It all started with one kitty nose surrounded by 27 delicate whiskers: a mission rooted in the inspiration of one grey kitty named Jake, affectionately known as Greyboy.
What it became, however, was a calling to carry on his legacy and help others heal through something beautiful even in the darkest and most tumultuous times.
Although I suppose that for southern California pet photographer and printmaker extraordinaire Mandi Pratt, it was inevitable, formed from the two loves of her life: animals and art, both of which she believes have an incredibly healing, therapeutic energy.
Guided by Greyboy
Greyboy was Mandi’s faithful and constant companion, a “grounding force” for her during life’s most chaotic and difficult times.
When he passed, Mandi realized more than ever the effect that his presence had on her world, the importance of always wanting to remember him, and a longing to capture the happiness and gratitude for the years they shared with one another every time she saw his face immortalized as artwork on her walls.
Greyboy led her to pet photography … and a place she could have never imagined on her own.
“I was a graphic designer for over a decade and therefore photography came naturally to me since I was trained to have an eye for composition,” says Mandi, who eventually dropped the design services and focused solely on offering photography. “In 2011, I began only offering pet photography of very loved pets and their people.”
In her role as a pet photographer over the past decade, Mandi has seen firsthand the relationship between pets and their people as a lifeline.
“We all hear that pets are therapy, but what I have witnessed and the stories I have heard are amazing ones of hope and love. As we all know, especially in the past few years, [our pets] really have saved us emotionally.”
With a little help from Grammy
In 2015, at the suggestion of her Grammy, Mandi expanded her pet photography business to include her signature pet etchings.
“She heard me saying that my pet photography clients were asking if I could do something special with the photos they had taken of their past pets. Grammy was a printmaker herself and got me intrigued to go learn from a few master printmakers.”
Grammy lent Mandi her printing press, which Mandi still uses today through a truly handmade process, which along with her attention to detail, elevates her artwork well above the countless digitally created products and other pet print options available online.
“They take me at least an hour to make, then they dry overnight and I sign and mat the art the next day. They are packaged beautifully to delight!” shares Mandi. “People say the etchings have a depth to them that goes beyond a printed photo.”
She elaborates on this meticulous process, explaining that these etchings are technically intaglio prints, produced using a metal plate to essentially sink the image below the surface.
Mandi can use any in-focus photo but recommends one that shows the animal’s cute face clearly. She can retouch any background distractions to remove them entirely to draw the eye directly to your pet.
“I start with an in-focus photo that a client sends me. I fine-tune the image and print to a transparency. I then burn the image onto a light-sensitive metal plate and ink the plate. Excess ink is wiped off and the plate is then paired with dampened fine art paper,” she reveals. “They are pressed together through Grammy’s printing press to reveal an adorable furry face printed into an artful memory to last a lifetime!”
A love etched in the heart
“It’s an honor to help my clients remember their very favorite living being on this planet long after they are gone,” says Mandi, who creates these handmade etchings for both pet parents and pet photographers who want to offer a unique handmade option to enjoy their portraits. “Interestingly, oftentimes with the etchings, I am creating a keepsake for a pet that has passed.”
The appeal of these memorial-style pieces is what prompted Mandi to add one of her more personalized options to her offerings.
“I discovered from my own Greyboy that I could include just a teeny tiny portion of his cremation ashes in the ink of his etching. That evolved into my Complete Keepsake Etchings, which also include a paw print and possibly a kitty or dog tag, even a lock of fur,” Mandi explains. “(These are) not usually ordered as a gift, but ordered directly from the pet parent who has said goodbye to a companion.
“I knew I would appreciate one piece of art to hold all the memories versus having a shelf full of separate mementos, such as a plastic holder for fur, paw print impression mold, etc. I made a Complete Keepsake Etching of my crusty, old, smelly Min Pin Chi mix feral dog I had rescued (aren’t seniors the best?!) after he passed so I could have one special keepsake to remember him by.”
Mandi’s most popular etching remains the small custom etching in an 8×10 mat, which she says is popular for gifting.
And while many of us are used to seeing “dog nose art” on our windows, Mandi takes that concept to a whole new level with her limited edition pre-made mini etching that can be personalized with a pet’s name.
“The little mini nose art etchings were created to be able to offer a little thinking-of-you gift, either for a client or for me to gift. I have multiple dog breed noses, such as a Frenchie, pittie, golden retriever, Chihuahua, and more, and of course, one kitty nose and one of kitty paws.”
Lessons in loss and love
With an obvious love for older animals, I had to know what it is about senior pets that makes them so dear to Mandi’s heart.
“I adore them because they seem like wise old souls with so much love to give. They are so appreciative of a warm, cozy place to live out their last years and they deserve that!”
To help senior pet guardians with the care and often unbearable loss of their sugar-faced companions, Mandi also offers a fantastic two-page PDF available from her website.
“(This PDF) is specifically for giving the best possible care to our senior pets and also includes resources for pet loss,” an experience she personally had this past year following the passing of her Lab/Shepherd gal, Willow, from cancer.
“I had learned so much about caring for her and then finding resources to help me grieve and remember her.”
Another lesson she’s learned through the loss of Willow and the stunning portraits she creates for fellow pet guardians?
“People just want comfort—through photos and handmade art. We know our loved companions won’t be able to go on a full life journey with us, so we want to somehow treasure them all we can now and remember them forever!”
Purchase an etched pet portrait
To order an etching for yourself or as a gift, Mandi welcomes you to visit her website, www.greyboypetportraits.com.
To see more of Mandi’s beautiful work, follow her on Instagram at @greyboypetportraits and on Facebook.
Jessica Wasik is the award-winning photographer of Bark & Gold Photography, focused on celebrating the joy and love between Pittsburgh pets and their people with natural, expressive images captured through small moments in time. Through timeless portraits and luxury products to fill your home and heart, she transforms the ordinary into the extraordinary to tell your story your way. To learn more, visit www.barkandgoldphotography.com.
Mandi, I appreciate you sharing your story and beautiful etchings with us! I know many senior pet parents and those seeking a special gift for the holidays will just love these!
Thank you, Jessica! These are so fun to craft and I love meeting each pet companion and hearing all about them!
I can only imagine the equally beautiful stories behind each!
Beautiful work! Thanks for sharing some of Mandi’s story, Jes!
Thanks, Angela! I love learning more about the pets that led others to their calling.
Great post Jessica, Mandi, what a wonderful keepsake.
Aren’t these beautiful! I think they’re something every pet parent should consider; they are truly a very special way to memorialize our pets!