Pandemic prompts pet projects for Clayton artist Fiona Hughes

Clayton resident Fiona Hughes painted pet portraits while sheltering in place during the pandemic.

John NakanishiCLAYTON, CA (Mar. 22, 2023) — Some artists spend their entire lives pursuing art, while others come from varied and diverse backgrounds. Fiona Hughes is one of those artists who ended up in the art world after pursuing a number of career paths.

From being in the diplomatic service, to a voice-over artist, to running public relations for high-tech companies, Hughes has traveled the world – hardly staying more than five years in any particular place. But when the pandemic hit, in-person public relations meetings and international conferences were placed on hold, and Hughes discovered she had time to get back to her first love: creating art.

While sheltering in place, Hughes found time to paint, and word spread that she was commissioning pet portraits. Hughes admits that her love of animals is her biggest inspiration. She warmly expresses that “it’s an honor to memorialize someone’s treasured pet, and especially meaningful if it has passed on.”

Her goal is to capture each animal’s unique spirit and, in particular, its expressive eyes. “If the eyes aren’t right, then nothing else about the painting is,” says Hughes, who gets a lot of joy from receiving positive comments from her patrons.

Hughes also found enjoyment working on large murals of oceans and landscapes, and she was able to sell these and other paintings at local gallery shows. She decided to produce a series of videos and webinars on marketing artwork online. Art has now become a big part of her life.

An early start

Hughes jokingly points out that she has brandished a paintbrush throughout most of her life. She tells of the time she repainted the front of her grandmother’s antique dresser with some red nail polish that was left too close to her playpen. By the time she was a teen, Hughes was recognized as a talented artist and received requests from friends for portraits of beloved pets.

In her late teen years, she was ready to venture out artistically, so she moved to Holland and spent four years studying many of the Dutch masters. She was also inspired by visits to great art galleries of Europe.

Hughes likes to use acrylics, oils, clay and even fabrics. Though she finds watercolors the most challenging, it is her current favorite media.

“Watercolor keeps you on your toes with its many variables,” according to Hughes. “So much depends on the dampness of the paper, how much water is on your brush, how diluted the paint is.”

Hughes became a Clayton resident more than 30 years ago. She married into a Clayton family and found the city to be a wonderful community where she could settle down and raise a family. She gets inspiration from a large and vibrant local artist community, whether it’s socializing at a reception at the JOR Fine Arts Gallery in Clayton or attending a meeting of the Concord Art Association.

She has recently begun painting utility boxes for local cities, finding it very satisfying to bring color and life to those drab, sterile boxes. We are looking forward to her work as one of the artists involved in the city of Concord’s upcoming third round of utility box paintings.

Whether it’s large abstracts or cute pet portraits, you can view Fiona Hughes’s art at JOR Fine Art Gallery in downtown Clayton or at

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John Nakanishi
John Nakanishi

John Nakanishi is treasurer of The Concord Art Association. He is an acrylic painter and a ceramic artist. When John isn’t creating art, he coaches soccer for East Bay Eclipse, a competitive soccer club based in Moraga. He is also an avid trail runner, enjoying runs from 5 miles to 50K.