By Julie Lawrence Special to Published Oct 04, 2006 at 5:12 AM
For some pet owners, the furry, feathery or scaled companions that share their living quarters are considered as big, if not more, a part of the family than great uncle Jerry, and for these animal addicts, just about no wall, desk or refrigerator is off limits when it comes to displaying Mittens' mug.

Bearing this in mind, Milwaukee artist Susan Lukas decided she wanted to take animal art to the next level. She recently launched Pop Art Petraits, a business where, as the name suggests, she transforms your run-of-the mill pet photographs into portraits done in the famous Andy Warhol-ish style.

It all started when a triptych -- three photos matted together -- that she created of her cat Opec prompted another pet owner to ask Lukas if she would turn her pet into a pop art star as well. And once the word got out that people's pets can be portrayed as a precious piece of art, Lukas' business took off running.

"These Petraits are fun, colorful and great conversation pieces," says Lukas. "They are custom-made with photos supplied by the customer."

Lukas has been a professional photographer for 18 years and if need be, she's willing to travel to the customer's home to take photos if Spot or Precious lives within southeastern Wisconsin or northern Illinois.

But really, domestic pet or not, there are no animals left behind in the world of pop art Petraits. So far, she's captured the artistic likenesses of goats, cows -- even an emu.

Lukas uses a process called solarization that removes tones from an image, changes the colors and adds some final filters, and customers choose from three varying background styles -- plain, pop, which resembles comic book style, or noise, which is more textured.

"With a new business, I'm striving to turn around the Petraits within two weeks, but it's closer to four weeks if customers need portraits shot of their pets," she says.

Lukas says she can work from both digital and print photos and the total cost of the project includes an archival mat board. The Petraits are available as single images 8x10 (framed to 11x14) for $109 or 11x14 (framed 16x20) for $149, or as three images matted and framed together in primary colors for $159.

As a true animal lover and animal rights activist, Lukas is donating part of the proceeds from her art to various animal shelters in Wisconsin and says that she is currently working with Second Hand Purrs.

Milwaukee's fall Gallery Night and Day, Oct. 20 and 21, is fast approaching and Lukas plans to exhibit her new abstract photo collection as well as a Pop Art Petrait display at Dark Star Gallery in the Third Ward.

Julie Lawrence Special to staff writer Julie Lawrence grew up in Wauwatosa and has lived her whole life in the Milwaukee area.

As any “word nerd” can attest, you never know when inspiration will strike, so from a very early age Julie has rarely been seen sans pen and little notebook. At the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee it seemed only natural that she major in journalism. When offered her an avenue to combine her writing and the city she knows and loves in late 2004, she knew it was meant to be. Around the office, she answers to a plethora of nicknames, including “Lar,” (short for “Larry,” which is short for “Lawrence”) as well as the mysteriously-sourced “Bill Murray.”