A mural inside a Bay City gym has become a social media star

Nicole McKay built more than muscle inside Survival Fitness. Inside the walls of the gym, McKay grew from a self-taught artist creating pet portraits to a muralist filling an entire wall.

Nicole McKay created a mural inside Survival Fitness that has become a popular backdrop for post-workout selfies and group photos. (Photo courtesy of Survival Fitness)Chances are, you’ve seen McKay’s work on Facebook. For several years, she’s created abstract portraits of pets for people from around the country. Then, late last year, she painted a mural on the inside wall of Survival Fitness, 228 Washington Ave. in Bay City. Now, that mural is a popular spot for selfies and group pictures destined for social media postings.

She didn’t set out to become a muralist.

McKay, who owns a pet portrait business called AugiDog, is a member of Survival Fitness. Last September, when Survival Fitness moved into its new location at 228 Washington Ave., owner Jason McCrandall approached McKay about the mural.

“ ‘I’m going to have a ton of wall space, maybe you’ll put something up there,’ ” she remembers McCrandall saying.

When they sat down to plan the project, he told her he wanted it to be destination related.

McKay found plenty of inspiration from the gym’s location in Downtown Bay City. Her mural is marked by a large barbell. It also has as its backdrop the World Friendship Ring, the downtown cityscape, including the Delta College Planetarium and Learning Center, the Star Bridge, and the Friendship Shell. McKay says she also included a representation of the original Survival Fitness location. She’s also used to incorporating abstract elements into her artwork.

“The mural was so much fun,” she says. “You can see the abstractness. I was just free handing and letting my mind wander.”

McKay incorporated Downtown Bay City landmarks into the mural. (Photo courtesy of Survival Fitness)Abstractness in her art is one of McKay’s signatures. She paints one-of-a-kind abstract pieces of art based on photographs people send her of their pets.

McKay’s journey to become an artist and business owner started by accident in 2019 when she nearly lost her beloved dog, August, or “Augi” for short.

“One of my first AugiDogs was created was my dog, August,” she says.

She created the painting after Augi was hit by a car and McKay realized how important her pet was to her.

“When I almost lost her, I knew in that moment, my dog is my life, like she is like a child to me. I know I’m not the only one, so what’s something cool that I can do with people and their pets?”

Her brother was the first one to ask for a re-print of her AugiDog, then more followed. Pretty soon, she was getting orders from all over the country.

“I put feelers out on social media, just to see and it blew up. Within 22 days I was shipping all over the country.”

This venture McKay thought would be something local and just for fun was suddenly in high demand – “because of my little girl.”

At the same time, McKay was venturing into her own public relations business, Nicole McKay, LLC. A few months before Augi-Dog launched she left her job with another firm, and set out on her own. When she’s not painting pets – from dogs and cats to horses and chickens ­– McKay helps non-profits and other businesses with event planning and marketing.

To learn more about AugiDogs check out McKay’s Facebook page or website.