How Sarah Miller turned her passion for animals into a full-time business
STORY: Laura J. Moss
Sarah Miller was a junior in college when she first got the idea to paint a pet. She’d always had a knack for art but kept it contained to the occasional doodle, until her one year anniversary with her boyfriend was approaching and she couldn’t afford to get him a gift. Her boyfriend had a beloved cat named Merlin, so Miller got out her watercolors and painted a portrait of the orange tabby.
The painting was such a hit among her friends at Georgia College that Miller began accepting offers to paint pets for $10 apiece. Soon, she was inundated with orders. “I got like a hundred orders during my finals that I had to finish before Christmas,” says the 24-year-old Brookhaven resident. “I was really busy—like almost failed my- classes busy.”
In addition to taking a full course load, Miller also played soccer, so she had a constant wait list for her portraits. When she graduated in 2018 with a marketing degree, she decided to take her side business fulltime. She named it Sarah Paints Pets.
“I always had a three-week wait list during school, so I thought when I opened up the floodgates, it was going to be great,” she says. “That wasn’t the case.”
Miller had recently moved to Charlotte, so she was in a new city where she didn’t know many people, and she was running a business alone in her apartment. It was an isolating experience, but she found comfort in one of her favorite television shows, Queer Eye. “I’d watch it to feel better because I was so sad and lonely,” she says. “My business wasn’t going well, and I had all this self-doubt, but it’s this very empowering show that just makes you feel good.”
Miller was especially taken with Jonathan Van Ness, a cat-obsessed hairdresser who serves as the show’s grooming expert. When she heard that one of Van Ness’ beloved cats, Bug, had recently passed away, she painted a portrait of his cats and sent it to his publicist.
Months passed, and Miller didn’t hear if her gift had been received or not, but then she spotted her portrait in an Instagram photo Van Ness posted of his bedroom. “He’s in his underwear on his bed, just posing all fabulous, and in the background is my portrait,” she says. “I commented ‘That’s my portrait,’ and he immediately tagged me in the post and sent me a really sweet message, thanking me. I got thousands of followers overnight. I suddenly had all these orders coming in.”
Since then, Miller’s orders have increased each month, and now she paints about three pet portraits a day from her Brookhaven apartment, where she’s now closer to friends and family. When she’s not painting, she’s marketing her business on social media and making frequent trips to the post office to ship orders.
While she credits Van Ness for her growing popularity, anyone who follows Miller’s Instagram account, @sarahpaintspets, will see that she’s certainly created her own success story. Her talent and passion for animals, as well as the people who love them, is obvious in every portrait.
SARAH PAINTS PETS
Writer and pet columnist at Simply Buckhead. Author, AdventureCats.org founder, total cat lady.