Animals have a way of loving that is rare, but so is the love that many humans and owners show to animals. Artist Jalen Jennings, 20-year-old out of Charleston, South Carolina, captures this love in his work, bringing animals and pets to life through his business, Canvas Zoo.
Jennings paints personality, not just pets. He uses colors and techniques for texture to create an artistic vision and representation of furry and feathered friends.
Having done art since he was a little kid, Jennings is familiar with many creative mediums. He said pencil and colored pencil are his preferred mediums, but painting is more “loose and fun.”
The idea for Canvas Zoo was sparked after Jennings completed a design at a Wine & Design class. He received interest in his particular style after posting on his personal Instagram, and since then, his passion for animals and art has come to the Carolina art scene.
With each pet comes its own charisma, making Jennings number one job to best capture the personality. He said it’s important to consider the animals' unique features.
“I think part of it is just picking up a brush again and getting comfortable with acrylics and, kind of, figuring out different things you can do,” Jennings said. “It’s just building that confidence with the paint and being more comfortable with what you can do.”
However, you don’t have to have a pet to get one of his paintings, hence the name Canvas Zoo. One of his very first paintings was of a panda that remains the favorite of friend Cam Brownlee. Brownlee said the colors are very unique and are his favorite part about the work Jennings does.
Ava Macheledt, a third-year history and politics international affairs student at Furman University, was a recent customer of Canvas Zoo. According to her, the pieces and colors spark conversation.
Macheledt said the colors add more of a “creative dimension” to it. Her boyfriend commissioned Jennings and gifted her a painting of her pet bunny with all her favorite colors and a sense of realism.
“The colors aren’t typical for animals, but that’s what makes it fun,” she said.
The bright animal art and pet portraits are standout to Canvas Zoo, but Jennings said he thought there has to be more.
“How can I make this a little bit more about, than just myself?” Jennings said.
Canvas Zoo goes further than a painting in your home. Jennings takes one dollar from each portrait sold to give back, splitting donations equally between the World Wildlife Fund and the Charleston Animal Society. He said it’s one of the more proud parts of Canvas Zoo for him.
“It’s great supporting local artists, as it is,” Macheledt said. “But, when you have that other, I guess, sense of giving back through, to the community, it really validates the purchase.”
Brownlee said most people are "blown away" because of how humble Jennings is regarding his artwork and dedication put into Canvas Zoo. Brownlee has known Jennings for four years now and said he’s like a little brother.
“He’s just a great kid,” Brownlee said. “Very smart and intelligent, like, that’s one of the first things I noticed about him; very personable.”
Even though Brownlee's favorite painting of the panda was one of the first ones, he said he can see the improvement and "loves watching the differences [he] can see from the start to now."
Another thing Brownlee has noticed over time is that even when Jennings does struggle, he learns very easily.
“I think the hardest part isn’t the painting itself,” Jennings said.
He said it’s getting back in the swing of things during the pandemic and holding himself accountable for his business.
Over the month of December, Jennings painted 30 canvases as gifts and other commissions for the giving season. He said this caused some burnout, but, nevertheless, he has pushed through.
On days when Jennings isn’t painting or working, you can find him doing all sorts of activities from baseball with Brownlee to video games. Many of these moments spur inspiration for his colorful style, such as the coloration of a Starburst pack or the glow of an Xbox.
Jennings said he is delighted when people come to him in happiness and thanks after they see their pet on a canvas.
“I really enjoy those reactions and just seeing, like, the joy that it brings other people,” he said.
Find more animals and vibrant canvases on Jennings' Instagram, Canvas Zoo.
Editor's note: The main visual of this story was changed shortly after publication to better match its focus.