Kapnicky, filling in the flesh tones
  • Kapnicky, filling in the flesh tones
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The Quartyard

1301 Market Street, East Village



Lyla sits still like a pro. Which is a miracle here in the middle of flailing dogs and foamy beers and baby strollers. The little black and tan pooch obviously doesn’t know what’s happening, because she’s sitting right next to a sign that says, “Get Your Pet Drawn Funny.”

This is Sunday afternoon at Quartyard. All of East Village condoland is here, getting their dogs out to their favorite social hour with every other pooch of the hood.

Nate Kapnicky has set up under an orange canopy, surrounded by dogs on short leashes. They’re all waiting to have their mutt mugs drawn funny, too.

Starting in on Lyla's portrait

Starting in on Lyla's portrait

Nate promises a portrait in ten minutes for $20. Now he stares down at Lyla, draws two almond-shaped circles on white paper for eyes, then the nose. Then he fills the eyes in black, leaving out bright, realistic reflections in the pupils. Pretty soon he’s got the nose down, then the ears with their flop-overs, whiskers, and the two plaintive little eyebrows. Then he’s filling in with gray marker, and presto! A complete — okay, slightly exaggerated, but recognizable — portrait of Lyla.

He shows the pic to the owners. Sounds of delight. He gets out his iPhone and Square, slides the guy’s card, then checks his order board to see who’s next.

“How do you get the dogs to sit still?” I ask.

“Draw quick. I sometimes get the essentials in three minutes. Your eye just picks out the main traits, and which bit you can make fun of in the drawing.”

Like, slightly wonky eyes, long snout, big ears, drooly mouth.

“People love it because, unlike with a photo, I can exaggerate a characteristic that may not be beautiful, but it is true to their dog.”

He says some dogs are easier to draw than others. Easiest: French bulldogs, the bug-eyed little guys with the big ears. They’re already so cartoony. Also, bloodhounds. Wrinkles. “Chihuahuas are the most serious dogs I’ve ever drawn. Yorkies are always alive and playful. Never angry.”

Hardest dogs? “Dogs with long snouts, like collies. It’s getting the perspective right in the time.”

Kapnicky studied at the Columbus College of Art and Design, in Ohio. “I had been expressing myself on paper since I was three years old,” he says. He ended up doing portraits in SeaWorld, and then went out on his own. He has two books published already, Beasted, and Little Beasties. He gets a lot of requests for doggy portraits from pics sent over Instagram.

Loving pitbull

Loving pitbull

His heroes? People who take on the system, like Charlie Chaplin (think Modern Times, 1936), Salvador Dali, and Sebastian Krüger, a German caricaturist. “I was raised to believe artists can’t make it in this world. But then I thought, ‘Imagination can take me anywhere.’ So I set out. And here I am in San Diego.”

“Have the dogs ever attacked you?” I ask him.

“Biggest attack I had was a pit bull,” he says. “That bad boy just about licked me to death.”

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