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Local business spotlight: Midwest Pet Painting

When Kara Berhow’s husband was deployed, she found herself with extra time on her hands. Always an animal lover, she decided to paint a portrait of a friend’s dog.

She posted it on Twitter and received an avalanche of requests from people wanting her to paint their pets, too.

“Being a Web designer, I threw up a little blog to see if this would gain any interest and within a month, I had two dozen orders. So I just kept going and from there; it blew up,” she said.

While Berhow attends a few special events each year, most of her orders reach her via email.

“The local pet expo is a big one for me. I was there last year and will be again this year. I also have stuff in a new little shop, Three Wagging Tails, in Urbandale, and in Canine Craze in Clive,” she said.

Berhow spoke with The Des Moines Register about her business.

Q: How do you paint a pet portrait?

A: I paint them from a photograph of a pet. Sometimes, people will bring me their dog, because they want me to meet them. I love that, because I love animals. But most of the time, they email me their photos and I paint from there.

Q: What pets have you painted?

A: I’ve done everything from a parrot to a rabbit. Most orders are for dogs and cats, but I’ll paint anything.

Q: What is your turnaround?

A: I usually have a two-week window to work on a painting, although at Christmastime, I have a month to two months to get approximately 40 orders cranked out. However, if someone has a tight turnaround on their end, I can usually accommodate that.

Q: Who are your customers?

A: I receive a lot of gift requests. Some people also have this done after their pet has passed away as a way to remember them. Most people are so excited to see their painting.

Q: What pets do you have?

A: We foster dogs — I’m the crazy dog lady. I also have four dogs — two pit bull mixes, one Chihuahua with her own Facebook page and a lapso apso with one eye that was rescued from a meth lab. I have a funny mix of dogs.

Q: What do you love about painting?

A: As a graphic designer, I’m constantly doing the things that people want done in a certain way. But with my painting, I get to be creative on my own. Animals are my passion, so to combine pets with art, it’s not work for me. It’s so much fun. I also enjoy that quiet time after everyone’s gone to bed or early before they wake up.

Midwest Pet Painting

LOCATED: Des Moines

HOURS: By appointment

BUSINESS HISTORY: Kara Berhow started her business a couple of years ago.

CONTACT:, 515-344-0032,, also on Facebook.

Midwest Pet Paintings in the Des Moines Register


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Kara Berhow, 24, of Midwest Pet Paintings, makes a sketch of her dogs Toby and Thumper in Urbandale. / Eric Rowley/Juice
Kara Berhow, 24, of Midwest Pet Paintings, makes a sketch of her dogs Toby and Thumper in Urbandale. / Eric Rowley/Juice

Why you should know her: Berhow is a graphic designer and project manager at Webspec Design. She is also an artist who has specialized in pet portraits since 2010. From a photo of a favorite pet, she creates a one-of-a-kind piece of art. (Go to

I have: A Bichon Frise named Toby, a Lhasa Apso named Thumper, two cats named June and Blondie and a rabbit named Sandy.

An artists that inspires me: I have a Henri Matisse print that I absolutely adore. He was one artist who was able to capture what is real without having to be exact.

I would describe my artistic style as: A fusion of realism and expressionism. I understand the importance of capturing the essence of my subjects, while giving the work a touch of color, life, visual interest and fervor.

To unwind, I like to: I am mom to a very active 4-year-old, so there is not much unwinding that happens in my free time. I do enjoy reading and taking walks with my family. I am also a strong believer in retail therapy.

Favorite Des Moines watering hole:Bombay Bicycle Club. It is a great place to just chill out and maybe shoot some pool. I am a lover of all things beer, so when downtown, I am an el Bait Shop fan.

What I’m looking forward to in 2012: I am working to get some of my art into some really great local shops. I am starting a series of paintings that feature shelter animals and include their stories.






Shop Spotlight v4: Midwest Pet Paintings

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Tell us about your business.

I have been searching for some time to find the appropriate supplement to my career (as a graphic designer) that would appease my need to create. My lifelong love for animals, and talent for painting led me to a pretty obvious choice: Pet paintings! I have started to build up a personal collection of these creations and I am excited to offer them to the public. I create portraits of your favorite pet on canvas with primarily acrylic as the medium. I have done many smaller paintings that work well for people on a budget, and more and more I am able to work on some larger pieces to fit a custom area in the client’s home. I truly revere every animal I have ever met, so it has been so fun for me to get to see photos and hear the stories of the pets that have touched other people’s lives. The best part is helping to honor those animals who are a real part of people’s families.

How did you start your business and when?

I started the business 2010 when my husband was deployed in Afghanistan. One evening after my daughter was asleep I had the urge to create, and I was on facebook and noticed a stunning photo of my friend’s boston terrier. I have traditionally been a abstract artist, but I thought I would give painting an animal subject a try. I had so much fun painting the dog that I stayed up and just kept going. I set up a website shortly after that, and to my surprise I started getting orders! The business has taken off in the past 4 months, and I have really enjoyed every minute of it!

Why do you think customers should shop local?

I think that with purchasing custom art, the best part is being able to meet the artist and actually have them personally give you the art. The personal connection of meeting the people I am creating the art for is really inspiring to me. There are some obvious benefits such as stimulating our local economy, which is important, but I find that the benefit of knowing that you can call or stop by if you need anything is pretty neat. I have a mentality as well, that if my client isn’t happy, then I am most definitely not happy– I have found with many of the local stores in Des Moines that they have the same mindset. Local business owners work very hard for their business and are truly passionate about what they do, making it so fun to support them as a consumer.

Does your business provide any special services to customers?

Absolutely, as everything I do is completely custom. I find it is beneficial to be able to have a phone call, series of emails ,or meeting before starting any piece. I will work with my customer to make sure they are getting exactly what they had in mind. I also can paint on any surface, I have an old window that is waiting for me to paint a cat in it!

What do you think sets you apart from other similar businesses?

I think that my niche of pet paintings is something that has definitely been done, so I am striving to offer exemplary customer service and quality at an affordable price. I do a custom quote for every piece, and I want to make sure that what I create is something that not only will be cherished for years, but is also based on a price-point that is reasonable for each individual. The reason I really pushed to get my business going was because I heard from a lot of people, that they would love a painting… but they just cant afford it! I am working hard to change that thought process by working with the customer to find a way to create something they will love and can afford. I truly do love animals and creating this art, and I have found with my past dealings with business owners that is it a lot more fun to work with someone who adores what they do.

What do you think the benefits are for selling online? Have you thought of opening up a brick and mortar shop?

Online is something that is definitely a great way to get started, the cost of putting an item up online is very low, which allows me to keep my prices low. I often miss that personal connect of actually meeting the person that I am creating the art for, but at this point that has been my only negative point. I absolutely have a dream of opening a physical shop, I think that every artist does. I think that a great fit would be to open a small studio that maybe also sells fun pet gifts and supplies. I would adore the ability to interact with customers every day who share the same interests as I do.

Tell me about some of your favorite portraits you’ve done.

Although my pet menagerie features two small fluffy pups I have a soft spot for the bully breeds. Their faces are so soulful and tell a million stories. Any portrait that I get to do of any of those breeds is always fun! My favorites have been gifts that people have ordered for significant others or family members. It is so fun to get that follow up email or call letting me know how much they loved it.


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