As she wrote in the personal ad through which she found her fiance, Carol Denenberg is an "artist, entrepreneur and teacher, who works a lot." The 34-year-old Carlsbad woman specializes in watercolor portraits of pets in personalized settings, such as with a favorite toy or on a special couch. She has done more than 25 pet paintings in the past year through her business, "Blue Dog, Pink Kitty," which is named after an art installation she did while in graduate school. For the past six years, Denenberg has taught art classes for older students through the San Diego Community College District. An Indiana native who has also lived in Connecticut and Hawaii, she recently moved to North County from the Hillcrest area. Times staff writer Kathie Bozanich interviewed her and Peter McCurdy photographed her.
I attended college when no one went to college in order to get a degree to get a job. I never considered what I was going to do to make a living. I majored in art. I've been doing art in some form or another since I was given my first box of 64 crayons by my mother, so it seemed logical.
After college, my father asked if I would like to go to Hawaii with him, where he was doing some research. Having been from Indiana and Connecticut, I had never seen palm trees, or tropics, or that kind of light. It definitely changed my whole way of thinking about color. I really love to do that type of tropical thing.
I came to California for graduate school, and then moved to San Diego, where my mother is living. I never thought I would get a job teaching, but I did. That was always the ideal thing for an artist . . . get a teaching job. I've worked with the San Diego community colleges teaching older adults.
After a while I wanted to establish my own art business, and I needed a business card. The woman who owned the graphics business next to the studio designed my card, and in exchange I did a painting of her dog. I wanted to get it framed so I brought it into my framer and he wanted me to do a picture of his dogs. So that's how "Blue Dog, Pink Kitty" began.
When you go to art school, you don't think you have to learn know how to run a business. But it's exactly that. It's having business cards, having stationery, being able to keep the books, send out packets of information, call people. If I had ever known in 1971, when I started college, that it was going to take so long to figure out painting, I might not have done it.
I really like doing the pet portraits because I'm really prolific when I paint. I latch on to doing a series and then do 25 paintings, variations of the same theme. On the other hand, I'm really good working within certain parameters, and so what the pet portraits do is allow me to work within certain parameters but also be creative.
I would say one-third of the portraits I do are posthumous ones. People really care about their pets, and this is their way of paying tribute. Usually when I see a client, I don't really know exactly what they want. When most people think of a pet portrait they think of an oil painting of a Labrador retriever with no background. What I want to do is make these portraits very personal.
It's interesting, people will think about buying a pet portrait, but they won't think about buying a painting. People don't really know what to do with art. You go to school and you get lessons in math, but no one gives you lessons in visual things. People are always saying that stupid phrase, "I don't know about art, but I know what I like." They say that because they haven't been educated as to why something is the way it is.