Painting pets is a passion for local artist Judi Mezzullo

By Kristina Houck

When Judi Mezzullo and her husband relocated to this area from Maryland, she turned to something she hadn’t practiced in four decades: art.

Although she earned a bachelor’s degree in art education from the University of Maryland and previously worked as an art teacher at an elementary school, Mezzullo spent many years working with her husband, Louis, and building his private law practice.

“I put art away for about 40 years,” she said.

The couple purchased a home locally in 2003 and moved to the West Coast permanently three years later. That’s when Mezzullo reunited with her long-lost passion.

“When we came out here, a friend suggested taking a watercolor class,” she said. “And I had more time.”

Mezzullo soon began taking an art class led by local watercolorist Julie Vance. Five years later, she still paints for three hours every Monday alongside her peers at her teacher’s Leucadia home.

Her specialty? Pets.

“I needed something to paint,” Mezzullo said. “I was doing landscapes and that wasn’t exactly rocking my world.”

At first, painting pictures of pets was a hobby. Now, it’s grown into a part-time business. Mezzullo painted a portrait of her friend’s Labradoodle, Hudson, for pleasure. Her friend enjoyed the painting so much she purchased it as a Father’s Day gift for her husband.

“I had never sold an item,” Mezzullo said. “That was the first one.”

Mezzullo creates most of her watercolor paintings by looking at photos of her clients’ pets. Most customers request paintings of their dogs, but she has painted a few pictures of cats, including her teacher’s late cat — the only subject to pose for a portrait.

“Painting animals is so nice for me because it makes people happy,” said Mezzullo, who sells each portrait for $125. “I like to make people happy; it makes me happy.”

When she isn’t painting, playing tennis, or spending time with her family, friends and Maine Coon, “Petey,” Mezzullo spreads awareness and raises funds for her other passion: Scripps Memorial Hospital Encinitas.

Mezzullo became involved in the hospital while she was still a part-time local resident. She joined and remains a member of Circle of Life, a service organization that advocates for health education and philanthropy in support of the hospital.

“It’s important to me because I was moving 2,500 miles across the country. I was 60 when we moved. You need to know your doctors, so I thought I would get involved with the hospital,” Mezzullo said. “I joined even though I wasn’t here all the time because I would be out here in the summer. Now I’m in the hospital with both feet.”

In 2009, Mezzullo joined the hospital’s Community Advisory Board, which aims to promote awareness and involvement in the growth and development of the hospital. The board spearheaded the 354 Campaign, a grassroots campaign that raised $1.2 million in donations from local residents to help fund the hospital’s critical care building.

“I wanted to leave something behind,” she said. “I’m proud of it.”

The building, which will more than double the size of the hospital’s current emergency department, is the centerpiece of the hospital’s $94 million second phase of expansion. Expansion plans also include a new central energy plant and various infrastructure improvements on and around the campus.

Now serving as co-chair of the board alongside David Kulchin, Mezzullo and her fellow board members recently launched the 354.2 Campaign to raise $2.5 million for Scripps Encinitas. Funds will go toward the renovation of the hospital’s surgery suites.

The campaign also blends Mezzullo’s two passions. People who donate will have their names added to a mural in the hall outside of the surgery suites, she said.

“Art makes people feel a certain way. That’s one reason that we’re raising money through art,” Mezzullo said. “Art, for healing, is very important.”

For more information about the campaign, visit


To inquire about Mezzullo’s pet portraits, contact her at