If you take your pet to Sacramento Animal Hospital on H Street, you’re probably familiar with the adorable brightly colored animal portraits that decorate the treatment rooms.
They are the works of multi-talented East Sacramento artist Nikki Solone, who has been making art for as long as she can remember, but got turned onto her biggest creative niche—pet portraits—almost by accident.
“I painted a portrait of my mom’s dog, Garbo, after Garbo passed away,” says Solone, who is nursing her newborn daughter while we talk. “It was so important to my mom that she could still be greeted by her dog every day that I realized I wanted to do this for other people.”
Solone was no stranger to the fulfillment she got from painting beloved pets. At 15, she gifted her grandmother a portrait of a favorite cat. The process of painting two family dogs as a Christmas present convinced Solone to declare studio art as her major at Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts. But it wasn’t until the portrait of Garbo made such an indelible emotional impact that she decided to see where this passion for painting pets could take her.
The painter plastered Portland, Ore., (where she was living at the time) with flyers for her “pet pawtraits.” They caught the eye of the owner of a local vet hospital, who invited Solone to paint the clinic cat. If she liked the result, she would commission the artist to do six more portraits in time for the completion of the clinic remodel—in just two months.
Solone’s response? She quit her day job as a courier on the off chance she would get the commission (which she did) and has never looked back.
Since moving to Sacramento to be closer to family, Solone has made a name for herself as both a pet portraitist and muralist. She helped the Sacramento SPCA raise more than $60,000 over the course of six years by auctioning off her original artwork at its annual fundraising gala. Her large indoor murals can be found in several of Sutter Health’s pediatric areas, as well as at Dignity Health in Rocklin and Sacramento Animal Hospital.
Clearly, Solone is about more than just pet portraits—especially if her project for last year’s Sac Open Studios is any indication. For her first time participating in the event—in which more than 250 area artists open their studios to curious neighbors and patrons—Solone decided to do a community art project in addition to displaying her paintings, many of which are inspired by world travels.
“It sounded much more fun to invite the public to paint with me than to show them how I paint,” Solone says on her blog, which chronicles her artistic adventures. “I wanted people to have an opportunity to experience what it was like to stand in front of a canvas with paint and brush in hand, deciding where to make their mark of self-expression. The thought of many people working on a single canvas ignited something within me.”
When her “brilliant” wife suggested turning one of Solone’s paintings of the Statue of Liberty into a community art piece, the artist leapt at the idea. She made a sketch for visitors to follow (or not) with the provided paint. The end result—a vibrant canvas bursting with color and movement—is titled “What Color is Your Freedom?”
“I had no idea how it would turn out or if people would even show up,” Solone admits. “But 150 people came! I’m so moved by the power of community and what can happen when we work together.”
Solone plans to do another community art project and continue working through her queue of pet portrait commissions—once she gets back to painting. For now, she’s hard at work on her greatest project yet: newborn daughter Vidilia Rose, named after a beloved friend from Cuba.
“I can’t wait to see how my creativity changes now that my daughter is here,” Solone says.