I'm excited to share the recent article that was published in The Tampa Tribune!

Thanks to Jeff Berlinicke and the folks at The Tampa Tribune for finding me interesting enough to write about!

Check out the article below, or click over to TBO.COM




TAMPA – For Tampa artist John LaFree, it truly is a dog’s life.

LaFree is unique in the world of artistry. He is a traveling animal caricaturist.

At a recent event at the Royal Pets Market & Resort in Northdale, he set up shop and his work came to life. Mind you, these aren’t just normal drawings – these are any pet you might have, in any motif you could imagine. If a dog owner is a Bruce Springsteen fan, he can make that work. Same with everything from a singer to Humphrey Bogart, to any other celebrity. He has a booming business that he usually does over the Internet, but he makes appearances as well.

“I saw a need in this world and I had to fulfill it,” said LaFree, whose easygoing personality is evident to everyone. “I get to do my work, and it couldn’t be more fun.”

LaFree has made a lot of moves in his career. He started at Busch Gardens doing caricatures for visitors, then moved to Columbus, Ohio, and started to draw dogs at festivals. He found that he had fallen into a unique niche, but wasn’t always sure it was the best career move.

“I was reluctant to be doing dogs,” LaFree said. “Then I learned I was pretty good at it.”

After moving around the country for much of his life, LaFree settled in Tampa – for the fourth time – and made animal caricatures a full-time gig. He’s been at it for five years and has been experimenting more and more with his subjects.

LaFree is backed up with his projects, but he puts extra care into all of his works. He asks the owner what the animal’s personality is before he starts. For instance, LaFree’s dog loves to eat tacos. So that was the theme of his caricature. Recently, he turned a chihuahua into Madonna.

He started drawing by using tracing paper to copy images straight out of Mad Magazine while a student at the University of New Mexico. As his skills progressed, he started selling some of his works while also working as an actor.

Now, LaFree does about eight drawings a day, six days a week. No request is too tough as long as he gets plenty of photos to work with. He said he can capture an animal’s personality as long as he has enough photos to work with.

“I have a lot of projects in the queue, but that’s a good problem to have,” LaFree said. “It’s all done online and it gets busy, but it’s starting to grow and grow.”

Business has been so good lately that LaFree has recruited his wife, Jessica, to help out with marketing. He is now producing T-shirts, prints, and other items with is caricatures and is also starting to illustrate children’s books.

All he needs to figure out is the personality of the animal.

“I try to get inside their head,” LaFree said. “I think I can do that.”

To contact John LaFree, check his website at johnlafree.com or e-mail him at johnlafree@gmail.com.


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