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Meet Sydney Hardin of Pop Zoo: Custom Pet Portraits + More in Jamaica Plain

Today we’d like to introduce you to Sydney Hardin.

Sydney, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
I always say that six-year-old me would be really proud of how I’ve turned out. When I was six, I wanted to be four things: an artist, a paleontologist, a veterinarian and a unicorn. Well, two out of four ain’t too bad if you ask me. I’ll leave it up to you to decipher which two won out, but I’ll give you a hint: I have a B.F.A. in Painting and Art History and absolutely no background in science. Also, I have this weird bump in the center of my forehead, but we don’t have to discuss it.

At 36 years old, I have spent more than half of my life as a painter. Beginning with standard still lives, moving on to deflated blowup dolls (a story for another time) and ultimately landing on pets about six years ago. I’m obsessed with animals so making them my subject was hardly a stretch. My pet portraits started as gifts for loved ones and – as loved ones often do – they urged me to offer my portraiture to the public. Five years ago, I opened an Etsy shop and worked on commissions in the evenings and weekends. After a year of this schedule, I had more commissions than I could complete in my off-hours so I took the plunge, left my day job… and the rest is history!

Has it been a smooth road?
Has it been a smooth road? Are bears known to do their business in the woods? It has absolutely not been smooth! I often joke that starting and running a business – especially as the sole proprietor – means that every day is like the first day at a new job. Generally, as a professional control freak, I struggle with work/life balance. More specifically, I find it challenging to convey the value of original, handmade work.

I pour my heart, my soul and a lot of my time into each portrait and I truly love what I do (and feel lucky to be able to do it). Making art is not simply a “gift” handed down from above and acquired without effort, it is my profession and I’ve worked very hard to for the skills that I have. I often wish that original art was truly valued – rather than simply admired – in our culture.

So let’s switch gears a bit and go into the Pop Zoo: Custom Pet Portraits + More story. Tell us more about the business.
Pop Zoo is my custom pet portrait business. I create hand-painted pet portraits that combine a Pop sensibility with an obsessive attention to detail, capturing your pet’s singular personality. All of my paintings are zero-VOC latex enamel house paint on canvas, and their uniquely slick surface is produced by applying flat layers of paint with a no. 4 liner brush. In order to achieve the hyperrealistic quality of my portraits, I spend well over 40 hours with each painting, examining each shadow and nuance, each hair, whisker, and feather. After all, I believe it’s the little details that make a portrait come alive, and I’ve got the giant stack of tiny brushes to prove it.

I’m very proud of the originality of my work; I’ve worked to craft a style for my portraits that sets them apart from others and I hope that the amount of work I put into each portrait shows in the finished product. Over the years, the most common praise I hear from satisfied clients is: “You really captured MY pet’s personality!”

Where do you see your industry going over the next 5-10 years?  Any big shifts, changes, trends, etc?
I can’t speak to trends since I’m pretty sure they don’t apply to painting (my training as an art historian tells me that it’s been around for awhile and likely isn’t going out-of-fashion). That said, I do hope that the current popularity of handmade continues to increase in the next 5-10 years! It’s so important to support local makers and – bonus! – you get a unique object made just for you. Seems like a win-win to me!

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Mark Wylie 2017

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