You know Wake Forest painter Dick Larsen. You dont realize it, but you do. Remember that 1970s Tootsie Pop ad that asks how many licks it takes to get to the center? Thats Dick Larsens work.
Larsen, 68, spent years in advertising, but if you met him today, you wouldnt know it. In fact, youd probably be coming to him with a photo of a pet, maybe a dog, and requesting a portrait. Thats his specialty these days: painting pets.
Have a special dog? Maybe a cat? Heck, even a gerbil or rattlesnake? You can bring it down to Dick Larsens studio at The Cotton Company in Wake Forest and get him to duplicate its likeness in paint.
What started off with one random request has become a full-time business. Larsen spent years creating ads before ending up in North Carolina in the early 1990s. Hed always wanted to be a painter, but the realities of life led him to advertising.
I had to go make some real money and support my family, he said.
But in Raleigh, his wife had a job with an ad firm, and Larsen, fresh off a five-year stint at a Florida ad company, decided to devote himself to painting. His work used to be more eclectic, but a few years back, someone asked him to paint a pet and everything changed.
People really are hung up on their pets and they really enjoy having them around, he said. Its a market all by itself.
Soon other people were requesting pet portraits, and six years ago, Larsen decided to dedicate himself to reproducing their favorite furry friends.
The ratio of dog to cat requests is about 10 to 1. And when I mentioned a gerbil and rattlesnake before, I wasnt just making that up. Hes done both at one time or another. Go to his studio and youll see for yourself that his business is doing well. He sits at the easel studiously brushing away, surrounded all the while by an audience of painted dogs captive on canvas.
Larsens successful new life almost came to an end four months ago. He woke up one morning and realized he couldnt see out of his right eye. After a visit to a few medical professionals, Larsen discovered that hed had a stroke in one eye. It blinded it permanently, but left his other eye basically unharmed. Still, Larsen wasnt sure he could continue painting. He was determined to try.
It took a while to just get used to the fact that Im not going to see anymore out of this eye, he said. Then I said, Somehow, I have to figure out how to paint.
He started back slowly, changing up his method and using tools, such as a magnifying glass, to help. Aware that his handicap might change the quality of the finished work, Larsen offered customers a money-back guarantee. If they werent satisfied, no charges applied.
But Larsens talent is undiminished. His paintings still enthrall customers, and business is still coming through the door.
Though Larsen realized the business potential in painting pets, he said he gets creative fulfillment from his work as well.
You get these animals with their feelings and sentiment and all this kind of stuff its just entertaining to bring them out and make them smile, he said.
Ive got an adopted 11-year-old Golden Retriever that talks to me when nobodys looking. Maybe its time to take her to see Larsen.