Telling a story with Pet Portraits

HILLMAN — Art seems to find a way into many aspects of Anne O’Leary’s life. One of those ways is through the pet portraits she paints.

“I do all sorts of different things. Part of my process is trying out different media so I can figure out and understand what I’m best at. I guess it’s a self discovery type of thing. I like to paint, sketch, illustrate and collage,” she said.

For her pet portraits O’Leary uses a picture of the animal and sketches and paints from there.

One step in the process she doesn’t overlook is talking to the pet owner about the animal.

“I think that goes best asking the owner the questions who they are as a dog, going over all that information. That’s how you best figure out the personality the dog has, their quirks. For example my dad’s nurse was one of my first clients. He gave me a job to paint his dog Haven; the way I was able to catch the glint on her eye,” she said.

She noted how Haven loved pizza crusts and would bury them like a bone. It’s little stories such as these that help her to detail the animal’s personality.

“Unless you know the person who owns the dog you don’t know how to paint them without asking questions,” she said.

There was one day O’Leary realized painting pets should become more than just a hobby.

“When you’re involved in a project you lose track of reality, that’s how I realized I liked it. It meant a lot to the people I was doing it for, not only people who lost their animals, but also people who treat them as part of the family,” she said.

She has a deep love of animals and said with every portrait she paints she will donate a portion to the humane society.

“I don’t need a ton of money. It would behoove me to contribute to society. What’s the point of keeping it all for yourself?” O’Leary said.

One kind of animal O’Leary would like to portray and help with are military animals.

“Military service animals is an underrepresented area people don’t talk about often. They do a lot for us,” she said.

Through her portraiture work O’Leary discovered another artistic medium, graphic design.

“Designing the flyers for my portrait business is how I discovered my love of graphic design. It’s a utilitarian value. You have to think in abstract terms to help a client to realize what they want. If you can sit down and figure out what their needs are and they can use it all the time,” she said.

These creative pursuits are part of a long personal and familial history.

O’Leary doesn’t have any formal training. She was accepted into Kendall College, but decided not to attend because of the expense and because she needed to move at the time.

“Every time I got established in a town I had to pick up and move. I moved back to Hillman when my dad was diagnosed with leukemia,” she said.

O’Leary stayed to be with her father and family, and her dad is feeling much better, she said.

“That creative gene fell out heavily through generations of artists, art historians, musicians, and storytellers on my dad’s side of the family,” she said.

Jordan Spence can be reached via email at or by phone at 358-5687.