First Friends

Care Bears, LEGO blocks, blankies, Tonka trucks — all are common first loves. And thanks to artist Erin Chainani, now you can commemorate these first favorites with hand-painted portraits of childrens’ and adults’ treasured things. Chainani’s homegrown business, First Friends, is the brainchild of the Harvard and Yale-educated artist who custom paints cherished childhood toys and other sentimental subjects.

“I was inspired to create First Friends after painting portraits of my twins’ lovies. When they saw their toy portraits for the first time, they jumped around and screamed with joy — and that’s when the idea for First Friends Toy Portraits was born,” says the 34-year-old artist. “Immediately friends started asking me to paint toy portraits for their children. It dawned on me fairly quickly that this might be an interesting business idea,” she adds.

And so the Miamian-by-way-of-Minnesota put her watercolors, bits of gouaches, pencils and pens to work in December ’10 and has since painted over 60 commissioned pieces. From dolls to pet hermit crabs to quirky garbage cans, Chainani has left a lasting impression with her clients.

Chainani’s scope of work is not limited to children’s toys. She also offers personalized stationary as well as hand-painted portraits of people and pets. “I painted a few watercolor portraits of Miami residents for the amazing local portrait project,, and suddenly found myself approached by numerous people who wanted to commission me to paint portraits of themselves or their children. I’ve also simultaneously had other special commissions over the last few months — pets, favorite flowers, and other cherished objects,” she adds.

For all the aspiring artists out there, Chainani advises, “Find an original idea that you care about deeply, and then just do it. And then tell all your friends, tell everybody you know. Advertise yourself. But you really have to love what you are doing, or it will never work.”


Artist: Arthur Rackham

Musician: Bob Dylan

Travel: Snow

Guilty pleasure: Pie

Inspiration: Childhood

Happiness: Children

Miami’s best-kept secret: Kon Chau’s perpetual dim sum

First Friends custom portraits (priced $65 and up) can be ordered online at