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Artist Ava Herrider at her Third Ward studio.

Pet painter captures personalities of animals, owners

Milwaukee artist Ava Herrider is an animal lover, but it took her a few career changes to settle upon pet portraiture as her full-time job.

The graphic designer, creative consultant, former bartender and corporate video editor decided last year to do what moves her: "paint things people love." So, in other words, their pets.

"Everything I'm doing for a living is by choice for the first time in my life," says Herrider, who leased her Third Ward studio to launch Cosavant Designs last July. "These are the things that I love doing. I have variety every day and, because of that, I'm excited about every project I design or paint."

Usually that means painting dogs, cats and horses; clients supply Herrider with photos of their pets and a meaningful setting, like a favorite rug, flowers from their garden or piece of furniture. She uses Pinterest boards to create a collaborative workspace where clients can share the photos that best represent their pets.

Says Herrider, "My major differentiator is that my portraits can reflect the client's personal style instead of just capturing their pet's personality. It really is a representation of them and their pet. I am obsessed with interior design, so I love to think about how a painting will look with its surroundings once it gets home."

The painting, itself, only takes about a week. Herrider charges based on the size of the painting. She did a tiny pug for $75, and a 12x16 inch painting of two cats for $350. "I want it to be affordable," she says.

So which animals are hardest to paint?

"I think long-haired cats are pretty tough because of the combination of shadows, heavy texture and color variances," Herrider says. "Every one I paint starts out like a big, daunting puzzle. I love the challenge of it, though. And I'm pretty sure that painting long-haired cats has made me a more patient person."

Herrider works in acrylics – though she insists on mixing her own blacks – and describes her style as "semi-realistic."

"I don't like to go super hyper-realistic because I prefer not to be a perfectionist," she says. "I like to get into a painting and then just do weird little drips if I want, if I feel like that looks cool."

Herrider comes from a family of artists, and they inspired her as a child when she attended arts specialty schools. "That gave me a lot of basic knowledge and practice with painting and art in general," she says. "My parents and great-aunt, who were all artists, influenced and taught me, as well. I've never stopped painting and experimenting with art."

For now, Herrider's business is mostly from word-of-mouth and social media, and while Etsy is full of painters who will make you a picture of your cat from a photo, Herrider says she differentiates her business because she really gets to know the client and his or her animal – ideally in person.

"I prefer to work in a collaborative way with commissioned painting clients. I not only like to meet the pets or animals (when possible), but I like to get to know my clients so I have a good feel for their personalities and favorite styles."

This new business has kept Herrider busy, and while she still does corporate consulting on the side, pet portraiture is a full-time venture for her. Most of her work so far has been cats, dogs and horses, but Herrider looks forward to branching out.

"I love painting horses," she says. "I would like to do birds. I just don't want to do people."


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