HARTVILLE, Ohio – In what used to be her son’s tiny upstairs bedroom, Patty Hafner hunkers down over a student desk. Photos are scattered nearby.
It’s a war: A mother’s schedule against a deadline. Reality against her imagination. Her work against her personal time.
She grips a paintbrush. Her ammo is acrylic paint, maybe watercolors.
She works over a sketch penciled onto the canvas. The work continues slowly, a blur focusing into a definite figure with each layer of paint.
One layer is done and needs time to dry. Hafner retreats to the outdoors, to her barn.
And there, her artistic inspirations come running and greet her with hugs and hums.
Pets. Romeo, Ophelia, Julius Caesar, Mercutio and Jubilee are five of the drivers behind Hafner’s painting hobby.
They’re llamas, each with its own personality, looks, attitude.
And with her paintbrush, Hafner can capture on paper what her mind sees in each one.
Word of her work is spreading, and more pet lovers – not just those with llamas – are commissioning her to paint portraits of their animals.
A long time coming. Hafner isn’t some overnight success. She’s been drawing since she was 3, her hands barely big enough to wrap around pencils and crayons.
As a youngster, she drew trains on trestles. As a teenager, she studied vocational commercial art.
A young woman, she left for art school in Cincinnati. A young bride, she followed her military husband to Alaska, where she first started doing commercial freelance work.
“I painted a lot of odd things there – moose antlers and things like that,” she says.
Her only stipulation in painting items for customers today is that it can’t move. Boards, slate, crocks and canvases are typical.
But she’ll paint most anything onto the items: scenic views of barns, lakes and houses, people, pets. She’ll lay down the paint, guided by her imagination or views from magazines and photographs.
Requests. She tries to get out of requests to paint people, with constant reminders of one person-project. Her self-proclaimed worst work ever was a portrait of a girl in Alaska.
Hafner says the girl “had a Barbra Streisand nose,” and it took days with the paintbrush to get the shape and proportions close to being right.
When the project was finished, the portrait had a nearly 3-D nose, built by layer after layer of acrylic paint.
“No one was happy with that one,” she admits.
Stick with animals. Today the focus is on animals, who can’t tell Hafner she painted their nose too big, their eyes too close, their legs too thick.
Her projects seem to come in spurts. Months ago it was horses and puppies. Now it’s llamas.
The change is fueled by her own love of the camelids in her backyard barn.
“Llamas are a lot easier, too. They’re hairy, and you can kind of fudge them if you have to. You’ve got to get the muscle tone just right on horses,” she says.
Just right. Details mean a lot to Hafner, who says she goes to an “extreme amount” of detail in each piece she does.
“I try to make it look like the photo or the animal as much as possible. Each of the paintings of my llamas looks just like them, and that’s important,” she says.
To get the details just right, she asks her customers for as many photographs as possible of the pet they ask her to paint. She wants to see each animal in several poses – sleeping, eating, playing – to get a good feel for it.
Then, after she’s got a sketch down on the canvas, she takes at least six hours to get all the details right.
Time on my side. Timing is everything for Patty Hafner and her family, which includes husband Ron and children Rollin, Marga and Rob.
Until four years ago, the family never even considered owning – or painting – llamas.
Patty had horses while she was growing up, but llamas? Nobody had even heard of them then.
That changed that fall when the family left Hartville and went south to Carroll County for the Country Living Field Day.
They were living in a newer house built on a portion of what used to be her paternal grandfather’s farm.
The man, Rollin Sweitzer, was a traditional farmer, a cattleman who also had pigs. For a change of pace, he had dabbled in peacocks.
But the Hafners weren’t interested in getting back into that kind of farming. They only had a few acres.
They weren’t sure what to do with the land, but were sure of one thing.
“We decided we couldn’t have it sit and grow weeds,” Hafner says.
The llamas were Marga’s idea, and before the family returned home from the field day, they had purchased two of them.
They sold themselves as easy-keepers, and the family couldn’t resist.
Today the Hafners have seven, including three females and four geldings.
A new hobby. Like any family with a new hobby, the Hafners were eager to learn as much as they could about the camelids.
They wanted books, photos, decorations. But it proved hard to find llama artwork, figurines or crafts.
“All we found were decals to slap on windows or onto a crock. There was nothing handmade, and the prices were horrible,” Hafner says.
It wasn’t long before the woman had her paintbrush out and was crafting her first llama pieces.
The first few tries weren’t so good. Hafner admits her trial paintings showed “horses with a lot of hair.”
But she spent time at it, putting all the pieces together and tweaking her work. She found she needed to paint longer ears, more hair, a different facial structure.
“I feel really sorry for the people who have my first llama work,” Hafner jokes.
Getting it right. In the past four years, she’s come a long way. Besides building her herd, she’s also built a clientele and has done 50 llama projects.
She’s donated items for giveaways and painted special crocks for the Hall of Fame llama show this year.
She averages about one outside project each month, but looks forward to the day she has deadlines for one painting a week.
A heavy workload like that would let her put her sons, both award-winning artists, to work for her.
Getting involved. The painting is Hafner’s full-time job . On weekends, the family is either at a llama show or a Revolutionary War reenactment.
“Between the two, it keeps me off the streets,” Hafner joked.
She’s also an adviser for Stark County’s Lloyal Llama Llovers 4-H club, and personalizes stall signs for each child in the club each year.
While she’s at the fairs and shows, she gets a chance to see people looking at her artwork.
“Llama people as a whole are a great group of people. They have been so supportive of my work,” she said.
Gratification. She’s working on portraits of each of her seven llamas. Four are done.
She fits in pieces of each of the remaining projects around her paid work and her other priorities.
In the Hafner household, llamas and painting are connected but independent, she says.
“I would have the llamas even if I couldn’t paint. But the painting could buy me another [llama] someday.”
“I’m not hung up on the money, but llamas really are my money pit,” she said.
Get the details
* Liberty Creek Llamas
(Reporter Andrea Myers welcomes reader feedback by phone at 1-800-837-3419, ext. 22, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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