Many pet owners (myself included) would sooner pay for a custom portrait of their pet than anything depicting themselves. It’s not that humans are bad subjects – it’s just that an artist’s hand seems so much better suited for bringing our pets’ likenesses to life.
Thankfully, Philadelphia is rich with many artists specializing in pet portraiture. They depict dogs, cats, and sometimes more, out of their own love for art and animals. If you’re looking to immortalize a pet you love, there’s no need to look any further than Philly. Read on to hear what inspires some of the city’s most unique pet portrait artists, learn how they work, and see their art.
Cait Maud has drawn and painted emotive pet portraits from her home in South Philly for several years now. Beginning with a sketch, she focuses on her subject’s eyes and then works outward, typically using watercolor or her iPad. She takes care to build her layers of color gradually to achieve the richness and depth that makes her art so distinctive.
As a child, Cait took on her first animal art subject, a Labrador retriever named Lucy. Now, her rescued pets, a Corgi-mix named Watson and cats Boudica (“Boo” for short) and Ouija, keep her company while she creates her custom portraits and a wide variety of other illustrations. Boo, who once lived behind an auto-garage in New Jersey, loves to invade Cait’s personal space for attention while the artist is working. And Cait takes care to help such quirks and personality traits shine through in her art.
She first began creating portraits as gifts for friends, but broadened her business when she realized how happy her detailed pets made their owners. “I’m interested in the relationships people have with their pets. I think that how people treat and interact with their animals tells you a lot about them,” she said. “I also really enjoy making things for people – and especially seeing my portraits on their wall.”
View more of Cait’s pet portraits and commission information online in her Etsy shop and Instagram, and check out some of her illustrations in person on cards available for purchase at Amelie’s Bark Shop in South Philly.
Steve Teare’s stylized anthropomorphic pet portraits delight owners with a unique take on their pets’ personalities. Gouache paint and ink on paper, his depictions are inspired by children’s picture books, mostly from mid-century, as well as fashion drawings from the late 1800s.
“A lot of people say my pet portraits remind them of Maurice Sendak [author and illustrator of Where the Wild Things Are], and I’d say that’s fair. I’ve admired and copied Sendak’s style since I was a kid,” Steve said.
For Steve, working with the owner is one of the best parts of the portrait process. It’s then that he gets to learn what it is that makes a pet so special — he described his own mutt-mix, Pickles, as a handsome fellow with a brindle coat and white beard. After discussing ideas for the portrait’s theme or style, Steve will create some rough sketches and send them to the owner. So far, his most popular request is for paintings of pets as Victorian-era elite.
Steve first began painting pets in 2015 when his wife made a familiar statement — she’d prefer a portrait of her own dog over one of herself. After Steve created a pet portrait as a gift for his roommates, they agreed, and he’s been painting pets across a wide array of styles, be it funky and modern or regal and classic, ever since.
Beyond pet portraiture, Steve primarily creates illustrations and comics for various publications, and can be found in Philadelphia Weekly, VICE, and others. His work covers topics including laws about the criminalization of homelessness and teacher walkouts.
A Pennsylvania native now living in Kensington, Gina Kim first began creating art of her dog Binu while attending the Rhode Island School of Design. While Binu has since passed, Gina finds joy in continuing to draw and paint beautiful, one-of-a-kind portraits for other pet owners.
“I draw inspiration from the animals themselves and the love their owners clearly have for them,” Gina said. “I enjoy being able to use my talent to make people happy and create something that’s meaningful for them.”
Gina begins with a pencil line drawing of her subject. She adds masking fluid in the areas she’d like to keep light before moving on to watercolor painting, and then finishes the details with a calligraphy pen and watercolor pencils. While she often works from a single specific photo provided by the owner, she can also create an entirely new pose out of several photos of one pet.
Beyond her pet portraits, Gina said her art is constantly changing, though nature and animal scenes have always been favorite focuses. In school, she studied textiles, and she spent over seven years working at Philly’s own Printfresh Studio designing prints and graphics for women’s and children’s clothing. She’s currently keeping busy with her own young daughter and running a custom furniture business with her husband, John.
Liv Losee-Unger has always been obsessed with painting animals. After growing up exploring the coasts of Northern California, she found a natural love for depicting aquatic life. But today, she paints pets out of Philadelphia after moving to the city in 2013 to study at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art and the University of Pennsylvania.
Liv’s art depicts a wide variety of pets, from dogs and pigs to birds and lizards, through oil paints on hardy Gessobord panels. The panels, as opposed to traditional canvases, make it easier to ship her works to their new homes, she said. And she varnishes her paintings to ensure they stay as crisp as the day she finished them.
As a self-proclaimed certified crazy cat lady, Liv has three cats and continues to foster even more of them through Project MEOW in West Philly. Two of Liv’s current cats, Gomez and Morticia, were born in her fraternity room during college after she found and rescued a pregnant stray – who gave birth before Liv could take her to a shelter. Her third cat, Pugsley, was another foster failure who she bottle-fed from three weeks old.
When she isn’t painting pets, she’s working on a wide variety of murals for Hagopian Arts, an independent, woman-owned and -operated mural arts company, responsible for many public works of art across the city. But even there, her focus is still often on animals, as many of her murals pair the natural world with Philly’s urban environment.
“I just love animals – they bring out the best in people. I think honoring people’s pets through artwork also services to honor that beautiful, empathetic, and wonderful side of humanity,” Liv said. “Nowadays with the struggles we face, I think that recognizing the good we’re capable of is inspiring in itself. Pets create joy, and I hope to convey that through my art.”