For people who want a pet but don't have the time to care for an animal, Karen Derrico of Oakton might 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 help homeless animals find homes.
Each month, Derrico selects two animals from rescue groups and paints portraits of them. She then puts the paintings up for "adoption" on her Web site, www.painting4paws.com.
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 art prints on watercolor paper.
"If you make a mistake with [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 and plates.
Derrico also does commissioned work, which starts at $250 and increases depending on the size of the picture and the number of animals depicted.
Derrico also writes books. She wrote "Unforgettable Mutts: Pure of Heart, Not of Breed" in 1999 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.
She said that 25 percent of all purebred dogs have some type of inherited disease or ailment because of irresponsible breeding.
Derrico's work is on permanent display at Seneca Hill Animal Hospital in Great Falls and Happy Tails Dog Spa in Tysons Corner. Inova Fairfax Hospital will feature an exhibition of Derrico's work from July 19 to Aug. 30.
The exhibited work will be for sale, with 20 percent of the proceeds from the sale to benefit the hospital, Derrico said. Another 20 percent of the money from art on display and commissioned works will be given to Gooddogz.org and Pets With Disabilities.
Gooddogz.org educates potential dog owners about the care and training dogs require and helps potential owners select dogs that best suit their lifestyle.
Pets With Disabilities helps raise awareness about disabled pets and pairs potential pet owners with animals with birth defects, injuries or illnesses.
Derrico has set up a program called "charity partners" in which local rescue and welfare groups receive 15 percent to 25 percent of the proceeds from the sale of artwork or commissioned work from people the organizations refer to her.
Derrico, who grew up around animals, said she 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.