Dogs are Local Artist’s Favorite Subject

By Page H. Gifford

Growing up in Minnesota, Susan Edginton started drawing horses and flowers on the sidewalk with chalk. Like many budding young artists, her parents got her a watercolor set and later she bought herself an oil painting set and canvases and made a creative studio under the stairs in the basement.

In high school, she was drawn to art, music, and theater. After graduating, she and her family took a three-week family trip to Germany, Italy, France, and England, which piqued her interest in art history. While attending college in Northern Minnesota, she spent one year living in Denmark, taking classes, traveling, and living with a Danish family. These enriching experiences furthered her passion for art and photography.

While in Denmark, her fascination with photography grew after borrowing her father’s Pentax K-1000 camera. She returned home and to college, enrolling in photography classes. Nowadays, everything is digital and manipulated through computer software like Photoshop. Back then, Edginton learned the old ways of processing and printing from black and white negatives in the darkroom, on light-sensitive photographic paper.

“Watching the image appear on the paper in the chemical bath under the red lights is magical,” she recalled.  She graduated with a B.A. in fine arts with a commercial art minor. Afterward, she moved to Houston, Texas, and worked for a large oil-related company, illustrating, typesetting, and taking photographs. She furthered her art studies at the Art Institute of Houston, then worked as a freelancer for a year. After six-years in Texas, she relocated to Northern California. For a girl who loved the outdoors, it was the ideal setting.

“The Bay area was inspiring with all the beautiful water views, the huge redwoods, the colors, and the beautiful architecture.” She soon married and moved to Northern Virginia. They spent as much time as they could on the northern neck fishing and enjoying the Chesapeake. During the 12 years she lived in Northern Virginia, she attended NOVA and received an A.A. in Photography.

Settling in California and Virginia reminded her of the happy moments as a child growing up around the Great Lakes of Minnesota. Vastly different from California and Virginia in some ways but ruggedly familiar. It brought her back to a moment as a child when she happily created in solitude and something she continues to indulge in many years later.

“In my happy place I spent hours painting and drawing – mostly animals,” she said. Dogs are among her favorite subjects. Not only does she capture their inner character but she defines them with exquisite details.

“During the winter and summer, much time was also spent outdoors. The thousands of  lakes in Minnesota, time on the water, fishing, and wildlife were my earliest sources of inspiration,” she said. “Some people read books for an escape, I lose myself in painting and illustrating. Anything creative is a stress reliever for me, and I find it peaceful and I do it  with headphones on, jazz or classical music, I just get into a quiet zone, losing all track of time.”

They returned to Northern California, locating between Tahoe and San Francisco. Wherever she was she did a lot of sketching, with pencil, pen, and ink, preferring its portability and with a camera by her side. One would have thought with such a passion for the outdoors that much of her work would embody nature. Yet, her favorite subjects are animals, mostly dogs and a variety of breeds. There are some humans as well.

She focused once again on mastering watercolor and was not alone in her admitted frustration with the challenging medium.

“I wanted to find my style and also learn from others in the class. I joined two galleries and had a few art shows, and met some very interesting fellow artists.”  Her use of watercolor in her animal and human portraits is flawless and unique. Brilliant and bold color is incorporated into the softer muted shades makes it striking.

Photography  remained a huge part of her life, and she finally switched to digital, taking trips to Alaska and Costa Rica, fishing, sightseeing, and joining an  African photo safari.

Her focus on dogs as one of her subjects traces back to the many interactions with them while on photographic shoots.

“I volunteered with the Iditarod and the Yukon Quest dogsled races and that was a different challenge dealing with the 30 below zero conditions and camera gear. More action shots with dogs and mushers. Photographing animals does require patience and that also inspired me to continue to learn more.”

She then got a puppy, a show quality Wirehaired Pointing Griffon.

“My breeder wanted her in the show ring. This was all new to me and  I found a handler and my puppy started showing. Photographing her, at home as well as in the ring along with other dogs, started a more concentrated love of painting and drawing dogs, trying to capture their personalities, achieving a connection with each subject.” She started selling photos of the various breeds to their owners, referencing photos for her artwork. “To see an owner’s joy when they see their family member portrayed is heartwarming, especially if they are no longer with us.”

“Running my dogs in hunt tests and hunting, photographing them doing what they are bred to do is rewarding and also challenging. Any action shots are great even at the dog park, trying to get their expressions, mannerisms, and body language – to freeze that connection with them and the viewer.”

After nearly 19 years in California, they settled in Fox Hollow and Edginton is looking forward to “turning the page to a new chapter.”

I will continue exploring the area, photographing dogs and cats, now the birds, which are different than I am used to seeing.” She recently finished a few canine and cat commissions and wants to continue to gain skills in watercolor and illustration work. She hopes to meet other artists and friends in the area, once we have all returned to a new normal.

For more information or to view Susan Edginton’s work, visit

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