Woman quits job to paint portraits of people’s late pets, helps them heal

Posted at 1:52 PM, Aug 05, 2019

For Melissa Swensrud, a painting of her dog, Elsa, hangs in the family room of her Bethesda, Maryland home. To her, the colorful portrait captures Elsa’s sweet and curious personality shortly before she died.

“It has always been an incredible source of happiness for me,” she says. “I never have felt sadness looking at it because it’s that moment of where she was in her life.”

When Swensrud looks at it, there’s a part of the painting that helps bring it to life.

“Through the eyes, Erica captures the spirit of the dog. It’s very evident,” Swensrud says. “It’s fun. She starts that way, because you don’t really know how the paintings going to evolve.”

Erica Eriksdotter is the artist behind the painting. Pet portraits have now become a specialty at her Northern Virginia studio . Many of them are for owners, who have lost a pet and want more moments with them, even if it’s created with the stroke of a brush.

“As soon as you paint those eyes, that’s the soul of the animal and that when it comes alive on canvas,” says Eriksdotter. “They say, ‘I can feel him,’ ‘I can see her looking at me,’ ‘I can almost reach out and touch her and pet her,’ and these are pets that have passed away so those eyes are key.”

Eriksdotter’s eye for empathy has created such a connection with pet owners, there’s now a six-month waitlist for her work. She even quit her job to work on helping others heal.

“I know raw emotion and the heart break that it takes and the grieving process, and if I can help them throughout that just a little bit, that’s how I chose to serve,” the painter says.

To serve and preserve a special bond on a colorful canvas capturing meaningful memories.