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Nancy Schutt’s Dog Art

By Kelly Luker

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It started with doodles. Big dogs, little dogs, furry dogs; the little girl known as Nancy Schutt would draw them endlessly.  But like so many talented people, Schutt had to grow up and work through a few other careers before she returned to her true passion.  Now the award-winning artist paints dog portraits of subjects from around the country.

“When I started 20 years ago, no one specialized in dog portraits,” Schutt said from her Seattle home. The field has since expanded enough to earn its own online magazine, Dog Art Today. Schutt’s work often has a whimsical touch and uses the guardian’s story about his or her story to create the right setting for it. Many portraits feature the subject’s favorite ball. Sadly, many guardians don’t consider having a portrait of their best friend painted until he is dying or already dead.

Schutt grew up outside of Chicago, where dogs were always a part of her life. She fondly recalled Mitzi, a doxie-mix, and “a little mutt” named Scamp. Those two may have been her first muses. A little Chihuahua-mix named Pablo that Schutt found as a stray almost 10 years ago fills that role today.

Schutt attended Colorado State University, then earned an M.F.A. from the University of Oregon. She used her talent as a courtroom artist for about four or five years until the horrors that were revealed finally got to her. “There were a couple of trials that broke my heart,” she recalled.  

Deciding to switch gears, Schutt got her contractor’s license and started a women’s construction company. When that fell apart as a result of the economy, she moved to Seattle and worked as both a consultant and a worker in the construction field. That city has been her home for the last 25 years.
Although there were the day jobs, Schutt never put down her paintbrush for any length of time. When her mother saw a portrait she had painted of her sister’s dogs, she urged her daughter to pursue dog portraiture as a full-tine job. Schutt did a show of the portraits she painted of her friends’ dogs, and the commissions began to trickle in.

“I did a lot of paintings,” said Schutt, referring to her earlier work. “But it got a lot easier with dogs.” Asked why, she said she did not have to conceptualize first; the subject was already there.

Lately, Schutt has found an exciting new medium with which to create dog portraits: the iPad. It is much less time consuming since she can draw a portrait in a couple of days, when it used to take weeks to finish a painting.  “As an artist, you get caught up in doing it just right,” said Schutt. “But the secret to good art is working fast so you don’t have time to think about it.”

Whether she uses a paintbrush or stylus, Schutt lays her groundwork the same. She takes photos, makes sketches, and interviews the guardian extensively about their dog. When Schutt began, she was able to meet her subject since most of the business was local. As her reputation spread, she began to get more work nationwide. She estimates that half her work is commissioned through phone interviews and photos sent by the client.

Not surprisingly, Schutt gets a lot of repeat business. “Some of my clients are on their second or third animal,” she said. Since that usually means the previous dog she painted is no longer alive, it is a bittersweet commission. “When a client calls to tell me their dog died, I weep every time.”

Visit Nancy's website at nancyschutt.com.

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