Despite making a career in physical therapy, one local resident is reigniting his passion for art by painting eclectic portraits of dogs.

J.C. Bender has been a physical therapist for 20 years, but when he was pursuing his degree he decided to take a more unorthodox route.

"I've always had a passion for art and when I realized how much schooling I had ahead of me, I decided to choose art as my undergraduate program," Bender said. "The program director said it would be a unique choice but that it would work."

Once he finished his undergraduate program he began the physical therapy program, while still practicing his art.

Bender focuses mostly on doing dog portraits because he has always loved dogs, but was unable to have one himself because of allergies. However, because he works from photographs of dogs, he can paint their portraits without ever meeting the animal.

"Since I don't usually meet the dog, having a high-quality photo really helps because I can make sure to capture the proper coloring in the fur," he said. "I had this one photo in college and the lighting wasn't very good and I had a hard time pulling out the color in the dog's fur and when I gave the portrait to the client, she said the fur wasn't quite the right color. That was a real learning experience for me."

When painting a portrait of a dog, one of the most challenging aspects of the process is getting the proper color in the fur around the dog's mouth, he said.

"Some dogs have unique coloring around their mouths and it can be challenging to capture that. If the photo is has good lighting then it's easier to get that detail right," Bender said.

The process for painting a dog portrait can be fairly complex depending on what the client wants, but Bender said he typically starts out by doing a series of sketches from photographs which he then shows to the client. Once he and the client agree on which photograph will be used for the portrait, he transfers the sketch onto a canvas.

"I usually have to enlarge the sketch when I transfer it onto the canvas, because I usually do 8-by-10," he said. "I paint in acrylic and then I go in and pull out smaller details with colored pencil."

Bender chose acrylic because he found watercolor paint dried to quickly and forced him to work faster than he wanted. On the other end of the spectrum, oil paints dried too slowly. Acrylic offered a middle ground where it wouldn't try too quickly or too slowly.

"You can work acrylic like an oil but still get that watercolor effect," he said.

The entire process usually takes about a month, but Bender admitted he could do them faster if he only painted for a living.

"This isn't my full-time job, but if it was, I could probably do each one in about two weeks or even less," he said.

Even though Bender is busy with his physical therapy career, he finds the time spent doing the portraits is very rewarding.

"Over the last 10 or 11 years, painting didn't take a priority, so I didn't do it. Now when people commission me for a portrait, it gives me a reason to do it. My kids also want to do art with me and it's a lot of fun," Bender said.

Bender said he wants to look back on his life and not regret that he hadn't painted more.

"I'd like to keep going, and I don't want to look back and think of it as a waste of talent," he said. "I want to teach my kids, and my wife and I always make sure they have art supplies to use."

Now that Bender is getting back into his painting, he said he has a few pieces lined up that he will be working on as he works on rebuilding his portfolio.

"A lot of the earlier pieces I did, once I sold them they were gone, and I don't have any record of them. Now I'm trying to rebuild my portfolio, and I have a couple of pieces I will be working on," he said.