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Sandy Journal

Sandy artist captures animal ‘purr-sonalities’

May 25, 2018 01:29PM ● By City Journals Staff

By Katherine Weinstein | [email protected]

Highly engaging paintings of all kinds of animals, some behaving very much like humans, fill the walls of Sandy painter Lucia Heffernan’s studio. A pipe-smoking fox in a plaid cap gazes thoughtfully at the viewer over his eyeglasses while in another painting, young penguins line up for skiing lessons. Friendly dogs seem to lean out of their frames as if to sniff you, and a massive bull charges out of his background, tail lashing wildly.

Heffernan’s lifelong love of animals shines through in all her works. By depicting animals engaged in human activities such as eating ice cream cones, driving cars, grocery shopping or taking selfies — to list a few examples — she seeks to give her subjects a voice and show their personalities.

“I want to make people aware that they all have personalities,” said Heffernan. “Hopefully my work will inspire people to think differently about animals.” While earlier in her career Heffernan focused on highly realistic paintings of animals, she now seeks to tell stories through her work that the viewer can relate to. 

“Norman Catwell” oil painting by Lucia Heffernan. (Photo courtesy Lucia Heffernan)

 She regards her most successful painting, “Norman Catwell,” as being about self-confidence. The painting, which has had over a million shares online, is a tribute to Norman Rockwell and shows an orange tabby cat painting a portrait of himself — as a fearsome tiger. “Cats see themselves as better, as something else,” Heffernan said with a smile. The original painting now hangs in the office of a school guidance counselor.   

In another work, “Polar Express,” a tiny polar bear cub sits up straight on his mother’s shoulders as she swims, seeking an ice floe. The piece depicts not only the mother’s tender care of her cub but subtly raises the issue of the plight of polar bears amidst melting Arctic ice. 

“For me, the challenge has always been to create a beautiful piece that people love, but bringing the whimsical into it. I want to create some sort of relationship, a piece people can relate to on an emotional level,” Heffernan explained. 

Heffernan’s works have great depth and texture to them, a result of working in oils and putting down layer after layer of paint. She explained that she uses different types of brushes to capture the feel of fur on various animals. When painting rabbits, for example, she uses a soft sable brush while using stiffer brushes to depict the bristle-like hair on pigs.    

She begins each painting by first sketching out her composition, then seeking out images of animals to work from.  Heffernan subscribes to a stock photo service and takes her own photographs of animals when possible. She always asks herself, “Does the composition look strong? Is the story there?” 

Heffernan’s mother was an art teacher and inspired her daughter to start making art as a young child. Her family emigrated from Taiwan to rural upstate New York when Heffernan was in her early teens. She graduated from SUNY Binghamton where she studied anatomy. 

“Polar Express” oil painting by Lucia Heffernan. (Photo courtesy Lucia Heffernan)

  Avid skiers, Heffernan and her husband moved to Utah for the “greatest snow on earth” and to enjoy the natural beauty of the mountains. They raised their children in Sandy and Heffernan took up her paintbrushes again after her twins were grown. 

Heffernan will present 20 new pieces at the 15th Street Gallery in Salt Lake City, May 18 through June 9. She has also exhibited her animal paintings internationally, most recently in Melbourne, Australia, and Hong Kong. In addition to her upcoming show at the 15th Street Gallery, she is represented locally by Mountain Trails Gallery in both Park City and Jackson, Wyoming, as well as Southam Gallery in Salt Lake City. 

She is honored to be asked to participate once again in this year’s Cat Art Show LA.  Created by the founder of the popular CatCon, it is the largest multi-artist exhibition of cat-inspired works for sale ever exhibited in one place. The exhibition will take place June 14–24 in Los Angeles. 

15th Street Gallery is located at 1519 South 1500 East in Salt Lake City. Heffernan’s original paintings as well as prints and calendars are available for purchase on her website,