Written By Carrie Edelstein
Photo By Christina Cerrana
It’s that time of year when holiday photo cards start arriving in the mail and social media feeds are filled with fall and winter photo sessions. Well-lit studios with seasonal props are popular backdrops, and so are the best family beach shots from an exotic destination visited earlier in the year. But for many, a traditional photo session to celebrate the milestone of another year passing is perhaps what spreads holiday cheer and warm wishes best. And what’s more precious than an adorable photo shoot with your favorite pet? Our “repawter” Tanner found a portrait artist who studies your pet in an introductory meeting and then examines several pictures you feel represent Fido’s look best. She then takes the idea of a seasonal shoot up about a thousand notches by painting an image so realistic it could go in the National Portrait Gallery. Tanner tried his hardest to pose without drooling all over Lisa Ober, the portrait artist who made him feel like the most handsome guy in town.
Speaking of drooling, Ozzie Osbourne went wild for the “father/(canine) son” portrait his human son, Jack, surprised him with when he commissioned Ober recently. Ober said the Osbournes came to St. Louis to receive the painting at the now closed AKC Museum of the Dog in Ballwin. It all started when a television producer called Ober after likely finding her from a google search, and asked for a pet portrait for “someone famous.” Ober eventually learned who it was for, and sure enough when A&E’s “Ozzy and Jack’s World Detour” stopped in St. Louis, she was invited to meet the Osbourne family and be a part of the filming to present Ozzy with a portrait of himself with his dog, Rocky. She had worked from pictures she was sent.
“Ozzy was very kind and went on for about 10 minutes how much he loved it. He called his wife Sharon on speaker after he sent her a text and they were all so happy. I think what surprised me about him was he has a TV persona and when you meet him and his family in person you find they are the most gracious, friendly, charming, kind just great people.”
And that’s what many would say about Ober as well. The co-owner of Cioci’s Picture Mart in Kirkwood, Heath Aldrich, says, “I think she’s the premier portrait artist in St. Louis and easily the most photo realistic artist I’ve ever met. And it transfers from pets to children to CEOs. She somehow captures the light that reflects their realism. She is one of the best period.”
When Ober isn’t busy being commissioned by celebrities, she’s teaching all over the country and accepting commission work from word of mouth referrals. Her portraits take about 8-10 weeks to complete for pastel portraits and a little longer for oils because of drying times. Ober says, “My technique is to use a process of layering. It starts with a sketch and then you move throughout the painting by layering pastels on top of other pastels. It’s a variety of strokes of colors throughout the painting.”
Ober studied graphic design and illustration at Washington University in St. Louis. She started doing portraits for extra money, mostly working with family, friends and neighbors. Ober says, “I started by going to dog shows and setting up a booth, introducing myself and showing what I do and taking orders and I soon figured out oh my gosh these people love their animals, they’re just like family, just like I feel. It sort of snowballed on me and I began taking orders locally. I would go take photos of dogs, cats, horses, ferrets… Last year I did a guinea pig portrait and then while I was doing that I kind of transitioned into creating people portraits as well.”
*In loving memory of Lisa’s mixed rescue, 13-year-old Minnie, who passed away while we were researching this story. She is survived by her sibling, Tribble, a goldendoodle resembling an alien.
**“Tanner” is a pastel portrait on a sanded paper surface. “It’s mounted on a board so it has a nice rigid backing. Pastels are a combination of different brands from all over the world of all the highest quality. It’s almost pure pigment which is what is so great about pastel.”