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Carroll Woman Magazine

Creative Duo - A mother and daughter team with a passion for art and animals

Nov 03, 2014 07:08PM
Creative Duo - A mother and daughter team with a passion for art and animals

Sherry Kendall recognized and nurtured her daughter’s creative talents from a young age, which wasn’t difficult to do being an artist herself.

But her business, Wagging Tail Portraits, was pretty much her own venture of making custom paintings and ornaments of pets.

Sherry and her daughter, Natalie, now both contribute their talents to Wagging Tail Portraits, showcasing people’s pets in paintings, cards, ornaments, glasses, and other collectibles. The business is rounded out by Sherry’s husband Steve, who has his own design and marketing studio, The Design Works, Inc.

Wet Nose Greeting cards by Natalie KendallWet Nose Greeting cards by Natalie KendallWet Nose Greeting cards by Natalie KendallSherry Kendall recognized and nurtured her daughter’s creative talents from a young age, which wasn’t difficult to do being an artist herself.

But her business, Wagging Tail Portraits, was pretty much her own venture of making custom paintings and ornaments of pets.

Sherry and her daughter, Natalie, now both contribute their talents to Wagging Tail Portraits, showcasing people’s pets in paintings, cards, ornaments, glasses, and other collectibles. The business is rounded out by Sherry’s husband Steve, who has his own design and marketing studio, The Design Works, Inc.

Wet Nose Greeting cards by Natalie KendallWet Nose Greeting cards by Natalie KendallNatalie, a college student, is the designer of the Wet Nose Greeting Cards, a line inspired by a class project. The resulting product grew so much in popularity that it claimed the family’s second consecutive appearance in O, The Oprah Magazine’s “Favorite Things List.”

Sherry’s hand-painted Christmas ornaments caught the eye of an O Magazine staffer while Sherry was at a pet event in New York. The ornaments ended up being featured in the 2011 edition and Natalie’s computer-designed cards made the exclusive list in 2012.

Sherry had been taking her paintings, ornaments and other products to pet shows for years, always drawing attention for having such unique items. Natalie’s work drew the same kind of reaction, and they knew they had something special.

“People would always smile when they saw my mom’s stuff,” said Natalie, who had been accompanying her mother to these types of shows for years. “But now I’m seeing it when they’re looking at mine.”

Wagging Tail Portraits makes its home in an old farmhouse converted into a studio on Frederick Road in rural Woodbine, Md. Every room shows the family’s talent, the signs of a rapidly growing business, and the love of capturing pets at their eager best for devoted clients.

In a bright sitting room, vibrant canvases of all sizes and of varying breeds cover the walls. Sherry’s own two Golden Retrievers appear lifelike enough to pop down from their perch to lick a visitor’s face. Samples of painted ornaments, wine glasses, and glass mugs line shelves and the mantel.

Wagging Tail Ornaments by Sherry KendallSherry, who studied at the Parsons School of Design in New York, worked as an illustrator, and started making ornaments and portraits as gifts for friends before realizing she could turn that into a business.

Pet portraits were a natural fit. The family loves animals, having three dogs and four cats.

“We love sharing our stories and hearing about other people’s pets,” said Sherry, who has enjoyed concentrating on four-legged friends for more than 10 years.

Growing up surrounded by paints, canvases, easels, and brushes gave Natalie the foundation she needed for her particular talent.

“I taught Natalie art for years, so it is wonderful to see her continue to create and love art. The fact that we both illustrate pets in styles that are fun and make people smile is really rewarding. Traveling to doggie shows around the country is a lot of fun to do together, too,” Sherry said.

The duo recently drove cross-country, which was a trip Sherry had wanted to do for a while as a family.

“We finally found a good excuse when we heard about a show in Las Vegas. We decided to go and promote Natalie’s Wet Nose Greeting Cards to the pet industry,” she said. “We hit doggie boutiques on the way out and back to let them see the cards as well. The business has given us an opportunity to travel to promote the family business and see lots of new places in the process.”

Natalie prefers drawing to painting, and eventually developed her gift graphically, learning the complexities of computer design and adding a dimension to her family’s business that piqued the attention of even more customers.

The two have two very different products to design, as well as how they design them.

“I’m old school, with a paintbrush. She’s new school, with computer illustration,” Sherry explained.

In fact, neither one is particularly comfortable with the other’s artistic medium.

“I’ve never liked painting. I tried, but it didn’t go so well,” Natalie said with a laugh, explaining that she would try to add paint to one of her drawings, and it just didn’t turn out the way she wanted. “It’s never been a love of mine. And my mom doesn’t like what I do.”

The mother-daughter team launched a Facebook contest called “That’s Your Pet” a year ago. They started the contest to get more active on social media to boost marketing and to get some great new images for the Wet Nose Greetings cards.

“The stories on the back of the cards are an added bonus, especially when it comes to rescue groups,” Sherry said. We love hearing all of the stories and look forward to seeing all of the cutie patooties’ photos that come in.”

Possible other plans for “That’s Your Pet” include a coffee table book of winning illustrations and their stories, and a line of jewelry featuring the Wet Nose Greetings illustrations.

The two have had to make some other changes along the way, as well. One year, so many orders came in to the small, Carroll County-based business because of the prominent “Favorite Things List” appearance that there was no way they could be filled by Christmas, Sherry said. So she and her husband came up with an idea to send a card to gift recipients to let them know what kind of special gift would be on its way. There were two options: Customers could order from a selection of breeds already printed and ready to go, or could send in a picture of a pet for custom cards.

They have hired extra artists to help both Sherry and Natalie during busy times, and a few more employees just to ship the products.

But the business details are just that to the artists – business details. What’s important to them is their work.

The two have adjacent studio spaces on the second floor of the house, each reflecting their own mediums and open enough to see each other work.

Natalie has monitors and tables lining a wall, sparse and modern-looking. A few steps away, her mom has neat rows of paint, brushes, workspace jutting out into the middle of the room, lighting to see the fine details, and boxes of ornaments.

“I’ll be on one side of the room with my messy paints, and she’ll be on the other side of the room with her tablet,” Sherry said.

Sometimes they’ll work at home instead, with Natalie on her laptop and Sherry at an easel. Their long hours together are something they’re used to after years of Sherry homeschooling Natalie. The two have a close relationship they both credit for their ability to work so well together.

“It’s awesome. I think it has a lot to do with the fact I’ve been homeschooled. She was the teacher, and I joke that my dad was the principal,” Natalie said.

“I just love her dearly and love spending time with her as much as possible,” Sherry said.

By Karyn Spellman