Take a look through Susan Drake’s art portfolio and you’ll realize it is something quite unique. This Rockledge-based self-taught artist’s paintings pop with vibrant acrylics, her intuition for shaping and shading brings her subjects’ emotions and personalities to life… and nearly all the subjects are animals, especially pets.

“My husband jokes that I woke up one morning and said I wanted to be an artist and I’ve been painting ever since,” Drake laughs. She started out in corporate business and accounting, but when she first put paintbrush to canvas 12 years ago, she discovered her true calling. In the beginning, she painted for her own pleasure: “I always had the best-decorated office because my artwork was in it,” she said. But as her art grew in popularity among friends and coworkers, she made the leap to become a full-time artist, titling her business—located in Cocoa VillageThe Village Palette.

Photography by Jason Hook

Animals have inspired Drake throughout her artistic journey. “I have always loved animals of all kinds,” she explains, and they are her favorite subject to paint. Besides being a wife, a mother to one and a grandmother to four, she has been a dog mom to many fur babies over the years. Currently, the family dogs are Gidget, a chiweenie (chihuahua-dachshund mix) and Chewie, a chorkie (chihuahua-yorkie mix).

She started out displaying her paintings in local galleries and spreading the joy of painting by teaching “Sip ‘n Paint” classes. For these classes, a customer sent Drake the image they want to paint-usually a snapshot of their pet- and Drake pre-traced the image onto canvases for as many as 40 people. Then she brought the canvases, easels, paints and all other necessary materials into a customer’s home and showed them by example how to paint their picture. Meanwhile, they enjoyed their drinks of choice, making the painting hour a happy hour.

Photography by Jason Hook

It’s easy to see why Sip ‘n Paint classes quickly became popular: pre-tracing the images gave her students the freedom to get creative with paint without being intimidated by starting from scratch.

Then came the plot twist we’re all familiar with: COVID-19. Among the small businesses that closed under the weight of a shut-down economy were galleries where Drake had displayed her art. In addition, teaching Sip ‘n Paint classes in customers’ houses was out of the question.

“With all the life-changing things going on right now, it really made me step back and try to figure out what I really wanted in life and what was important to me,” Drake reflected.

What was important to her, she decided, was animals. More than capturing peoples’ beloved pets on paint and canvas, Drake longed to bring together people and animals in need. “Art reaches people on an emotional level and when that’s combined with animals it can be a very powerful tool to bring about change,” Drake says.

“Say you have an older person, and they’re lonely, they can rescue a senior animal which not only brings companionship but saves a life. Veterans who are going through PTSD and things like that, an animal can calm them down and help with physical challenges. There are just so many different ways that you can bring them together, and if I can rescue as many animals as possible, or make their lives better… That’s just my love.”

As quarantine draws to a tentative, socially-distanced close, Drake is launching a revamped Village Palette where a portion of all proceeds will go towards organizations that help animals, including The Humane Society, the Brevard Zoo, the Port Canaveral Aquarium Project, the Sea Turtle Preservation Society, Panhandle Animal Welfare Society and Merlin’s Kids, a New Jersey foundation that matches veterans and special-needs children with individually-trained rescue dogs.

With a main goal of donating to these animal-loving organizations, The Village Palette is more committed than ever to connecting people with animals through art. Drake will continue to offer both custom artwork and Sip ‘n’ Paint classes, although the classes may move online to mitigate health concerns.

She’s also launching a brand new art product: custom paint by number kits. Send her a picture of your best animal friend (dog, cat, hedgehog, you name it) and she’ll sketch it out on canvas as a paint-by-number template. Then she’ll mail out the canvas, acrylic paints, brushes and anything else necessary for you to create a lifelike painting of the pet. It’s a productive, rewarding at-home activity that will not only help Drake support animal welfare organizations but will also bring you closer to the animals in your life.

For more information, visit online at thevillagepalette.com or call 321-693-1227. •

Heather Motro
Assitant Managing Editor at Space Coast Magazines | hmotro1@gmail.com | Website

In addition to writing and serving as Assistant Managing Editor for Space Coast Magazines, Heather Motro writes the sustainability blog The Blergh, manages social media for the Marine Resources Council and was co-Editor-in-Chief of Holy Trinity High School’s award-winning yearbook, The Tigrium. She is a member of Clemson University Honors College Class of ’24 (go Tigers!).