Jim Wheeler did not teach his Staples High School art students how or what to draw. He taught them why.
Those concepts have stayed with 2002 graduate William Fellah for 2 decades. They inspired him to major in illustration at the University of Connecticut. They served him well at his first job: staff artist at Norwalk-based Danbury Mint.
When the economy collapsed and he was laid off 2 years later, Fellah turned to custom portraiture. To his surprise, he found that people preferred drawings of their animals more than themselves. Fellah eagerly filled that niche.
But, he says, “I was too young to stay with it.”
He pivoted to another passion — personal training — and flourished. Art faded into the background.
A decade later, COVID struck. Gyms closed. With time on his hands, Fellah returned to drawing. He posted his works on social media. People bought them. They requested more — at prices enabling him to make a living. He created Fellah Fine Art LLC.
Once again, he’s specializing in animals. Dogs and horses are the most requested. (Fellah thinks they have more personalities than cats.)
He works from photos sent by owners. Though Fido or Secretariat do not sit and pose, the process is still long and arduous. Fellah takes up to 80 or 90 hours for some portraits. A particularly complex one might involve a dog with plenty of curls, or layered fur.
While people who commission portraits of humans (themselves or others) may ask for an idealized version (better skin or a smaller nose, perhaps), pet owners don’t. They just want to see their animals, in all their penciled, acrylic glory.
The work is detailed and tight. Fellah stays fresh by sketching looser, freer subjects, like landscapes. He goes to galleries, for inspiration.
His canine subjects are often at two ends of the age spectrum. People want portraits of new puppies, Fellah says — and of pets near the ends of their lives.
Word of mouth is the best advertising. Social media is important too. Fellah also leaves postcards and flyers at Earth Animal and grooming salons.
Owners are thrilled to see the finished product. They often send Fellah photos of their framed portrait — with their dog or horse next to it.
Obviously, their pets approve too.