The Gift of the Challenge

Ashevile-based artist develops a new style

Peace Woof and Happiness by Angela Alexander

In 2004, Angela Alexander had recently been laid off from her job and was unsure of her next step. As it happened, it was actually a “misstep” that led to her career as a successful pet artist. Alexander was headed down her stairs when she slipped and fell—hard. The accident left her mostly bedridden during the recovery. “I was so bored; I had to do something to keep myself busy,” Alexander said. “So I started painting whimsical pictures of my Chihuahua, Sadie.”
A few friends saw her work and urged her to sell it. “At first I just laughed,” Alexander said. “I have always loved art, but it was more of a hobby. I didn’t feel like I could be a career artist.” But Alexander listened to her friends’ advice and printed greeting cards of her paintings. To her surprise, they sold quickly, and people began requesting prints.

“I see my art and style as a gift born from a difficult time.”
So Alexander decided to take a chance. She leaned into her painting, eventually opening her booth at the Woolworth Walk in downtown Asheville. Alexander spent most every Saturday there meeting with customers and building a robust following. Her sales grew, and in 2014 she opened a studio in Asheville’s River Arts District. Alexander’s work had a distinctive style. Her pieces were whimsical and often comedic caricatures of pets. Her paintings typically told a story illuminated by a witty title.

“In ‘The Boston Tee Party,’ six Boston Terriers frolic in Golf Carts. Angela’s play on words and humor is delightful,” Constance Vlahoulis, a fellow Asheville-based artist said. “Angela’s art triggers joy in people’s hearts.”
Angela’s work was inspired by her brown and tan Chihuahua, Sadie. “She loved to ‘paint’ with me,” Alexander said. “Her markings made her look like she was wearing a mask, so all the subjects I painted had shapes around their eyes.” Eventually those “shapes” became glasses and those glasses became Alexander’s signature.

However in recent years, more of Angela’s subjects are appearing sans eyewear. “Sadie passed away in 2015, and everything changed for me,” Alexander said. “I still occasionally paint glasses on my dogs, but it’s no longer a requirement.”

But that is hardly the most noticeable change in her new work. Alexander has adopted a markedly different technique. Her paintings are more impressionist, stylized by larger, looser brushstrokes. She is frequently asked how she arrived at her current method, and Alexander always replies, “It was the gift of the challenge.”

I Dont Know How That Happened by Angela Alexander

Much like the beginning of Alexander’s career as an artist, her evolution in style arose from an obstacle. In 2011, Alexander began experiencing pain in her hand and elbow. She visited doctors and physical therapists but received only temporary relief from the pain, which she later learned was caused by Rheumatoid Arthritis. Her original style included outlining each element in a thin black stroke; however, this process required a steady hand, which became more and more challenging.

“My hand would go numb, and I would lose control of the tiny outlining brush,” Alexander said. “I tried wrapping the brush with tape to make the handle wider, but I couldn’t get the effect I wanted. Eventually, it got to point where I could only paint for short intervals.”
One night out of frustration, Alexander grabbed a larger brush and began to paint.

“What appeared was unlike anything I had created before. I didn’t think I had another one in me though, so I set it aside,” Alexander said. “But the pain eventually grew to where I knew I had to develop a looser style if I wanted to keep painting. And that’s really when the transition began.”

Angela started painting with larger brushes, working up from a black canvas, and using bright colors to capture her subject’s energy. At first she feared losing followers as her style evolved, but it proved to be quite the opposite. Her business expanded, and people began commissioning more pet portraits in the new style, which now represent a large portion of her sales.

“Over the last ten years, through her display space at Woolworth Walk, I have watched Angela’s style evolve,” manager of Woolworth Walk, Megan Borders, said. “She has encountered some health issues, but instead of letting them hinder her work, she has forged on, creating a new style… that has only made her animal paintings become even more free, animated, and lovable.”

Amidst her growing success, however, she began noticing another issue, blurred and wavy vision in her right eye. She was diagnosed with Diabetic Retinopathy and Diabetic Macular Edema, the result of another autoimmune disorder, Type 1 Diabetes. Alexander has undergone treatment to keep her vision from declining further, but it is an ongoing battle, and one that Alexander continues to remain positive about.

“It’s obviously frustrating, but it has all led me to where I am,” Alexander said. “I see my art and style as a gift born from a difficult time. It has opened many doors for me. If anything else comes up or gets worse, I’ll keep finding new solutions – keep searching for the next gift.”


Emily Nowels is a recent Asheville transplant and works as a freelance writer and graphic designer. She regularly writes for the American Chestnut Foundation and has designed several guides throughout Asheville, including the AIR Dining Guide. Feel free to contact her at emilynowels@gmail.com.

Written by Emily Nowels