Career Conversions – Ron Burns


Ron Burns

A Dog’s Life

At the eponymous Southern California design firm that he owned for two decades, Ohio native Ron Burns created packaging and published annual reports for the likes of Dick Clark Productions, Blue Shield, Bergen Brunswig Corp. and Xerox. He made a nice living, but the pace was frantic, the deadlines constant. Then a 5.9 earthquake hit Whittier, Calif., in 1987, rattling his vision of what living should be.

“The earthquake destroyed our building,” Burns recalls. “There was a downturn in the economy, and I was burned out. I needed a change. And it had to be something that filled my heart.”

Painting—and saving—dogs did just that.

While running his design firm, Burns began painting his family pets as wind-down therapy. His early subject was his beloved (and now belated) adopted pooch, Rufus. After the earthquake in ’87 Burns and his wife, Buff, closed Ron Burns Design and threw themselves into visiting animal shelters and photographing dogs and the occasional cat. He painted portraits from the photos in acrylic paints dripping with bold color, in a style he describes as “realism with Pop Art and abstract influences.”

Burns began selling the paintings and donating a portion of the proceeds to animal shelters. Following the Rodney King riots in Los Angeles in 1992, the couple sold their house and moved to Sedona, Ariz., painting the mutts at the shelter there, and later did the same in Napa Valley and Scottsdale, Ariz., before settling in Fort Collins, Colo. Burns’ pet portraits have been hung on shelter walls to encourage adoption and turned into poster prints sold to raise funds for animal care. Eventually Burns was in high demand as a commissioned painter for private pet owners—Elizabeth Taylor was once a client of his.

Commanding $10,000 to $150,000 for commissioned portraits of pets, Burns says he paints approximately 10 portraits a year, still donating a portion of the proceeds to pet shelters that support adoption over euthanasia. He’s also done design work, gratis, for the Humane Society, and he won widespread admiration for his painting of Labrador retriever Sirius, an explosive detection dog who died in tower II on 9/11.

Of his career pivot, Burns says, “I was inspired by Julia Cameron’s book, The Artist’s Way, in which she wrote, ‘Leap, and the net will appear.’ It did for me.”

Scroll to Top