Pet Portraits: Florida artist creates amazing pet mosaics


Florida artist Jennifer Dempsey never expected to find herself doing a hobby business creating pet portraits. But that’s exactly what Motley Mosaics has become, thanks to the power of social media.

Jennifer Dempsey worked for many years for the Oklahoma Association of Electric Cooperatives, where part of her job was to serve as tour guide around Washington, D.C. for high school juniors each summer as part the Youth Tour program, which explains why she’s known as “Spike Momma” to thousands across the country.

Once she and her husband Ben retired in 2015, they moved to Gulf Shores, Ala. before moving to southwest Florida. Besides perfecting her artistic skills, she also enjoys trying new seafood restaurants and spending time with her grandkids.

Dog O’Day: How and when did you start doing pet mosaics, and what attracted you to that medium?

Dempsey: “I started doing mosaics right at a year ago, in August 2017. I had always been interested in them and when a neighbor showed me some she had made after taking a class, I decided I wanted to do them, too.

“I found about a thousand dollars’ worth of mosaic supplies on Craigslist for $100 and got started. I have never taken a class, I just started doing it.

“I created about 40 different mosaics in the first three months, mostly coasters, wall hangings and suncatchers. Some were abstract, some had designs like starfish or flowers. I went to a couple art shows and learned I didn’t much like manning a booth, even though I enjoyed visiting with people. So I gave away the ones I had made to that point, and decided it wasn’t worth trying to sell them.

“In January one of my closest friends lost her dear little dog Pete, who had been her companion for 17 years. I wanted to do more for her than just send a condolence card, so I figured I would try to mosaic Pete. I’d never considered doing pet portraits before.

“I completed him in February. When I posted a picture of the mosaic Pete on my Facebook, within an hour I had two requests from others asking if I could do mosaics for them. Both requests came from former Youth Tourians, which made it impossible for me to say no. So I told them I’d try, and we’d figure out payment based on how well they turned out. That’s pretty much how I got started.

“And why mosaics? I’m not very artistic at all – I can’t even draw stick figures. I have never even been tempted to pick up a paintbrush, but I’ve always loved mosaics. I had no idea I’d be able to paint with glass.”

What is involved in the process of creating a mosaic, and how long does it take to create one?

“I think patience is the No. 1 thing you need when doing a mosaic because they are incredibly time-consuming. I can get lost doing one and before I know it eight hours have passed, and I’m all stiff. So now I limit myself to working on them three hours at a time. I probably spend about 18 hours over a couple weeks doing each piece, but I’ve never really kept track.

“I cut every piece of glass, fit them together and glue each piece down. The mosaics I do are glass-on-glass, and I use the glass of the frame as the substrate (that’s the term for the background). I start with pieces of colored glass and pieces from sheets I’ve used before to choose the appropriate colors for the pet I’m working on. Since there’s a bunch of shark teeth on the beach here, I’ve started adding a shark tooth to each background as my signature.

“I always start with the eyes on a pet portrait, because I figure if I can get them right, everything else will fall into place. I think capturing the eyes is what makes each pet portrait seem so personal.

“Once the dog is finished, I complete the background and wait 24 hours for the glue to dry before grouting the piece. I usually use different colors of grout to add depth – black around the nose and eyes, gray for the background and whatever color the dog’s fur is.

“Once grouted and dried for another 24 hours, the piece goes into the frame and is complete.”

Did you set out to do pets exclusively, or was it one of those things that just happens?

“I never expected to do so many pet portraits. I seriously thought the one of Pete I did for my friend would be it. People love their animals, and they’ve kept me busy!”

Since you started, how many portraits have you done?

“I just completed my eleventh dog, and I’ve done one cat. I have two dogs waiting on me, and I just received two more orders last night. Most of the portraits have been for people I know, but two have been from strangers who saw my work on Facebook.”

Which is your favorite piece you’ve worked on, and why?

“It’s difficult to pick a favorite because they’re all so different. Pete will always be a favorite because I love his owner so much, and being able to do that for her felt really good. But I’ve definitely improved over time, and I do love how closely some of them match their reference photos. I think each one I do becomes my new favorite.”

Have you always been an animal person? If so, would you mind talking a little bit about some of the favorite pets you’ve known? 

“I’ve always loved animals, but I’ve owned more cats than dogs myself. I did have two black Chows who were my all-time favorite dogs. We had Sheba for eight years, and Shadow for 13, which was about three years longer than our vet predicted.

“Losing them was so difficult, it makes me feel really good whenever I do a mosaic for someone who’s lost their beloved pet. I love it that it helps them hold on to their pet forever.”

For more information on Jennifer’s mosaics, visit Motley Mosaics‘ Facebook page.

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