JOHNSTON, R.I. (WPRI) — Eric Palmieri is a professional pizza artist.

Using the crust as his canvas, Palmieri spends his days inside D. Palmieri’s Bakery creating eye-popping art out of all sorts of toppings.

“I’ve kind of been figuring it out and getting good at it as I go,” he chuckled. “I’m not a trained artist.”

He told 12 News everyone thought he was crazy when he decided to begin making these one-of-a-kind pies five years ago.

“They still do, to a certain extent, because I keep pushing it further and further,” Palmieri admitted. “But people appreciate it … it brings so many smiles to people’s faces.”

Palmieri has created plenty of his own masterpieces, but he also regularly takes requests from customers.

“A lot of people tell me they feel bad cutting into it,” he said. “But what I tell them is, at the end of the day, this is food and it is meant to be eaten. Just like a birthday cake … it’s the same idea.”

Palmieri has crafted a number of pizzas featuring various pop culture icons, including Star Wars characters and superheroes. Customers have also asked for pizzas depicting their pets, family members and even houses.

“I’ve done all kinds of crazy stuff, and it’s all good,” Palmieri said. “It’s all positive.”

Palmieri said it typically takes him anywhere from one to eight hours to finish a pizza, depending on how complicated the request is.

“A lot of stuff comes up as you’re making it,” he explained.

Despite growing up with the family business, Palmieri said he didn’t want to become a baker at first.

“I always wanted to be a vet or a zookeeper,” Palmieri said. “Those were my two dream jobs as a kid. I have always been a huge animal lover.”

He’s now combining his love for animals with his knack for edible artwork by raising money for a cause close to his heart.

“It did feel like it would be nice to give some portion of what I make on these projects – especially these big projects – to a wildlife organization,” he said.

This year, Palmieri said he plans to create four massive animal portraits out of pizza. He will then sell each of those pizza portraits and donate 10% of the proceeds to the Wildlife Conservation Society.

But there’s a catch: Palmieri isn’t selling the actual pizzas, and he isn’t keeping them either.

Instead, he covers the sauce-topped crust in plastic wrap before placing the toppings. Once the portrait is complete, he takes a photograph of it.

Then he completely dismantles the pizza.

Palmieri said the photograph is the final product, which he will then sell online as an NFT.

“It is going to be a digital collectible,” he explained. “What you’re really buying is a unique digital collectible that represents that particular artist’s brand or career.”

Courtesy: Eric Palmieri

The reason for the plastic wrap is to prevent food waste, according to Palmieri. Since the toppings aren’t placed in the sauce, he can repurpose them for other bakery products.

“Nothing gets wasted,” Palmieri added.

Palmieri expects to sell his first portrait, which is of a penguin, sometime in April.

After that, he plans on creating his biggest work of pizza art yet.

“It’s going to be on eight pans. I’m calling it a pizza mural,” he said. “I’m super psyched about that … but I might need to grab a pillow and blanket and sleep here because it’s probably going to take me 12 hours plus to do.”

Palmieri said while the task is daunting, he’s always up for a challenge.

“There’s nobody else doing what I’m doing with pizza,” he said. “I love pizza, I love what I do. But at times, making pepperoni pizzas constantly can be tedious and monotonous. This really scratches that creative itch that I have and it just gives me something extra to look forward to.”

Anyone who wants to check out some of Palmieri’s work, or is considering purchasing an NFT, can visit his website or follow him on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.