Abstract Artist’s Pet Portraits Raise Spirits for Fans and Cash for Shelters

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Like many of us, Ed Attanasio found his source of comfort during the pandemic in pets. Not his own pets, but other people’s pets—more than 1,500 of them. These furry companions ranged from the usual cats and dogs to birds, lizards, goats, pigs, chickens, horses—even a llama. His portraits of these animals have delighted thousands of people and resulted in thousands of dollars in donations to animal rescue groups.

Attanasio, from Castro Valley, California, is a self-employed marketing writer. He’d taken up drawing on 3 x 3-inch Post-It notes in 2009 while recovering from a stroke. This artistic sideline led to projects like Bushers, an illustrated book about old-time baseball.

When Attanasio’s writing business slowed down in the early months of the pandemic he turned to his artwork again. His idea was to entertain a friend’s house-bound family with a pet portrait done in his distinctive 3 x 3-inch format.

“My friend told me his two kids were going crazy staying at home,” he says. “So I drew their dog, a little Boston Terrier.”

Examples of Attansio’s mini pet portraits.

Picasso of the Pandemic

Attanasio’s first pet portrait, however, was panned. His friend’s young daughter, seeing the picture, got upset.

“She said, ‘My dog’s not blue!’” the artist recalls with a chuckle. “Then her brother told her, ‘This is abstract art. Ed is like Picasso.’”

Embracing his role as the pet “Picasso of the Pandemic,” Attanasio posted to Facebook that he would draw anyone’s pet and mail the portrait to them—as long as they made a contribution to the pet rescue of their choice.

“I suggested $50,” he recalls. “But it was completely up to them.”

People sent him photos of their pets and Attanasio transformed them into drawings in his bold, colorful style. At one point, two cat parents created an Amazon shopping list where people could purchase art supplies for him. One morning, a delivery truck pulled up filled with paper, markers, and other supplies.

In February of this year, Attanasio’s pandemic pet project captured national media attention. When the portraits were featured on a segment of the show Live with Kelly and Ryan, people all over the country contacted him, wanting a pet portrait.

“I got about 1300 messages in two hours,” says Attanasio. “I’m still drawing pets from those requests, more than two months later.”

Attanasio mails out the original artwork (mounted on foam core) and then posts the images on his website, My 3×3 World. He’s done portraits of pets from 26 countries.

“They send me the picture and I use colored pencils and black ink and I channel that pet,” he says. When people receive the signed artwork, they often send back a picture of the artwork in their home.

“My big treat is when they take a picture of the art with the pet,” he says. “Some of those are just priceless.”

Attanasio can typically turn out four pet portraits in an hour, but he notes that certain types of dogs present a challenge. “I have difficulty with super-hairy and super-cute pets,” he says. “It can take an hour to get one of those just right.”

Ed Attanasio

Art for Pets’ Sake

As far as donations go, Attanasio’s work has brought in money for more than 200 rescue groups. When people don’t know where to send their donation, he suggests Muttville Senior Dog Rescue in San Francisco. Attanasio says one pet parent made a contribution of $1000, which floored and delighted the artist.

“That made me feel good,” Attanasio remembers. He’s even acquired a protege, a woman who is doing a similar art-for-rescues project in Canada.

When it comes to pets, Attanasio knows whereof he speaks. He loves cats and dogs and has worked extensively with pets—he even worked as a Rover pet sitter in the Bay Area. Attanasio has volunteered for rescues and written about therapy pets.

Fortunately, Attanasio’s main writing business is reviving, post-pandemic. He is delighted that one of his new clients is a group with a mission close to his heart: pet rescue. Oscar’s Place is a sanctuary and adoption center for donkeys in Mendocino County.

“I’ve discovered that donkeys are like big dogs,” Attanasio says. “They’re smart, and they just love being petted.”

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