Post-it ‘Picasso,’ a stroke survivor, draws pet portraits to help shelters

He’s drawn more than 900 pet portraits since then, mainly of dogs and cats but also snakes, birds, ferrets, a llama and a blind raccoon. While people donate directly to charities, he estimates the project has raised about $40,000 for shelters and rescue groups.

“There was supposed to be a two-pet limit, but I’m a pushover,” he said with a chuckle. “I just say, ‘As long as you donate something for each pet that I draw, I really don’t care. Pay it forward.’”

A 92-year-old man in Bend, Oregon, was so inspired by Ed Attanasio's Pandemic Pet Project that he sent the artist $1,000 to donate to the pet charities of his choice.Courtesy of Ed Attanasio

One woman promised to donate $100 for each of her six black cats. He was initially puzzled as to how to make the seemingly identical cats stand out but then settled on creative patterns and polka dots to showcase their personalities.

“I’m always thinking that I want them all to look different,” he said. “Different color combinations, different shapes, different ears, different noses. It’s original art.”

Ed Attanasio tries to capture the whimsical personalities of the pets he draws, like Leo.Courtesy of Ed Attanasio
Attanasio never trained as an artist, though his father was a painter. In fact, he had worked as a journalist, ad copywriter and stand-up comedian until suffering a “mini-stroke” in 2009 at age 50. At the time, he weighed 350 pounds and had diabetes and high blood pressure, so he said no one was surprised.

Make an ice lick by freezing toys, bones, and chicken broth into a cake mold.

“I turned my life around and lost more than 120 pounds,” he said.

But due to the stroke, he lost his ability to retrieve words. For instance, he’d want to say “mustache” but couldn’t find it. So he’d offer “hair” and then “chin” — then realize that would imply “beard” and keep searching.

Everything changed when he got busted for doodling during a speech therapy session. Luckily, his therapist was impressed and suggested he continue creating art every day to engage his brain. His wife at the time bought a pallet of Post-its for his artwork and secretly kept the drawings he’d stick to the refrigerator or give to friends — more than 400 of them.
Ed Attanasio never sketches an outline first. Instead, he goes straight to ink.Courtesy of Ed Attanasio

“At the end of my rehab, they had a little tea for me, and they pulled out all the Post-it notes that were in this notebook, and I was freaked out, to look at them all together like that. I didn't know they were being saved.”

He put together a collage of his baseball drawings — and it sold for $3,000 at his very first gallery showing.

In his new life as an artist, Attanasio frequently donates artwork to charity auctions to raise money for pet rescue groups. During the Pandemic Pet Project, he also donated portraits of adoptable senior dogs to Muttville Senior Dog Rescue, his favorite animal organization, to entice potential adopters.

INTERESTING FACT ABOUT YOUR PET: Scientists believe that the world’s first known dog lived 31,700 years ago. This prehistoric dog resembled a large Siberian Husky.

A rescue group in Wichita, Kansas, also approached him about drawing adoptable dogs. Adopters would go home with a new best friend as well as a portrait of their pet.