As many of us can attest, career paths are rarely straightforward anymore. But even for those who have come to expect twists and turns, the people, places, and things we encounter along the way can still change our trajectories in surprising ways. For artist Nicole Momaney, it was tiny, bejewelled, cast metal animal figurines that forced her to recognize her passion for critters and ultimately led her to the world of pet portraiture, a perfect, if unplanned for, vocation for a multitalented artist with a love of nature and animals.

After graduating with a BFA in Illustration from the Massachusetts College of Art in 2000, Momaney moved to Brooklyn and began working at Jay Strongwater, maker of said bedazzled handcrafted marvels, where she designed and painted his much soughtafter Swarovski crystal encrusted pieces. Following her four years in the Big Apple, Momaney relocated to LA, but knew that the passion she’d developed for painting animals would have to find another outlet. A friend’s recounting of a successful pet painter with a studio in the West Village was all it took to prompt further research into this idyllic craft, and soon after Momaney’s portrait studio, Painted Pet Menagerie, was born.

Momaney’s passion for painting flora and fauna was first sparked as a child growing up on the edge of protected marshland. Her time spent in the woods “catching salamanders” and exploring the world existing beyond her fence undoubtedly influenced her desire to connect with nature through art. This may also have led to her fascination with taxidermy, which is reflected in select pieces. Momaney hopes to incorporate oceanic skeletal imagery in an upcoming painting, more specifically, dried coral “bones, ” explaining, “Ernst Haeckel’s renderings are a perfect example of what I imagine.”

Her process begins with an excess of photographs and personal details of her animal subject(s) including nicknames, favourite treats or, in some cases, favourite pajamas. On average, she’ll devote 25 to 35 hours on each painting, a large portion of that time spent focused on the subject’s face, the crux of any successful portrait. Influences as diverse as Momaney’s self-proclaimed hero, Walton Ford, a painter of large scale watercolours in the manner of Audubon’s naturalist illustrations, and Art Nouveau-era painter Alphonse Mucha, whose ornate backgrounds have echoes in some of her work, have coalesced into a style all her own.

Commissions from $300, visit