Painting a Portrait of Potential Pets

Tiger the pig is one of Karen Derrico's painting subjects.
Tiger the pig is one of Karen Derrico's painting subjects. (By Karen Derrico)
By Diane Mattingly
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, June 19, 2005

For people who want a pet but don't have time to care for an animal, Karen Derrico of Oakton may have come up with a solution -- adopting an animal portrait.

A self-described lifelong animal lover and advocate, Derrico said she saw an opportunity to blend her passions for art and animals, so last year she created "Painting 4 Paws -- Art with a Cause."

The benefits? Pet portraits don't need food, water or training and won't soil the carpet, and adopting a portrait can also help homeless animals find homes.

Each month, Derrico selects two animals from rescue groups and creates portraits of them. She then puts the paintings up for "adoption" on her Web site, .

There is a $35 or $55 "adoption fee," depending on the size of the print. Derrico includes a story about the animal and an adoption certificate.

Derrico donates 20 percent of the fee to the rescue organization that supplied her subjects. All kinds of animals are included -- pigs, monkeys, dogs, horses, cats and ducks among others.

Using a wireless digital paintbrush and computer painting software to mix vivid hues of violets, greens, oranges and yellows, Derrico creates a brightness and cheerfulness in her work that she said people enjoy.

Digital painting starts with a blank canvas, Derrico said, as with traditional painting. She paints each individual stroke and then prints the images onto canvas. She also makes fine art prints on watercolor paper.

"If you make a mistake with this [digital painting] you don't have to worry. It isn't messy, it's very clean," said Derrico, 42.

Derrico said the software makes it easy to place images on things other than canvas, such as mugs or plates.

Derrico also does commissioned work, which starts at $250 and goes up depending on the number of animals in and the size of the picture.

Derrico also writes. She authored a book, "Unforgettable Mutts: Pure of Heart, Not of Breed," in 1999 in an effort to help promote dog adoption. A year later, she organized a "Million Mutt March" at the U.S. Capitol to promote the adoption of mixed-breed, older and special-needs dogs.

"These dogs are usually the last ones to find homes, as purebred dogs (especially puppies) are typically the first to be adopted," Derrico wrote in an e-mail.

"There is a long-standing misconception that if a dog doesn't have a pedigree, then he or she must be somehow defective," Derrico said, adding that 25 percent of all purebred dogs are afflicted with some type of inherited disease or ailment because of irresponsible breeding.

Derrico's work is on permanent exhibit at Seneca Hill Animal Hospital in Great Falls and Happy Tails Dog Spa in Tysons Corner. Inova Fairfax Hospital will feature an exhibit of Derrico's work July 19-Aug. 30.

The exhibited work will also be for sale. Twenty percent of the proceeds from sales will benefit the hospital, Derrico said. Another 20 percent of the money from art on display and commissioned works will be given to and Pets with Disabilities. educates potential dog owners about the care and training dogs require and helps potential owners select dogs that best suit their lifestyles. Pets with Disabilities helps raise awareness about disabled pets and pair potential pet owners with animals with birth defects, injuries or even illnesses. The organization also has joined with Dewey's Wheelchairs for Dogs to help fund the purchase of wheelchairs for homeless pets that need these assistive devices.

Derrico has also set up a program called "charity partners" in which local rescue and welfare groups receive 15 to 25 percent of the proceeds from the sale of artwork or commissioned work from people the organizations refer to her.

For businesses that want to participate in Derrico's efforts to help homeless animals, the artist has established a "business partners" program. Derrico will donate a percentage of proceeds from the sale of work gotten through display at a business in the name of that business.

Derrico grew up around animals and said she also developed an interest in art as a child.

"It became clear to me at a young age that I am here to be a voice for animals in need. I have always felt a special closeness and innate love for animals that is totally unlike any human relationship I've ever had. Even though they can't talk our language, I can sometimes communicate better with my animals than any humans I know," Derrico said.

After spending several years as a graphic designer and illustrator, Derrico discovered digital hand painting and now blends her love of art with her love of animals.

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