West Fargo painter turns pet paintings into fine ‘arf’
March 9, 2022
Angie Schweitzer made a smart pivot from painting decorative signs to painting pet portraits, which has not only kept her busy, but has given many owners a meaningful memento after their beloved dogs and cats crossed over the Rainbow Bridge.
INFORUM: WEST FARGO — Angie Schweitzer loves dogs.
The one-time vet tech is a proud dog mom to two boxers, Reggie and Friday. She provides a foster home for puppies with Homeward Animal Shelter in Fargo. And the West Fargo resident laughs as she admits that she knows the names of every neighborhood dog she encounters, even if she sometimes has to reach a bit harder to recall their owner’s names.
“They’re so attuned to us,” she says of (hu)man’s best friend. “They know when you’re sad, they know when you’re mad. It’s this magnificent thing that God created.”
Now Schweitzer is able to celebrate the charismatic canine through her side business, Give Me A Sign .
Schweitzer captures the soulful eyes and scratchable noggins of dogs, cats, horses—and the occasional chinchilla—through her acrylic portraits on canvas or pallet board.
She wisely pivoted to pet paintings after Give Me a Sign’s original mission of painting decorative signs was sidelined by the glut of cheaper, mass-produced signs from overseas.
The move to pet portraits was a smart one, although it happened by accident. Back in 2017, Schweitzer’s brother in Boston lost his dog, Arlo, and she wanted to present him with a memento. Schweitzer decided to memorialize Arlo, a Walker Coon Hound mix, through a painting. When it was done, she posted the finished portrait on her Facebook page “and it just took off from there,” she says.
Over the years, Schweitzer has also been commissioned to paint kids, cowboys, football players and bridal couples, but, by and large, most of her requests are to paint people’s furbabies.
And, more often than not, they’re for doggos who have crossed the Rainbow Bridge. The artist then needs to rely on photos—and in one case, a photo of an image on a mousepad—to paint the canine.
It can be challenging to capture the image and spirit of an animal who has meant so much to its owner. “You want to do them justice,” she says. “You want to have a person look at that picture and have that memory.”
At the same time, she finds it rewarding. Although most of her commissioned orders are shipped to people, Schweitzer occasionally gets to see an owner’s face when the painting is first presented to them.
“I’ve seen people actually cry when they’ve gotten them and it warms my heart so much,” she says. “It’s hard for me to believe something that I did made somebody feel that way, but that makes me feel good.”
Schweitzer’s work reveals an eye for detail —from the richly textured fur of a raccoon to the velvety folds of a dog's floppy ears. Even so, her work remains attainable (starting at $50 for an 8- by 10-inch on canvas) and her demeanor is modest.
“My dad taught me to draw cartoons using shapes,” she says. “But I’ve always done it in the background. I was never confident enough to have my work out there. It’s just scary. Sometimes you’re like, ‘Ah, are people going to like this or are they going to laugh at it?’”
She actually did work in the graphic design field for 17 years after graduating from Minnesota State University Moorhead with a graphic communications degree, “but that was all computer,” she says.
Painting and sketching give Schweitzer a much more tactile and personal way to share her art. She says she especially enjoys working on “high-contrast” projects, such as the portrait she did in white acrylic against a black background to capture the profile of her mom’s black Lab.
Lately, she’s also received more requests to incorporate humans into her pet photos. Or she’ll be given several different photos of dogs and be asked to combine them all into one portrait. She’s always willing to work with people, although some requests are beyond what a mere mortal can do. “I did have one person who had one dog looking one way and one dog where I couldn’t see it’s face. She was like, ‘Can you just turn that one dog around to show its face?’” Schweitzer recalls, with a laugh. “I was like, ‘I’d love to, but … ‘“
She estimates it takes anywhere from two to three weeks to complete one portrait, which makes certain holidays, like Christmas, especially busy. During Christmas, my house suffers,” she says, smiling. “My family eats a lot of frozen pizza.”
Schweitzer can get so busy with commissions that she only has so much time to create art for herself. Especially as she also holds down a full-time job as a capital administrative assistant for Epic Companies in Fargo, is a married mom of two teenage sons and has a husband, Shawn.
That means nighttime painting sessions from 9 to 11:30 p.m., when a pajama-clad Schweitzer can be found daubing away and maybe sipping a glass of wine in a corner of her basement. “I tend to get my second wind at about 8 o’clock,” she says.
In cases in which customers want the image on wood, she also needs to budget time to prepare pallet boards.