Featured in New Barker Magazine

I have wonderful news!

The Dogs of Manatee County Calendar was featured in a 2-page spread in the Winter issue of The New Barker magazine! A very proud moment for me, and I hope all of the calendar volunteers feel the same!

Cover Art by John LaFree for The New Barker Magazine Winter 2014-2015

You can check out the article by clicking here, a PDF scan of the spread. It may take a few moments to load.

Have you heard of The New Barker MagazineThe New Barker is Florida’s top dog magazine, a quarterly lifestyle magazine  for dogs and their people. Each cover features an original painting by a different Florida artist, this issue (above) showcased caricature artist John LaFree!

I asked Jayla and Katze what they thought, and if they were impressed by seeing my work featured:

Jayla (above) missed the question entirely, and said the magazine was really comfy, and smelled nice. Thanks Jayla...

Jayla (above) missed the question entirely, and said the magazine was really comfy, and smelled nice

Thanks Jayla...
And after much deliberation, and pretending to read....

Katze (above) thought, nice, even though there’s no cats!

Katze (above) thought, nice, even though there’s no cats!
I hope you all had a wonderful holiday season with your loved ones!
Sebastian, Katze, Jayla, and I had a fantastic time! It was a BIG family Christmas with a house full of company, my favorite! Sebastian’s parents and sister live in Germany, and we don’t get to see them more than once or twice a year, if we’re lucky. This year we were really lucky and they were with us for both Christmas and New Year’s!

Mueller Annual Christmas Card Photo 2014 With Katze and Jayla

Here’s our 2014 Christmas Card photo, my favorite one so far, and the first one to feature Katze and Jayla. Sebastian and I love coming up with creative Christmas card photos, and have been surprising our family with them every year since 2009, the year we married.

When photographing cats, it really helps to know their routine, and use their routine to your advantage. Believe it or not this shot was a piece of cake! 

The only part that is photoshopped is Sebastian because we took turns posing. The trick was using a tripod and being careful not to move it. We set up the composition we liked first, knowing we had to build from Jayla’s favorite spot on top of the couch. 

There’s a permanent ‘Jayla-size’ indent in the top of it! Katze always wants to sit with me when I get home from work in the evening. That particular evening I made a point NOT to sit down, and like a dependable little shadow she followed me around until I did.

Sebastian posed first, while we waited for Jayla to settle in. Once Jayla saw ‘her human’ laying down, she settled into her spot for the evening catnap. Sebastian and I switch tasks, and I sit on ‘my side’ of the couch with Jayla, and Katze being so impatient practically jumped up with me before I could even get comfortable. She had her own schedule to keep!

Katze and Jayla were sleepy, so I just plopped down the little German hats on their heads and Sebastian snapped a few shots. We were done before they even knew what happened or what I’d done. The whole shoot took perhaps 15 minutes! 


Dogs of Manatee County Calendar 2015

Creating this calendar was a giant act of love:

• People who love their dogs and enthusiastically volunteered their time to participate.

• Dogs who love their humans and “played nicely with the peculiar photographer girl.”

• A photographer who loves this community and is determined to foster that love in others.

Cover of the Dogs of Manatee County Calendar by Polar Bear Studio

I wanted to do a final round-up on the calendar project as a whole, and see if I can’t wrap this baby up with a big ol’ bow before we move onto new work! I expected to learn throughout this project, and because I’ve always been intrigued by ‘Top Ten’ lists, I’ve decided to go that route. We both know I can get wordy and easily distracted so this is a favor for both of us! Read on!

January from Dogs of Manatee County Calendar by Polar Bear Studio

#10. Our love for our pets is so powerful we’re willing to meet perfect strangers from Facebook.

February for Dogs of Manatee County Calendar by Polar Bear Studio

#9. All dogs are worth waiting for, and all dogs are capable of the ‘perfect shot’.

March in the Dogs of Manatee County Calendar by Polar Bear Studio

#8. I really need to get out more. I’ve lived in this area for 10 years, and I’m still discovering.

April in the Dogs of Manatee County Calendar by Polar Bear Studio

#7. Learn the pet’s back story before the shoot, not after, so the image can be its full potential.

May in the Dogs of Manatee County Calendar by Polar Bear Studio

#6. I can accomplish a lot more when I have a deadline and a theme.

June in the Dogs of Manatee County Calendar by Polar Bear Studio

#5. Mother nature’s spontaneity is the best prop a photographer could ever acquire.

July in the Dogs of Manatee County Calendar by Polar Bear Studio

#4. No two dogs are alike!

August in the Dogs of Manatee County Calendar by Polar Bear Studio

#3. Sometimes a squeaky ball does more harm than good!

September in the Dogs of Manatee County Calendar by Polar Bear Studio

#2. When there’s a dog around, my disabling shyness disappears in the best possible way.

October in the Dogs of Manatee County Calendar by Polar Bear Studio

#1. I’m an artist, officially, and specifically an animal photographer who loves visually illustrating stories.

November in the Dogs of Manatee County Calendar by Polar Bear Studio

December in the Dogs of Manatee County Calendar by Polar Bear Studio

Thank you everyone! I really appreciate each and every one of you!
It’s truly been a joy!

The Beagle Knows The Way

I was getting frustrated with Anna Maria Island’s dog policies. None of the beaches allow dogs! None of the piers allow dogs! What do dog owners do on this island? Eat outside at a dog friendly restaurant or walk on the sidewalk? Neither idea really seemed worthwhile pursuing.

Then, while booking other shoots for the Dogs of Manatee County calendar, I realized that a particular Saturday in October had my Anna Maria Island solution already scheduled....Bayfest!

My Grandpa loves car shows, and I had marked Bayfest 6-8 months ago so I wouldn’t forget to take him.

One thing's for sure at an outdoor Florida festival...there will be dogs of all shapes, sizes, and colors! Usually I’m feeling dog envy pining for one, but this year’s Bayfest, one dog would be there for me!

When this light bulb exploded above my head, I proceeded to do a happy dance in my chair!
Introducing, Francine Fishpaw Pup Champion 2.0!

Beagle at a car show, photo by Denise Mueller

Are you laughing? I hope so! I love the name! It makes me smile, and I think they should seriously consider coming up with a theme song/soundtrack that could be used to announce her.

Francine is a rescued beagle, and her Mom, Kim agreed to doing a shoot at Bayfest. It would be their first Bayfest, they’re new to Manatee County. Francine’s Grandpaw has a 1931 Model A Ford. I was doubly delighted our families share a passion for car shows.

Beagle at a car show, photo by Denise Mueller

We planned to get to Bayfest right at the start to try to keep the crowds at a minimum, but I was immediately overwhelmed. SO MANY CARS! We strolled leisurely along all the cars, but inwardly I was beginning to panic as I wondered how on earth I would choose one car to shoot?!

A little kitschy beagle sculpture lifting its leg to pee marked the spot!

I think I breathed a sigh of relief when I saw that, and to make things even better the cars were the primary colors of red, yellow, and blue, with yellow, my favorite color, right in the middle. I don’t think I could have planned this any better, and I didn’t plan anything. We were just really lucky.

Beagle at a car show, photo by Denise Mueller

Francine was nervous, happy, and anxious. She reminded me of the trademark shy girl at prom who doesn’t realize how beautiful she is and continues to be self-conscious for no good reason.

We tried to signify this was our ‘home base’ by sitting down on the street with her, giving her treats, and putting our bags down. It seemed to work. In order to get the shot I ended up choosing for the calendar, I laid flat on my stomach on the street, while Kim and Ron, Francine’s Dad, would walk Francine by the cars.

Beagle at a car show, photo by Denise Mueller

I like how the light is hitting her, she looks comfortable and natural, and the kitschy beagle sculpture is ‘there’ without metaphorically hitting the viewer over the head with it. 

Beagle at a car show, photo by Denise Mueller

Thank you Kim, Ron, and Francine for going to Bayfest with me and for helping me get these shots! They mean a lot to me!



Small, but Mighty on a Surfboard

I don’t think it is common for dachshunds to surf, or even swim for that matter. Greta the dachshund has 2 human siblings that surf/paddle board/boogie board, AND one chocolate labrador retriever as an older sister named Chloe. Well, enough said, Greta was destined for the water!

Dachshund Surfing, Photo by Polar Bear Studio

Chocolate Labrador Swimming Photo by Polar Bear Studio

It was a foregone conclusion that we needed a dog beach, and I love the safety and seclusion of Riverview Pointe Preserve. Greta and Chloe’s Mom, Tiffany, and I both agree that the public dog beach along the Palma Sola causeway would make us both a nervous wreck. An off-leash park with no fence right off the shoulder of a busy road, frequented by tourists behind the wheel, wide-eyed at the first sight of water? Um, no thanks!

Amongst the locals, the Riverview Pointe Preserve is probably one of our best kept secrets! All the dog owners practically do a secret handshake upon meeting, and most know each other by name because they’re regulars.

Admittedly, there’s something irresistible about big dogs and little dogs playing together. It is instant storytelling without props or even much of a scene.

Dachshund and chocolate labrador diving into the water backlit, Photo by Polar Bear Studio

Dachshund and chocolate labrador running together, Photo by Polar Bear Studio

Chloe the labrador is a chocolate bundle of joy and enthusiasm, bright-eyed, and happy as can be. Chloe was ready for anything and everything, and never tired of fetching a ball. I think the only time we received a dubious ‘Are you crazy” look was when we tried to put a life-jacket on her. It was probably a low-blow to her ‘labrador-ness’. She’s probably a better swimmer than I am (wouldn’t take much!!!), but it was too irresistible so Chloe humored us for one quick shot.

Chocolate labrador offended by wearing a life jacket, Photo by Polar Bear Studio

Greta is sassy and confident, and well-aware of her status as the baby in the family. While she is an excellent swimmer, she preferred being on top of the surfboard, and comfortably swayed with the water beneath her while enjoying an excellent vantage point of Chloe and her human siblings swimming.

Dachshund surfing, Photo by Polar Bear Studio

Chocolate labrador fetching for surfing dachshund, Photo by Polar Bear Studio

At one point we became a sideshow for a kayaking tour. I completely lost the attention of my subjects when we were nearly surrounded by 20-30 tourists in kayaks who felt we were fair game for souvenir photos, just as any pelican or an island sunset. It is weird knowing that you’re likely in a souvenir photo belonging to a stranger!

Surfing Dachshund Observing Kayakers, Photo by Polar Bear Studio

But, its hard to blame them! Greta and Chloe were quite the sight to behold! And admittedly some of the tourists are in my photos, but tastefully blurred of course!

Dachshund and Chocolate Labrador Playing in the Water, Photo by Polar Bear Studio

Thank you so much to Tiffany, her kids (I won’t name here for privacy), Greta and Chloe! Tiffany, I really appreciate you taking the time and effort to bring the surfboard and helping me get the shots I need! It all paid off fantastically! I love how this shoot turned out!



Forgotten Local Treasure

Ok, confession time! I’m ashamed to admit that for nearly 7 years I drove past the Gamble Plantation countless times on my way to the fantastic outlet mall in Ellenton, and never stopped once!... And I love history! What’s wrong with me? I'd drive by, see it in the corner of my eye, chide myself, and keep on driving.

It embarrassingly got to the point that my Mom would say it before I said it, “I know, you need to go there some day. But, not today right?” And she’d laugh. At that point, I knew I had a problem.

I finally visited the plantation exactly a year ago. Somehow I heard there was going to be an antique car show there, and managed to make a big family trip out of it, my Mom, maternal Grandparents, my husband and I. It was a strange visual parallel to see these antique cars be outdone by an even more antique house. Here’s my favorite picture from that day last year.

Car Show at Gamble Plantation, Photo by Polar Bear Studio

So when Danielle, Pippi's Mom and an Ellenton resident, volunteered to participate in the Dogs of Manatee County calendar, I asked her if she had any place in mind, and to her credit she reminded me about Gamble Plantation. Duh! Sometimes it’s not hidden local treasures as much as it is forgotten local treasures. I hope that by including the plantation as a location (that rhymes!) more people will be encouraged, or reminded, to check it out!

We scheduled for first thing in the morning, to beat any crowds or tour groups that might make the shoot challenging, and no car show that day!

Since Pippi is petite (because no one wants to be called a small dog), I thought it would be interesting to do a shallow depth of field with extreme perspective, so Pippi would actually be the same size if not larger than the house.

There's a long driveway in front of the estate, so logistically I was able to do it! It was simply a matter of lining her up in the narrow shot without completely covering up the house.

I think the end result is reminiscent of an official White House pet portrait. Or, if you’re thinking Scarlett O’Hara and legendary Tara...well let’s say you weren’t the first, Pippi is a southern belle after all!

Jack Russell Terrier at Gamble Plantation, Photo by Polar Bear Studio

I fell in love with the green shuttered windows and the welcoming wooden chairs on the east side of the house. The morning light and shadow frames Pippi perfectly, imperfectly. This shot especially reminds me of the Wishbone books & tv series I LOVED when I was little. A dog with an inner monologue? Yes please!

Jack Russell Terrier at Gamble Plantation, Photo by Polar Bear Studio

Here are a few close ups with the sugar cane grinder exhibit in the background. Pippi has several charming 'looks.' And when I say, 'looks', I mean that this is a very self-aware dog who knows she's gorgeous and knows she's having her picture taken. She has star quality with her bubbly energy and bright, cheerful eyes and smile. 

That’s how she stole the hearts of her Mom and Dad who were intending on adopting a senior pet before Pippi delightfully sabotaged all their plans. 

Thank you Danielle & John for meeting me so early in the morning and for sharing Pippi with me! She’s a real sweetheart! 


Jack Russell Terrier, by Polar Bear Studio


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