Freelance illustrator and cartoonist Mike Bennett usually focuses on pop culture and media fan art. Browse his portfolio and you'll see lots of "Star Wars" characters and not-so-scary villains. He was a big hit on the now-defunct Vine, where he recreated scenes from TV shows and movies with what he called his "paper doll puppet shows."
But recently, Bennett has turned his paintbrush to pups. After he gets off work from his day job as a preschool teacher, he often rides past a dog park near his home in Portland, Oregon. He's always transfixed by the romping residents.
"I’ll stop for a minute or two and I think these would be so much fun to draw because they have so much personality," he tells MNN.
Even though Bennett doesn't have a dog, one day he set up his paper and paint on a picnic table nearby, just a little worried that owners might think he was odd for loitering near their pets.
"I always had that fear," he says. "I don’t want to go to a dog park without a dog. However, I’m in Portland and a lot of things are accepted here."
He posted his first illustrations to Twitter, saying, "I’ve decided I’m going to be the weird guy at dog parks who paints everyone’s furry friends." And people were immediately smitten.
One day at the dog park, Bennett was drawn to an elderly pug.
"I saw there was this old pug who had two wheels for back legs. His owner had set up a situation that allowed him to walk and that was the most adorable, cool thing I had ever seen," he says. "He was like a cartoon character and I wanted to paint him."
His name was Duke.
"He was just kind of an old pug who had to be picked up and moved often and the whites around the eyes made him look almost human," Bennett says.
He gave his owners the painting and they later posted it to their social media accounts, saying how much they appreciated these kind little things that strangers often did for Duke.
One of the first paintings Bennett ever did was of a golden retriever.
"He just looked terrified of every other dog in the park," Bennett says. "This poor guy was trying to get his dog to socialize and he wasn’t feeling it. I walked over and handed [the painting] to the guy and he was so happy."
Since his illustrations have become popular on Twitter, Bennett has been contacted by people wanting to know if they can immortalize their own pup in watercolors.
"I've had quite a few emails which is super awesome and I’m so excited to work on these things," says Bennett, who is super happy when he speaks and even signs his name with an exclamation point. "People are excited about telling me what makes their dog unique and telling me about the personality of their dog."
He did find out, see above, that it helps to only work on sunny days.
"Turns out: watercolors and rain mix TOO well. I’ll try again tomorrow with nicer weather!" he said, when this sad dog got smeared in a shower.
Bennett plans to grow his puppy portfolio by continuing to make regular trips to the dog park and handing his work to the lucky dog parents when they leave.
"I want to spread the joy and give them to the owners and make them smile."