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Sharing the Joy Through Her Pet Portraits

I am an artist in the Bay Area and dog lover through and through, but my story begins and ends with a hamster!

Did you grow up without any dogs? Although I desperately yearned for one, I had to settle for Snowball, the hamster, who was a wonderful pet—but not quite what I had in mind. Finally, when I was an adult and living on my own in Sydney, Australia, I got my first puppy. A chocolate-brown, golden-eyed Australian Kelpie. (Working dogs that run around the back of sheep to round them up.) My companion! My love! We had countless adventures together, including the move back to the Bay Area. And, boy, was she was super smart. I could lay out eight toys and say, “Mila, go pick out so-and-so toy, and put it on the couch.” And she would. We spent 11 amazing years together before she died so out-of-the blue one night of a heart aneurysm.

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It broke my heart in ways I could not imagine. I was completely devastated at her loss. My friends had gotten together and hired an artist in LA to paint her portrait. When they gave it to me as a gift, I was so touched and surprised that I cried tears of joy! I hung it up at dog level to remind me of her. That’s when it dawned on me: I can do this! I can paint for other people, so they can remember their beloved pets. I can help spread the gift that pets bring into our lives.

It had been 20 years since I had picked up a paintbrush for the purpose of fine art. But I began to create heartfelt portraits for my friends and family. I started out doing dog portraits and soon realized that it combined both my passion for dogs and creating memorable art pieces. Soon I was getting requests for cats, squirrels, iguanas, and more. I made sure that I put love into every portrait—with the eyes being the most important part. After all, that is the window to one’s soul.

It made me incredibly happy to see the look on someone else’s face when they received their portrait. You see, I’ve always appreciated the special connection between a pet and their owner. All of those unspoken understandings, the smiles and unconditional love. Yes, unconditional love!!!

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My love of dogs carried over into other areas of my life, too. I’ve since worked at a pet store, volunteered many times at SFSPCA, walked dogs, attended pet parades, met dog costume contestants, and more. I am still a huge supporter of rescue organizations and donate my services to silent auctions often.

When my current dog, Baba Ghanouj, rescued me, I knew I found a new special true love. Mr. Ghanouj is, no joke, a magical guy. He is part unicorn, part Border Collie/Lab mix. I’ve never met a better muse, sidekick, or scratching post. He patiently sits with me when I paint, and has sweetly followed me from room to room for nine years now!

So, with the encouragement of my friends and family, this year, I am going public with my art. I would love to continue to paint the joy that pets bring to their owners and the world. I think it’s a special gift for any occasion; birthdays, memento, group gift, any holiday, or just because!

Daria Mace lives in Oakland’s Fruitvale neighborhood spends her free time raising her 4-year-old son, singing karaoke, and free-style dancing at any opportunity. Visit to see more of her artwork.

seek beauty, to find beauty

Daria’s Process

I start by finding the right photo (clear, detailed, and at dog’s-eye level). I find out about the dog’s personality and think about that as I paint. First, I outline the dog, then fill in the blocks of color. Next is the all important soulful eyes—my favorite part to paint.

These days, I am working with my laptop to see the photo. It sits next to my easel. I can zoom in if I need to and get details better. Quite a different approach to the traditional portrait paintings of long ago.

When the portrait of the animal is complete, I cut out the image and fix it onto a pre-prepared canvas for a stand-out collage look. My style for the background canvas is usually bright and bold—pop-art style. I’ve been known to glue down specialty papers or fabrics for added texture, too.

As a dog lover, I still can’t help but make commentary when I pass a dog on the street, like a mom to a baby, “Awwww, lookie at those gorgeous eyes! You are adoooorable!” Nor do I think I ever will. In the meantime, I know I will keep on painting that joy. Who knows, one day, maybe I will even get a chance to capture the love of a pet hamster on canvas, too!

To learn more about having Daria Mace create an acrylic pet portrait from your pet’s photo, call 415-596-1071 or visit her website. Prices range from $400 for 9 x 11 (typical size for cats) up to $775 for 24 x 30 (typical size for dogs).

—Daria Mace

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Main article photo by: Courtesy Daria Mace