Student finds success painting pets

Animal lovers looking to have their pet immortalized on canvas are in luck. Third-year University of King’s College student Haley MacLean has started a business called Paw Paints where she paints people’s pets on commission.

By Sarah MacMillan

Haley MacLean paints portraits of pets on commission.
Haley MacLean paints portraits of pets on commission. (Sarah MacMillan/Peninsula News)

Animal lovers looking to have their pet immortalized on canvas are in luck. Third-year University of King’s College student Haley MacLean has started a business called Paw Paints where she paints people’s pets on commission.

“People and their pets,” says MacLean, “you know, they’ll pay money for just a little keepsake of them.”

MacLean officially launched the Paw Paints website last month, but has been commissioning paintings since January.

She painted throughout her adolescence and took IB art while attending Citadel High School. After attending Nocturne in October, she was inspired to start painting again, so she painted a dalmatian “just kind of for fun.” When her aunt, Emily Haynes, saw the painting, she asked MacLean if she could paint a portrait of her dog.

“I’ve seen a lot of paintings of people’s pets and I always thought they were really wonderful, and it was just the right timing when I saw that Haley was doing them,” says Haynes. “She really captures the personality of the dogs in her paintings, which is what makes them really special.”

Pretty soon, MacLean’s business was taking off.

“All of a sudden like, my mom had a couple friends who wanted their dogs done. And then after that it just kind of grew,” says MacLean.

Her process

MacLean begins her portraits by painting the background. She has several paintings that she has done for her own collection.
MacLean begins her portraits by painting the background. She has several paintings that she has done for her own collection. (Sarah MacMillan/Peninsula News)

MacLean works on her paintings in the evenings, usually devoting an hour or two after finishing her classes for the day. She says that she is generally able to complete one commission per week.

“Usually dogs that are long haired dogs take a little bit more time just because there’s more layers that you have to do. But each painting takes somewhere between five and eight hours.”

She says that the eyes are both the most important and most difficult part of a painting.

“I leave it till very last but you know if you mess up the eyes it doesn’t even look like a dog anymore, let alone the dog that I’m trying to paint in the picture. So, sometimes I’ll have to play around with the eyes after I’m done if it doesn’t look quite right, but usually, once I get the eyes right then the whole painting seems to come together.”

MacLean has always loved animals but says that she has begun to look at them in a different way.

“Now I’ll look at a dog and I’ll look at the different colours in its face and stuff like that so it’s pretty funny cause I’m just so used to staring at a picture of a dog for so long and having to paint it onto a canvas, so now it’s like dogs have this fun new way that they catch my eye now, if they have like a nice colouring or something like that.”

MacLean describes the trouble with eyes: (runs: 26 seconds) 

MacLean has completed over a dozen commissions so far. Her portraits, which she does with acrylic paints, are available on 8×10, 10×10 or 9×12 canvases, with prices ranging from $100 to $140.

While she says she’s open to painting other animals, her commissions have included two cats and the rest have been of dogs.

The power of social media

MacLean put up posters on and around the King’s campus, but says that she has gotten the most attention through Instagram, the popular image sharing app, where she posts progression photos of her paintings and images of her final products.

MacLean has accumulated over 600 Instagram followers.

“It grows a bit each day. I probably get about 10 or 20 a day,” says MacLean. “It’s been really fun and getting followers like that is always really exciting just for your work.”

Through Instagram, MacLean has connected with other artists who do similar work in different cities.

“A few of them, I’ll post a picture and they’ll comment underneath something they really like, or they’ll even direct message me giving me a tip about something,” says MacLean. “For instance, now I paint the background first because a fellow artist told me that’s the best way to be able to go outside the lines a bit.”

MacLean has completed over a dozen commissions so far. (Photo courtesy of Haley MacLean)
MacLean has completed over a dozen commissions so far. (Photo courtesy of Haley MacLean)

MacLean explains what Instagram means for her business: (runs: 43 seconds) 

Her inspiration

Much of MacLean’s inspiration has come from family members. Her grandmother is a painter and taught MacLean many of the technical aspects of painting.

Her brother is the founder of East Coast Lifestyle, a popular local clothing company.

“I got a lot of inspiration from my brother just for business starting,” says MacLean. “After seeing him do so well with that, and he’s just so excited about it, I kind of wanted to start something of my own. I didn’t plan on this being it, but it just kind of formed into that after a while.”

Though she is just getting started with her business, MacLean has already arranged to have her portraits exhibited. Seven of her paintings will be on display at Coburg Coffee by the end of next week.