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Legendary Locals: Pet Picasso
by: Debbie L. Sklar
The renowned artist found a career in retirement.
The renowned artist found a career in retirement.

Laguna Woods resident, Betty Grissom once owned a bookstore with her husband; now she’s a busy painter whose specialty is pet portraits.

In fact, the 76-year-old recently had her artwork on display at The Neighborhood Cup in Aliso Viejo and tries to paint at least daily.

“I became interested in art in the 80s while we were owners of our bookstore. I wondered if I could draw some of the items we sold for our weekly ad in the local newspaper. So, I took an evening drawing class, and that was it. I found a new passion,” she says.

Although she has worked in all media—oil, pastel, watercolor, and acrylic, for 10 years—she taught evening classes in oil in her home studio, but when she became a financial advisor things changed.

“I had to give up painting and teaching as I was working 10 hours days and there was no time for art. Retirement has given me another career that I can enjoy and share with others,” she says.

While the pets are the subjects now, they weren’t always.

“When we moved to Orange County, I began painting the beautiful local scenes. Then, I moved into floral and thoroughly enjoyed painting the wonderful colors and shapes. People have looked at my florals and commented they reminded them of Georgia O’Keefe. But another door opened for me when we got our little French Bichon dog, Pierre. I decided to paint him, and that was the beginning of a new focus,” she says.

She recalls the subsequent results, too.

“People began commissioning me to do their animals and I feel I am the most blessed person in the world to be able to enjoy the painting process and bless my clients with paintings of their animals that they will enjoy for a lifetime. I use water-based oil paint on wrap-around canvas for these paintings,” she says.

Prior to all of this, she and her husband were owners of a Christian bookstore for 20 years. After selling the business, she became a Certified Financial Planner with American Express for 13 years before retiring 5 years ago.

And she’s been busy ever since. In addition to being the January Artist of the Month at The Neighborhood Cup, she has exhibited in the Cove Gallery and Solutions in Laguna Beach, the Dana Point Fine Art Association along the boardwalk in Dana Point; the “First Sunday of the Month” art show in downtown San Clemente; The San Clemente Art. Assoc. Gallery; and various Club Houses in Laguna Woods Village. Currently, she is the featured artist in the Gateway Bank in Laguna Woods.

Overall, painting has enhanced her life beyond her wildest dreams, she says.

“When you are used to working very hard, retirement can be an adjustment. This new focus has given me tremendous satisfaction and I am very grateful to the Lord for the talent He has given me and how this blesses other people.”

Married to her husband John for 41 years, the couple has two daughters and two grandchildren. When she isn’t painting, she is active with the Irvine Animal Shelter and exhibits at its various adoption events, donating an animal portrait at their auction events. She also will be participating in the RUFF (Rescuing Unwanted Furry Friends) Easter Champagne Brunch at Tivoli Too in Laguna Beach.

“You are never too old to start something new, and do a good job at it,” she adds.

Debbie L. Sklar is a 20+year journalism veteran residing in Southern California, where she is a writer, columnist and editor for many local, regional and national publications. Sklar may be reached via e-mail at

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