An interview with Kim Vargo

We are delighted to have Kim Vargo on the blog today from the AMAZING blog Yellow Brick Home and The Pet Shop — her pet portrait business. Kim is an incredibly inspiring woman and has had great success as an artist, business owner and pet rescue advocate. We were lucky enough to interview Kim and share some of her story and fabulous artwork with you today.

The Interview

PT: Here on Puppy Tales we love hearing about instances where people get a pet and it inspires them to create a new business. But your first pet portrait actually came before you had a dog, how did that happen? What did you paint before pets?

Kim: For almost 6 years, Scott and I lived in a very small condo with our two cats, Maddie and Libby, and he started to get the itch for a dog. I had grown up with dogs my whole life, and as much as I loved them, the pain of losing them was always in the back of my mind; it was a feeling I suppose I was trying to protect him from. Add that (not so small reality) to our small floor plan and I delayed the dog adoption for as long as possible.

As a sort of inside joke I painted a miniature portrait of a Boston Terrier for Scott’s birthday – sort of like, hey, here’s your dog! He had a good sense of humor about it and he said I should share the small gem on our blog. By doing so we began receiving word of mouth orders — and to my ultimate surprise those orders turned into a full fledged business that we now call The Pet Shop! He was, however, relentless and we adopted a Pit Bull mix — Jack — in January of 2009. Fast forward to the present and we’ve since moved into a larger house and adopted our second Pit mix, CC (short for Chocolate Chunk). Our pets now far outweigh the number of humans in this house, but we love every second of it!

Before pets I focused mainly on photography, but I do have a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree, dabbling in everything from painting to photography. I didn’t paint much before the “joke” gift, but now I’m painting 2-4 times a week on client portraits.

The Dogs of Yellow Brick HomeJack and CC, The Dogs of Yellow Brick Home

PT: Since opening up the Pet Shop you have painted hundreds of pet portraits from dogs to birds. Do you have any favourite commissions? If so, why?

Kim: It’s tough to say that I have a favorite, as a part of the process with every commission is to learn a little bit about each pet. From pets that have passed to those that are new family members, I’ve covered everything from joyous stories to sad but honorable ones. It’s not uncommon for me to get emotionally tied into each and every painting, as I know so much of their back story! I will say that I’m partial to painting Pitties, as I personally think they are beautiful dogs with large hearts, based on my own momma experience.

All breeds aside, I can also say that it’s so touching to paint any portrait as a tribute to a pet that has been lost. It makes my heart so happy to know that I’ve been chosen to create a special memory for another pet lover.

The Cats of Yellow Brick HomeLibby and Maddie, The Cats of Yellow Brick Home

PT: You now have two beautiful dogs as part of your family, both rescues. Were you always determined to get rescue dogs or was it just something that happened?

Kim: Absolutely! Both of our cats were rescues (Maddie has been with me since college, and Libby is a very special girl with a laundry list of medical issues, leaving her abandoned at a veterinarian office until Scott discovered her), so it was important for us to do the same with Jack – and most recently, our CC girl.

Until we adopted Jack, we were unfamiliar with the world of fostering, and we picked him up from the Animal Care and Control on Chicago’s south side. I would say that adopting Jack opened our eyes to the world of raising positive breed awareness as well as fostering, so we tapped into our now-foster connections to find the perfect sister for him. CC and Jack have become fast friends (and snuggle buddies), and watching them play and nap together is so heart warming!

The Artwork from the Pet ShopImages from The Pet Shop

PT: Your dogs are both part Pit Bull and you have become actively involved in Pit Bull awareness. Tell us a little about how this came about and what activities you do to change people’s thoughts on this dog breed.

Kim: As mentioned above, this was all Jack’s doing! Much like The Pet Shop, we accidentally fell into the world of positive breed awareness. We never looked at Jack as a Pit Bull, rather, he was our gentle giant, so to speak. After adopting him we began to receive emails from our own blog readers, giving us kudos for taking in one of the most misunderstood breeds. This pulled us into the world of dog blogs (don’t you just love blog communities?), and we befriended Miss M and Mr B’s mom and dad from Two Pitties in the City.

They began a dog walking group called Sociabulls, in which owners walk together once a week with their Pits (or any other breed, really!) around Chicago, and we work on socialization and community. Dressing them up in warm winter scarves during the chilly months always brings smiles to the faces of those passing by and it’s been an overall wonderful experience! Sadly, we’ve been so busy with our own house renovations that we don’t get out to Sociabulls as much as we’d like, but we do like to share their kind nature on our own blog, Yellow Brick Home.

Inspired by our own crew of rescue pets we also began The Pet Shop partnership program in 2012, wherein we donate 10% of our Shop proceeds to a different non-profit animal rescue group or organization every quarter. We’re partial to working with Bully breed rescues around the country to contribute towards the overall positive image they offer, but we’re certainly not exclusive! You can find all of our past and present partnerships right here.

The Artwork from the Pet ShopImages from The Pet Shop

PT: If one of our readers was thinking about getting a rescue dog but were a little unsure what would you tell them?

Kim: Now that we’re more knowledgable about the amazing work put out by rescue groups and foster parents, I would tell them to start there! There are so, so many groups that you can find locally on Facebook (or a quick Google search), and you can always check out their “About” page to see if their visions and beliefs align with your own.

Most rescues are purely volunteer run, which can only mean that they are amazing, kind hearted people. Find a local rescue that speaks to you and ask questions! Explore their available fosters and know what it is that you’re looking for. Would you like a dog or cat to be lazy with you on Sunday afternoons? Or are you an avid marathoner looking for a four-legged running partner? The owners and volunteers at your local rescue group know their fosters inside and out and you’ll always have the chance to meet a potential adoptee before committing.

Kim and Scott and Jack of Yellow Brick HomeKim, Scott and Jack of Yellow Brick Home

About Kim and Yellow Brick Home:

Kim Vargo is one half of the muscle behind the blog Yellow Brick Home. Together with her husband Scott (and two rescue Pitties and two cranky felines), the team is DIY-ing their way through their 120-year-old house, taking down walls, building them back up and nurturing back the character that was so rudely taken away over time. The Pet Shop was an accidental business birthed from the blog, unofficially launching in 2008 after gifting Scott a handmade mini portrait for his birthday. That gift was shared in a single post, and word of mouth orders escalated into a full time business. As a result of the humbling success, 10% of Shop proceeds are happily given back to nonprofit animal rescues, an ode to their own four furry rescues.

With a background in art and photography, you’ll find Kim in her Chicago home studio, painting, editing and clicking away. If her hands are dirty, it’s been a good day.

Mother’s Day Deal

The Pet Shop are having a Mother’s Day sale with 15% off anything in The Pet Shop when you use the code LOVEMOM15 at the checkout. It ends Thursday the 1st of May (Chicago Time).

The Pet Shop cats and dogsImages from The Pet Shop

Lisa Miller

Lisa Miller is a blogger, digital strategist, business coach, zoologist and crazy dog-lady! Lisa lives in Sydney, Australia with her husband, two kids, two dogs and two cats. That equates to a lot of fun and vacuuming. Her dog’s names are Cresswell and Edwina (or Cress and Eddie).