Painting Pekingese Leads Pack of Animal Artists
Ziggy, a Pekingese dog, is one of a select pool of animals which enjoys painting. The Pekingese's art has been sold to raise money for various rescue organizations (Zootoo Pet News Photo by Victoria Lim)
Painting Pekingese Leads the Pack of Animal Artists: Inspiration to create art strikes 3-year-old Ziggy, but only if the mood is right. Yet this pooch is not the only artist in the animal kingdom. A pig, an orangutan and two seals also enjoy dabbling on canvas.
FALLBROOK, Calif. -- Some pets beg for a treat -- others take the more polite approach, simply sitting or staying when told to, hoping for a reward.
A few exceptional animals, though, try their paws at a unique way of pacifying -- and pleasing -- their handlers: They paint.
From seals to pigs, animals across the country are displaying their inner creativity, nearly bursting at the chance to get it onto a blank canvas. Or, according to some, the animals are simply trying to elicit praise from their owners, remaining oblivious to their art's potential significance.
Take 3-year-old Ziggy, a rescued Pekingese who lives in southern California. He can't always be moved to do so, but when Ziggy picks up the paint brush, he fully intends to leave his artistic mark, says his owner Elizabeth Monacelli.
When Ziggy was 1-year-old, Monacelli adopted him from a Palm Springs, Calif., breeder who also places rescued dogs in forever homes. Monacelli believes that painting is simply one of Ziggy's hobbies.
"For him, it's definitely therapeutic. It gets him in a relaxed state of mind and most of the time, I play Qigong music," Monacelli said of how she helps set the inspirational mood. "He does have an extremely artistic temperament compared to other dogs I own. It seems to mellow him out."
Using his teeth to grab the paint brush modified with a paper towel roll as a larger handle, Ziggy, with a little help from Monacelli, dips the bristles onto a paint pallet. Then, after he is placed on top of a drop cloth by a wall, near a blank canvas, Ziggy typically approaches the canvas.
He moves his head and smears, or "smooches," the paint against it, leaving a stroke mark.
On average, Ziggy accomplishes three strokes during his typical painting session. Monacelli says he has witnessed him do six strokes during particularly motivated days.
"It can be a pretty lengthy process," she noted.
But, like any other artist, Ziggy won't be rushed -- or forced -- to paint if he doesn't want to.
"He definitely needs to be inspired on the day he paints. Some days, he totally refuses to paint. He will not. And I can't force him," she said.
While Monacellli thinks Ziggy truly has a creative side, certified animal behaviorist Debra Horwitz, DVM says she believes apparently artistic animals are really enhancing their rapport with their owners and handlers, rather than embracing their inner Van Gogh.
"I can't say for sure they're creating art, but I do know they're creating a social environment that's engaging them with humans," Horwitz said.
She used an example of an elephant with a paint dipped trunk that splatters paint onto a surface and is rewarded with an orange. That positive reinforcement, Horwitz said, encourages the behavior to continue or repeat.
At the Brookfield Zoo, in Brookfield, Ill., a Pinto Yucatan Miniature Pig, named Pinto, frequently flaunts his creative side in his paintings, which are sold to the public.
Pinto uses his hooves and snout to mix primary colors in "innovative ways," according to the zoo's Web site.
Then, at the Pittsburgh Zoo and PPA Aquarium, in Pennsylvania, two sea lions named Maggie and Zoey tend to make big, colorful splashes outside their aquatic tank.
Eleven-year-old Maggie, though, only picks up the paintbrush when she is enticed by dead fish. It reportedly took her three months to become comfortable with picking up the paintbrush in her mouth; her sister, Zoey, also 11, is apparently more wary of the activity all together.
And in San Diego, there is Janey, an artistic Bornean Orangutan who likes to operate in a variety of mediums: She draws, paints and weaves, and even applies her own makeup.
Her paintings have also been auctioned at the San Diego Zoo, in order to raise money for great ape field research and conservation projects. Janey's paintings retail from $45 to $95, and can be viewed at ShopZoo.com.
The learning curve is not surprising, says Horwitz, who inferred that some animals may not want to perform in such a manner on command. She also said an animal's temperament and personality are factors in the trend.
"Not all animals will do everything," Horwitz said. "Some animals don't like to go outside when it's wet, so I'd assume they wouldn't like to paint with their paws."
Whatever the motivation behind his creations, Ziggy's art has also been auctioned off to raise money for various animal rescues, including ones specific to Pekingese dogs.
To see or purchase samples of Ziggy's work, visit ZiggyThePaintingPekingese.com.
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