Orange County artist’s portraits no longer just a pet project

Pet portraitist Tiffany Dnaka holds her rescue dog Finn, who appears in the image behind her left shoulder with her previous dog Moxey. The two dogs never met. Photo by Barbara McMurray

By Barbara McMurray, Special to the Independent

Earlier this month, Tiffany Dnaka received a crushing blow. After graduating with a master’s degree and working in her chosen field for two years advocating for college students with special needs, her employer let her go. Picking herself up and dusting herself off, she’s decided to focus her energies on what used to be a side gig—pet portraits.

It began the way many businesses do—with a search for a product that didn’t yet exist. “Moxey, my 17-year-old chihuahua had died,” the Dana Point resident said. “She was my constant companion from elementary to post-graduate school. I was heartbroken. Around the same time, a friend lost his dog and I wanted to give him a portrait to remember her by. I went to Etsy to find a specific style of pet portrait for him and found nothing that I liked. So, I decided I could do it myself.”

From a favorite photo, Dnaka uses a variety of computerized watercolor-effect programs to render affordable wall art on high-quality paper that looks like a painting. Her quick turnaround time and rapid delivery—often same-day—have earned her many fans. She will send a print to a customer but prefers to hand-deliver her work for a personal touch.

“I like to meet my clients in person and watch their faces when they first see the portrait I made for them,” she said.

Pet portraits, Dnaka said, make a great last-minute gift, noting that Christmas 2020 was her busiest. She has many repeat customers and has garnered numerous rave reviews on her Etsy page.

Dnaka donates a portion of her profits to area animal rescue organizations and will create for them winsome artwork to capture the notice of potential adoptive pet owners.

Dr. David A. Gordon of Arch Beach Veterinary Clinic is an admirer of Dnaka’s work. “In our waiting area, we display two of our patient’s portraits, a dog and a cat. The quality of Tiffany’s artwork grabs people’s attention. She’s struck upon a fun, affordable, artistic way to capture a pet’s personality.”

Dnaka is actively seeking more local businesses such as pet boutiques, groomers, and animal care offices willing to showcase her artwork. With her income being significantly affected by her job loss, she is intent on growing her pet portrait business.

“I always wanted to be in higher education, and I loved my role creating policy to help underrepresented people with special needs at the community college level,” she said. “But I’m disheartened by the system.”

She prefers now to create art, including happy fantasies. Her two-year-old rescue Finn, a miniature pinscher-chihuahua-terrier mix, is a subject of a portrait she created for herself, but it’s heavy on artistic license. Sitting beside Finn in the portrait is the late, great Moxey, who died before Finn was born.

“Pets are a huge part of our lives,” Dnaka said. “Losing them is hard. Like many of my customers, I wanted to honor my departed furry family member with a portrait.”To view Dnaka’s art, visit

Barbara is a Laguna Beach-based writer, communications, and marketing professional. Find her at

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