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Pet Portraits and the Impact of Social Media – Interview with Artist Missy Johnson

We found Annemarie “Missy” Johnson on Twitter while we were tweeting about pet art, and were delighted to meet this dedicated and very talented artist who has a gift for putting your beloved pet on canvas. I checked Missy’s wonderful art gallery and thought it is definitely worth sharing with our community of animal lovers – she’s painted almost every breed from Akitas to Zuchons!

Missy and her husband have big hearts, and have adopted several dogs and volunteer at their local Carolina region Basset rescue. Her good work goes beyond her artistry, by helping and supporting rescues and animal shelters through donating her art, raising money, using her talents to design work for rescues all over the country, and during an art awareness program, Missy painted 80 rescued dogs and shared their stories on her blog — which created a tremendous buzz around her work.

It is a great pleasure to welcome Missy from Dogs for the PAWS to our ongoing series of interviews with people who truly care about animal welfare. You’ll also want to check Missy’s blog for more heartwarming stories of rescued dogs.

How did the idea for your business with pet portraits come about?

When I started my pet/art awareness project, Dogs for the PAWS, I wanted to get back to painting some fine art pieces so challenging myself to paint the 80 different dogs’ portraits was a great way to get back into the steady work of painting. Committing to painting the portraits gave me all kinds of practice and was such a great experience that when I started the blog, and people started to read and share it they would comment on how much they enjoyed the artwork. Due to the overwhelming response to my work thru Dogs for the PAWS, I have now started my own art venture called Art & Dog Design. With Art & Dog I can offer all type of painting and illustration as well as special projects like Dogs for the PAWS.

What is your background as an artist?

I have always wanted to be an artist as far back as I can remember. I graduated from the University of Akron, in Ohio, with a Bachelors in Fine Arts and minors in both Graphics and Illustration. I moved  after graduation to one of my favorite places, Charleston, South Carolina and have been working as a Graphic Designer in the Ad Promotional/Screenprinting for over 23 years. In my free time I do artwork for clients and groups around the country. What do you love most about painting dogs/pets?

I love animals’ eyes and the challenge of “capturing” them in a moment. I hope that when people look at my work they can feel the spirit/soul of each fuzzy friend. I am not really a realistic painter but many people have told me my work speaks to them and that the subjects give off this whimiscal, fun vibe that people really respond to.

I checked your picture gallery on and I love your work. If I want you to paint a picture of my dog, what should I do first?

You can contact me and we can chat about your pet you would like painted. You will need to provide me, through email some good, high resolution pictures that I can work from. The higher the resolution, the better they are to work from. It’s all in the details and what I can see in your pictures. You will select a canvas size for your painting and away we go!

Do you use a picture of a dog for inspiration? Do you have any tips for readers about taking great photos of their dogs?

I read and follow many different blogs and individuals from Facebook to the news. I find inspiration in so many places, sometimes it boggles my mind so I keep a collection of pictures that I find in my reading. When I am working on new art, I will go back and look through them for a new face or idea to work into my project.

I have 5 dogs and do a lot of photography with pets in them. One trick someone shared with me was be quick with your shots, since your subject won’t probably sit still for very long. Also just shoot, shoot, shoot as many pictures as you can then pull them into the computer and look at them. You will be surprised with the great results you will have. I don’t really look at the camera when I am shooting event pictures, I just shoot and then work on them in the computer. Another tip….have lot’s of treats on hand to keep a captive audience with your subject(s).

Tell us a little about your work and the process of creating a new portrait. Do you prefer using certain colors or is every piece different?

I pick out the pictures that will work well, and sketch the layout on the canvas or watercolor paper. I work in acrylics and do use the same palette of colors but have found I can achieve all different types of looks with them. Off course, my style is apparent but each painting or illustration does have it’s own special look and feeling. I do try to add a special something to each project whether it be a pet’s name tag to a certain background that the clients asked for.

Could you give us a quick overview about your pricing?

I offer set pricing to keep it easy to have one created.  Prices are set on the canvas sizes beginning with 8″ x 10″ and can go up to any larger size which depends on what the client wants and how many pets are to be included in the painting. Other popular sizes I paint  are 12″ x 12″ and 16″ x 20″ which are not too expensive to pack, ship and frame. I ask for at least 1/2 down to get started and clients can pay through PayPal or personal check.

What has been your #1 favorite picture so far?

It’s really hard to have a favorite, but I have had the opportunity to paint some of the most unique pet friends you have ever met. I have also been able to meet and spend some time with them so I would have to say I have 5 real favorites I painted. Nico, Chamberlin, and Target from the Dogs for the PAWS project and a very special gift project for one of my favorite actors from one of my favorite TV shows, Army Wives. He doesn’t know about it yet and I hope to present it to him soon. I met one of his close friends who arranged for me to paint his rescue dog.  The painting took me a long time to create and I can’t wait to share it with him. I hope he loves it as much as I did painting it.

You also run a blog (magazine) on I saw an entry “We are Woof- strong” What kind of campaign is it?

With Dogs for the PAWS or DFTP as it is called, I use my art as a call to action to inspire others to help animals in need. I do the fine art paintings of the dogs but also create other styles of artwork to keep the project evolving and growing. I want people to stay excited about it and sharing it’s message of awareness so it continues to help animals and people find each other. So through DFTP I came up with a couple of different themes that I used for different months such as October being cancer awareness month. I always liked the LIVESTRONG idea so created a fun graphic and theme of being “WOOFSTRONG” to fight canine cancer issues. So many pets are fighting this terrible disease such as one of our DFTP’s dogs, Nico who has 4 different cancers in his body and he is fighting for his life. So with the WOOFSTRONG graphic I posted it to all types of individuals and groups that follow DFTP.

You use your drawing skills to help others. Could you tell us about the design work you do for rescues?

I try to help rescue and other pet groups raise funds so I donate and offer discounted custom artwork that they can purchase and use in their fundraising. I create artwork that they use on tshirts, prints, and in their promotions. I work with groups all across the country and so proud to say that my artwork has helped raise thousands of dollars for pets in need.

You support animal adoption and you volunteer at your local Basset rescue. In general, why should people adopt from a rescue?

By adopting a pet from a local shelter or rescue they help one more step in the campaign to stop the business of puppy mills. It is an issue that is so horrific and needs to be closed down. Plus, rescues and shelters have such a great variety of dogs and other pets up for adoption it’s a great way to show your support of their dedicated work. On top of adopting, you make a HUGE difference in the life of saving a shelter or rescue pet. Rescued pets will return that appreciation and love for the rest of their lives.

Are the Bassets and other dogs I saw on pictures on your website your own? I love Bassets. How would you describe the temperament of a Basset?

I have 5 dogs, 4 of which are rescues. My husband and I fostered for the rescue and we adopted 2 of our foster bassets, Schooner and Gun. We already had a basset , Lake that we bought as a puppy before we knew about breed specific rescue. We also have our Rottie mix, Wyatt Earp who I rescued and adopted from our local SPCA 11 years ago and a little 14 year old Lab/Chow girlie we rescued named London.

I don’t have 2 legger kids so my dogs are my “kids”. Our 3 bassets are 5 and 4 years old and full of spunk and fun. We call them the trifecta of baby bassets or the Johnson Boys as they are known around town. If you have kids and want a great pet friend that works and plays, I would definitely recommend a Basset Hound. Bassets really are funny to live with and have big hearts and are all about love and cookies!!! Young bassets do have a lot of energy so people have to be informed and know how to work with them while they are growing and learning. Great breed!

We met on Twitter and I know you are an active Twitter user. What do you like the most in using the social media tool and what would you recommend to someone who doesn’t like or want to use Twitter?

I owe all my success with Dogs for the PAWS to social media. With just email I would never have had the exposure that social sites give. I love how you can “reach” out to the WORLD so to speak, as well as engage and interact with your fans and followers. People are always surprising me with the response to Dogs for the PAWS but it has taken me a long time to build a strong social media following. I think Twitter is a great tool to get more exposure for business and projects. Many of the DFTP fans are slowly coming to Twitter and it is great fun to watch DFTP’s group growing through it. It is an instant response that I have found to be helpful when I am promoting a new design, dog or project. I have been on Twitter and Facebook since 2009 so be patient and don’t give up if you don’t have instant success….take all the parts and pieces, put them together in a fun way and the people will come!

Which websites or pet-related books would you recommend to PackPeople? 

These are a few of my favorites to follow and enjoy!!!

Great pet /people magazines- ( I am a contributing writer for Life+Dog)

Pet News and Info sites

Must read sites for pet bloggers and businesses

You want your beloved pet’s picture on canvas? Please contact Missy.


Facebook:  Art & Dog Design

Facebook: Dogs for the PAWS Missy wants to reach 10.000 Fans in 2011, please LIKE her Fan Page and help her reaching her goal.

Twitter: @DogsforthePaws

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