Larassa Kabel never expected to be chosen when she submitted her painting to be considered for the White House holiday card this September.
The Des Moines, Iowa, artist said “it was a very surreal moment,” when she got the call from the White House secretary’s office while cooking pizza for her family one night, hearing that first lady Michelle Obama had chosen her piece.
The White House released the 2012 Christmas card, painted by Kabel, this morning.
“I had very, very, very low expectations about it in the first place,” Kabel told ABC News. She said her husband kept asking her afterwards, “Did I dream that you’re going to do this?”
“No, I had the same dream,” she would reply. “I’m pretty sure this is true.”
It has been a big year for the two-time Obama supporter. Kabel’s husband’s band opened for Bruce Springsteen at President Obama’s rally in Des Moines, his last rally before election night. At that point, the couple knew her painting had been selected, but had to keep that secret.
The black-and-white illustration features the Obama family Portuguese water dog. It shows a jaunty Bo, knee-deep in snow in front of a blurred White House.
Kabel’s own canine companion, Beans – a Boston Terrier/Pug mix – follows her to the studio each day and sits by her side while she earns her livelihood painting, drawing and printing.
“It’s not like we’re sitting here chatting or anything,” Kabel said. “But when I don’t bring him to the studio I constantly am peeking over my shoulder to look where he would normally be. When he’s not there I feel his absence.”
The dog in the portrait is sporting a scarf, something Kabel says was an addition she made to the photo the White House sent out for her as part of the competition.
“They asked us to do an interpretation of the photo, and I did need to change a couple of things,” Kabel said. “Black animals are difficult to represent and have them read as three-dimensional.”
To make the snow look realistic, Kabel used a tool most people have inside their bathrooms: a toothbrush.
“It splatters so it looks like snow,” Kabel said.
The White House won’t be paying Kabel for her portrait of Bo (“I’m living on glory,” she said when asked about compensation), but she and her husband will attend the White House holiday party on Dec. 18.
She sees meeting the president and Mrs. Obama as a highlight of the trip, but she is also excited to do something many White House guests are familiar with: celebrity watch.
“I’ve never seen anyone famous, so I’m like, who will be at the party?” Kabel said. “I’m looking for anybody.”