Samm Epstein has been painting her entire life. The 31-year-old from New Jersey focuses her art on animals, wildlife and the essence of life. But beyond her vivid portraits, she's dedicating her artwork towards animal advocacy through an interactive community painting.
"I try to do as much as I can to use my artistic skills to fundraise for animal causes, and I'm very passionate about animal rescue," Epstein said.
The "ARTrepenur," as she calls herself, envisions a large canvas assembled by the faces of pets and animals from the Gainesville community. She advertised her project on Instagram in an effort for pet owners to see their rescued animals as her brushstrokes.
All Epstein requires is a minimum donation of $25 to an animal rescue or shelter, the pet’s story and a picture for reference. Customers can request to have pets be a part of the painting once they show proof of a donation.
"So far, I have 19 pets included in the painting and still have room for more," Epstein said. "The painting has raised over $400 for animal organizations around the country."
She said donations have traveled as far as Alaska and her goal, for now, is to reach the $500 mark by the time the painting is completed, which is this Friday.
Painting animals isn't foreign to her. She painted well over 1,000 pets throughout the last 10 years– so many she's lost count she said. Epstein attaches herself to each pet and connects to the stories told by the pet parents. She remembers the details of the pet's personality and stories that often accompany the photos.
"I work to capture the essence of the pet in every brushstroke," she said. "It is hard for me to pick a favorite."
She hopes people will feel inspired to adopt, foster, volunteer and engage themselves with local animal groups once they hear stories of pets’ lives that have been saved and changed for the better.
The rescue painting she's working on will be displayed with a QR code beside it, allowing viewers access to the stories of all of the rescued pets included, which vary from tear-jerking to emotionally moving and inspiring.
Epstein has a fair share of rescue animals herself, including three pit bulls, a parakeet, and a blue tongue skink.
"I've had a menagerie of pets over the years of all kinds, but my three pits Manny, Onyx and Kimmie, are my children, my family and my studio assistants too," she said.
Having studied animal science at Rutgers University, Epstein focused on painting animals and native wildlife. She said she spent eight years assisting with monarch butterfly conservation research and had the opportunity to tag a butterfly to track its migration pattern.
"A year after that, I traveled to Mexico to witness the millions of monarchs overwintering there, which was one of the most magical experiences of my life," Epstein said. "Ever since, Monarchs tend to have a pretty constant appearance in a lot of my artwork."
Butterflies are what brought Kathy Martin, a butterfly gardener, and Epstein together. The two met at an art festival where Martin bought her first painting – two monarch butterflies with a caterpillar underneath. Martin said she has nine different pieces from Epstein but remembers one portrait the most– the one of her late dog, Ava. She said people often look at the portrait and are surprised to see how much the art looks like Ava.
Martin, who has a rescued Chow Hound mix named Rainey, said she thinks it's essential for people to become aware of adoption and rescue animals.
“All of my dogs have been rescues, and they have all made wonderful pets,” she said.
The finished project will be featured for one month starting Friday from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. at Celebration Pointe’s Hotel Indigo, located at 5020 SW 30th Lane. Friday is also the opening reception for her art exhibit, which will feature some of Epstein’s other original work.
Epstein said she intends to do more animal advocacy projects like this one and focus on different subsets like farm animals and native wildlife. She also plans to continue her painting classes, including her yearly "Painting with a Pit" parties, where she teaches people to create their own animal portraits. Since her first party in 2018, "Painting with a Pit" has raised over $13,000 for local animal charities.
Contact Melissa at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @mhernandezdlc.
Melissa Hernandez de la Cruz is a fourth-year journalism major at the University of Florida. She loves to travel, create photography, enjoy new cultures, and is a fellow history junkie. Apart from being a citizen of the world, she also shares birthdays with legendary artists Bruce Lee, Jimi Hendrix, and Bill Nye.