“So, why did you decide to paint pets?” she asked.

As I began to formulate my answer, I realized something amazing. No one had ever asked me that before.

And now, a little story.

Me, my little brother Tucker, and Murphy hanging out in our back yard many years ago. I think the words "awkward" and "adorable" just about sum it up.

Growing up, my family had an over-sized and goofy golden retriever. I’m sure you’ve heard me talk about him before. One summer when I was about 11, my whole extended family (including my 8 cousins) took a big camping trip to Baker Lake, nestled in the mountains of Washington State. Baker Lake was stunning, and it took us cousins all of 2 minutes to throw on our swimsuits and dive in. Murphy, of course, was not going to be left behind. But instead of enjoying the water and sunshine, Murphy began a strange ritual. First, he’d swim right up to me and stare me in the face. Then he’d turn around and start hitting me with his tail. And repeat. Finally, out of frustration, I grabbed hold.

Murphy quickly pulled me back to shore.

Once I was safely on land, he dove right back in and headed for the next kid. And he didn’t rest until all 10 of us stood dripping wet and bemused on the sandy shore of Baker Lake.

Since we adopted Murphy when he was three, we never did figure out if this instinct was in his blood or from his training. All we knew was that he considered it his personal responsibility to keep us all land-bound. Really, to keep us all safe.

So, why do I paint pets?

I can’t say for sure, since my answer seems to be ever-changing. Maybe it’s because I’ve always seen our dogs and cats as beacons of authenticity and unconditional love. Maybe it’s because I can’t get enough of their perked ears, expressive eyebrows, wagging tails, and lolling tongues. Maybe it’s because, as I’ve painted them one-by-one, I’ve learned so much about beauty, humor, being an artist, and living my own life in a more authentic way. Cheesy? Yes. 100% true? Absolutely.

In this spirit, today I am announcing a new blog challenge:

I am going to paint (and document) 350 pet portraits, one paw at a time. And you’ll find the whole journey right here on my blog. This will take me a while — years, for sure — but I’m in it for the long haul.

Why 350 pet portraits?

Because I think I have at least 350 things to learn before I’m done. Things to learn about the subtleties of painting fur. Things to learn about what it means to adopt a pet into my family. Things to learn about patience, authenticity, devotion, and honesty.

And things to learn about being an artist.

Would you like your pet to be part of the journey? Just send me a note – I’d love to hear from you.

In the meantime, be sure to sign up for my weekly newsletter. You’ll get an inside look at the paintings I make, the pets I meet, and the peculiarities of being a pet portrait artist. Plus, I’ll send you freebies, discounts, and first peeks reserved just for newsletter subscribers.