys.  So when I found myself at home with a baby, I decided to embark on a business offering acrylic-on-canvas portraits of children's beloved toys by commission.  A talented friend helped me put together my website, www.yourtoyportrait.com,  which serves as a gallery for the portraits and an archive for their stories.    My work very soon drew the attention of various blogs and parenting sites.  An early boost to my business was a post by Melissa Summers of Suburban Bliss, who wrote about a painting of her husband's decrepit, creepy stuffed monkey and hosted my first (of many) internet giveaway.  Other sites who have been kind enough to feature my work are listed here: http://customtoyportrait.com/blog-buzz/

 I enjoy painting children's loveys, but some of my most amusing projects stem from toys belonging to adults.  One that is very close to home is my painting The Work Lion.  This stuffed lion belonged to one of Greg's employees at Uncommon Grounds.  She had two identical lions, but decided she needed to store one in the basement bakery at work because, together at home, they "might fight."  My husband, a notorious anthropomorphiser of stuffed animals, was convinced that the work lion existed in a state of peril in that environment.  He convinced his employee to relinquish the lion into the custody of our daughter, and she agreed.
A recent commission which sums up why I love what I do was an epic, multi-generational set of two portraits of four toys.  The idea was conjured by a grandmother who envisioned one portrait of the beloved childhood toys of her daughter and her husband, and another painting of the favorite toys belonging to their children.  I'm fascinated by the way a painting of a toy can serve as a sort of symbolic portrait of the person who loves it!  In this case, these two paintings become a unique portrait of a family.
I offer three sizes (5"x7", 8"x10", and 9"x12"), but if a client prefer something different I'm happy to accommodate.  I keep my prices affordable, (starting at $60) and I paint quickly, so my portraits can be very practical gifts even when time is of the essence! I can do rush orders.  In one case I was able to paint and ship an urgent commission in two days!  Painting from "life" is ideal, but I work very well from a good, well-lit photo taken without flash.  Also, I love to paint pets and humans and am open to any and all other challenges.
I'm always looking for art for the walls of Uncommon Grounds!  It's a fabulous place to show, as the exposure is insane -- hundreds of people see the work every day.  In Saratoga, we also show 3-D pottery and sculpture in the window.  Anyone interested in exhibiting in either Albany or Saratoga, please send a couple of representative images to ugartsubmit@gmail.com.  There are lots of openings!
Please find Your Toy Portrait on Facebook here: https://www.facebook.com/#!/ToyPortraits