Marmaduke Smiles

In November 2021, Stuff by Mackenzie TewksburyLeave a Comment

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Local art teacher canvases her dream.

Picture this: a live commissioned in-studio portrait of your fave fur child. (Name a better holiday gift—we’ll wait.) Well, festive or not, tell Fido his “Mona Lisa” moment has arrived. 

But before we get to the brushstrokes, better still is the tangled yarn that weaves us to this moment. You may know Raleigh native and lifelong artist Corneille Little as a Poe Elementary art teacher. What you may not know is Little’s long-held aspiration of having a private studio where she is able to focus solely on pet portraits and lessons… a dream now realized, but only after a daunting pursuit—and a dream long derailed.

After growing up in Raleigh, Little had married and moved to Florida for a time, where she wore myriad hats… boat captain, scuba instructor, dive shop owner, art teacher. Then, along the way, she found her passion in painting pooches when she first laid eyes on George the chocolate Lab. “I was looking at George just sitting on the couch, and after I took the photo, I said, ‘Oh, I need to paint that,’” says Little. So became the plan.

But as it were, she found her marriage holding her back from that purpose. Ultimately, she says, “I walked away from a bad marriage with two nickels to rub together and that was about it. And my mom said, ‘Well, what’re you gonna do, Corneille?’ and I said, ‘I’m gonna teach art, and I’m gonna create a website, and I’m gonna sell pet portraits, and I’m gonna open a studio,’” Little recalls. “She thought I was crazy.” 

Crazy inspired, it turns out. She moved back to Raleigh in late 2010 returning to teaching art—and really starting to concentrate on her pet portraits. “Sometimes,” she says, “you have to throw [an idea] out into the universe and say, ‘Help me out a little bit.’”

Now, after nearly 20 years of teaching, Little plans to retire from Wake County Public Schools at the end of the year and work solely from her home studio, where she can “finally devote my career and lifetime on this planet to painting pets and teaching classes on my own terms. … Anyone can do anything if they believe they can do it,” she says—all it takes is drive and a little bit of elbow grease (er—paint!). “It’s such a passion,” she adds. “I feel lost if I’m not doing it—and I feel like I’m living my purpose again.” 

To get to those brushstrokes, for the portraits, she uses mostly oil-based mediums on canvas or cradled birch wood panels to try to capture not just what the pet looks like, but rather the feeling the pet gives her, starting with its eyes—her way of connecting with her subject.

Now, between Google, her website, word-of-mouth and social media, Little is grateful to be able to always keep a canvas on her easel at the ready for that next pet portrait. “Everybody that has a pet should have a pet portrait,” says Little. … We couldn’t agree more. And looks like, “pursuit of happyness” found.

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