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Rock artist paints animals

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By Teresa Herriman, The Courier-Herald

When Julie Michels looks at the many rocks the Bonney Lake soils sprout, she sees dogs and cats, bunnies and bears, cows and calves.

For five years Michels has been collecting rocks and turning them into works of art.

She paints animals, and the occasional bug, on river rocks.

"I've done everything you can think of, from exotic bugs to a hippopotamus," said the mother of two.

She sells many of her pieces at local shops. Backyard Birding and Basket Bloom in Bonney Lake carry her work. Customers also can order online at www.rockartimagry.com.

Her work is a regular feature at area shows and fairs including the Western Washington Fair in Puyallup.

Often she is hired to create custom memorials for people who have lost a pet.

"It's really nice. I like to be able to do that," she said.

Each piece is sealed with an acrylic finish that allows the art to be displayed indoors or used outdoors as a marker.

Prices range from $3 for a ladybug to $100 for a life-size foal. Most of the rocks, however, weigh between 2 and 12 pounds and sell for $25 to $45. Custom orders start at $30.

Her largest project was turning a 200-pound rock into a bear.

"The most popular at the fairs are the ladybugs and frogs. I price them so the kids can afford them," she said.

Many times, the same kids will stop by the following year with their rock in hand, she said.

"It's really cute."

Michels said she got started by accident when a neighbor suggested she paint a rock.

"I did it just for fun," she said. "I wasn't real serious."

Her painting was a huge hit. When other neighbors began asking her to paint rocks for them, Michels said she continued as a hobby.

"Now I do it full-time," she said.

With a background in commercial art and graphic design, Michels is a natural.

Typically, she paints from a photo of a person's pet. For generic animals, she will look up a picture on the Internet or get a reference book from the library.

Most of the rocks come from a local quarry. It is illegal to take them from the river, she noted.

For the most part, she looks for smooth rocks, although the rough ones are better for bears and other animals with shaggy fur, she said.

Michels developed an appreciation for animals growing up on a farm in Eastern Washington.

Her love of animals extends beyond her art. Every year, she uses a portion of her earnings to purchase supplies for the local Humane Society and non-profit animal rescuers. Often businesses will match her donation, she said.

Michels can be reached at 253-862-2902.

Teresa Herriman can be reached at therriman@courierherald.com

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