Work of Heart

Pet portrait artist Melissa Vandiver invites you to celebrate your beloved pet in true New Orleans fashion — dressed to impress.



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AT NO TIME IN RECENT HISTORY HAVE PEOPLE been spending more time with their pets than now. And what better way to commemorate the companionship our furry friends provide than with a commissioned portrait?

Local painter Melissa Vandiver brings a unique sense of whimsy matched with artistic skill to the creation of one-of-a-kind pet portraits. From her home studio in the Irish Channel, Vandiver, who has lived in New Orleans since 2007, has worked as both a children’s book illustrator and pet artist for the past eight years.

A self-proclaimed “dog person,” Vandiver’s pet portrait career started has kind of a happy accident.

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“Years ago, a friend did me a favor, and as a thank you, I painted her dog in a gown and pearls because I knew she’d love it. People kept seeing that painting and asking her about it, and so I started painting more and more people’s pets in costumes or specific settings,” she said.

Vandiver’s collection stands out from many pet portraits because she includes cheeky portraits of cats and dogs in various costumes, from astronauts to Queen Victoria. Inspiration for each pet portrait is different, with client interaction and the personality of the pet themselves determining the direction of the painting.

“The paintings are a collaboration between me and the client,” Vandiver said. “Sometimes people do not want any part of the creative process and want me to come up with everything. In that case, I try to get a sense of the personality of the pet or the owner.”

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The painting process time varies depending on the pet, the complexity of the portrait and other details, but each portrait takes approximately 14 hours to complete. Vandiver said she is able to complete two to four each month, with the number spiking in the fall and Christmas season to 12 or more. Pricing depends on the size and number of animals painted and starts at $350 for one animal on an 11-inch-by-14- inch canvas. Social media and word of mouth have been Vandiver’s main source of clients and referrals. Her sales are almost exclusively commissions.

Client reactions are a big part of the payoff for Vandiver, and while she mostly paints dogs and cats, she said she’d love to expand her menagerie portfolio.

“I don’t know who this client is, but I would love to do a big family portrait for someone who just has a bunch of different animals,” she said. “I’ve done a couple pigs, but other than that, only dogs and cats. I’d like to get some chickens and lizards and snakes and everything in the mix,” she said.


Melissa Vandiver Art on Facebook
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Americans love their pets and are willing to put their money where their heart is.

44% amount of increase in spending on pets between 2013 and 2018

$87 BILLION was spent on pets in the U.S. in 2018.

Americans spent more money on their pets in 2018 than on: Fresh fruit and vegetables; Alcohol; Meat; Water; and Medicinal drugs.


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