Pet portraits more than a pastime

Elizabeth Peterson paints pet portraits to pay off student debt.

Elizabeth Peterson is using her skills as an illustration major at the University of the Arts to paint pet portraits to help pay off her student loans. | COURTESY Elizabeth Peterson
Elizabeth Peterson is using her skills as an illustration major at the University of the Arts to paint pet portraits to help pay off her student loans. | COURTESY Elizabeth Peterson

Many 22-year-old college students are forced to abandon the skills they’ve learned in college for side jobs in order to pay off their accumulating debt. Elizabeth Peterson, however, has opted to paint pet portraits.

Peterson, a junior at the University of the Arts, said after using Craigslist for “normal things” such as looking for apartments, she thought, “Why not put an ad in for my work?”

Once a portrait painting major at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Peterson said she was able to use her experience to start her side project. However, PAFA ended up only being a stepping-stone in Peterson’s life.

“It was an amazing school, but I wanted to study something with more possibilities,” Peterson said. “I knew I could be a little more creative with my practice and do something that would give me more job opportunities.”

Today, she studies illustration at the University of the Arts.

“It’s a computer-based art, but I find it interesting to combine my classical art practices, like the portrait painting, with digital art,” she said.

Looking back, Peterson said she found her grandmother to be one of the most influential people in her life when it came to picking a career. Peterson said she was intrigued by creativity at a young age since her grandmother was both a writer and an artist. This divided interest in writing and art created an unlikely inspiration in Peterson’s life.

“I just really want to connect to people more than anything,” Peterson said. “As I got older and was deciding what I wanted to do, I would read [Walt Whitman and T.S. Eliot’s] poems and feel a personal connection. I think that’s what art is all about.”

Continuing on her path toward art, Peterson said she feels lucky that she had the opportunity to attend a high school right outside of the Philadelphia region with an in-depth art department.

Peterson said she was accepted into another university when she realized she wanted to be closer to the Philadelphia art scene than she already was. She said she recalls running down Broad Street with her portfolio in hand, hoping she would make her school visits on time.

Peterson said switching schools was more difficult than expected.

“I’m always going to prefer traditional art, particularly oil painting,” Peterson said. “Digital art I’m fascinated by, but I’m not that great with computers. It’s been a struggle to learn Photoshop, but I did get the hang of it. Combining ink drawings and Photoshop, I’m really enjoying that. I like the style of art with really heavy brushwork, that’s what I like to see in a painting. I see a lot of art, hyper-realistic art, which is amazing, but I’m more interested in very artsy paintings. I love vigilant brushwork, very aggressive strokes and a lot of movement in the art.”

Peterson decided to start offering a pet portrait painting service after realizing she could easily do it on the side. Peterson said pet portrait painting is not as expensive as regular portraits and that they make great gifts. Although she said pet portraits aren’t exactly her “thing,” she still sees it as a great way to make extra money and use her talents.

After posting her ad on Craigslist, Peterson got quite a few requests, but mostly by word of mouth. Peterson said she sees the Internet as an easily accessible place for young artists to start.

“People would post what I did for them on Facebook and people see it there,” she said. “A lot of young artists use Tumblr, you just tag something and sometimes it blows up. The Internet, it is just fantastic.”

When a new client requests artwork, Peterson works closely with them. She sends pictures of her work in progress to make sure she is on the right track. Also, if the customer knows what room the artwork will be placed in, Peterson will ask for a picture of the room so she can tweak the colors so the work complements its surroundings.

Although she said her future isn’t completely figured out yet, Peterson said she hopes to get a job as an in-house illustrator for a design company, or in a media company doing storyboarding. Peterson said painting and portraits will always be something that she continues to do on the side because of her passion for classic art.

Chelsea Finn can be reached at

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.