Wednesday, April 24, 2013

It's all in the eye, and heart, of the beholder

Every now and then I'm asked to do a pet portrait to be given as a surprise gift to someone.  It always adds another dimension to the basic challenge.

How do you see your dog (or cat)?  Serious or silly?  Funky or fastidious?  Do you have a favorite pose or facial expression?  Well, in dealing one step removed, I don't get to ask those questions.  Sometimes the result is a happy accident in which I manage to catch that "oh, yes, that's MY dog," feeling.  Other times, well not so much.  

Such is the story of Mollie and Sadie.  Both of these darling girls are rescues that share a home with friends of mine.  When I was asked by the husband to paint the girls for his wife's birthday, I was thrilled.  When I went to meet them, I learned that each human has "their" dog.  Mollie, the darker dog, belongs to the husband; and Sadie belongs to the wife. 

I got a bunch of photos by email.  This was the basic pose wanted, just more forward facing.  I also got a bunch of close ups of Mollie and one or two of Sadie.  That should have been a clue.  Note how white and fluffy Sadie is in the photo.  She had just had a bath and was sitting in full sun.  I learned later this is not her normal look, and it's not mom's favorite look.  Oops.

So, in blissful ignorance, I went to work.  Pretty soon Molly and Sadie appeared, and frankly it was one of my favorites.  I love the two of them together.  

I delivered the painting to dad, who was quite happy, showed all his buddies and hid it away for mom's birthday.  I waited, anxious to hear that mom loved it too.  

Well, the day after her birthday, I got a text from mom.  Could I, would I add more color into Sadie; it just didn't look like her.  Of course, but where did I got wrong?  Mom sent me several photos of "her" Sadie, who is a bit of a ruffian, has much more color in her face and ears and always has a bit of shaggy hair hanging down over the socket of her missing eye.

Of course I could, and of course I would.  

This time I got to send mom a proof by text and got back "Yes, that's my girl!!!"  And that is the response I want.  The lesson for me:  Make sure I know what I'm doing!  Ask more questions.  Be certain the person answering knows the answers.  If not, perhaps suggest the gift be a certificate for the painting, so the owner can provide their favorite photo(s) and in put.  Yep.  Lesson learned.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Crazy Dog - Crazy Colors

The lovely Cocoa in her portrait pose.  Cocoa has so many quirks.  She's often called Cocoa Loco or Cocoa Puff.  She came to us a very frightened and "damaged" rescue, skin and bones, afraid of anything that looked like a stick - mopping the floor was fun, she'd pee all over herself when the mop came out - afraid of men, especially men in baseball caps.  It took her a year to bond with my husband.  

We call her our Catholic dog.  Anytime something has been done wrong, a hole in the yard, etc., Cocoa is completely guilt-ridden, even when the guilty party is actually Buck.  She's very vocal, will sing along with humans, will "talk" to us especially when she's not happy with something like being left behind.   Needy pretty much describes her.  And jealous.  Petting Buck brings forth complaints from Cocoa.  Not paying attention makes her sad.  She's a trip.

After 7 years with us, Cocoa is much calmer than when we first brought her home.  She's still a bit of a spook though and likely always will be.  Not a dog for those who want an easy-to-raise type.  I adore her.  Cocoa just oozes love.  She's very, very smart & understands a lot of words.  On a day when I couldn't find my father-in-law, and at 100+ that's dangerous, I asked Cocoa "where's Grandpa Hughie?"  She took off, looked back over her shoulder like "aren't you coming" and led me straight to the garage.  Yep, there he was.

And, crazy colors?  Well, I've been so focused on pet portraits lately that all the wilder colors are missing from what I've been using and I'm the one missing out!  All those pinks and purples and mixtures of yellow/green or hints of lavender - they just don't show up in the hair of dogs and cats.  I'm feeling the need to visit Anza Borrego desert for spring wildflowers, take some photos, come home & paint those.  Or, how about a pet or two done in crazy colors????  That might be fun.  Maybe I'll take my own dark brown Cocoa and paint her twice, once as she is and once as she might be in a more technicolor version.

If ever a dog deserved to be painted in technicolor, it's Cocoa Loco.  I think that may be the answer.  Stay tuned. 

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Is it Empty or Full of Potential?

There's nothing quite like potential.  Think ingredients that could be cake or maybe gravy,  Think stem cells that could be, well, anything.

So it is with blank canvas.

I remember listening to a Stephen Hawking interview (and, don't you love his computerized voice?) in which he talked about the wonderful potential of emptiness.  I love that time when I look at a canvas and it can still be anything.  Well, in my mind it can.  And, within the limits of my abilities it can.  You see, I start to apply limits.

And once I apply something real, paint, crinkly paper, charcoal for a sketch, then some of that potential is gone.  Now there is a direction, a goal, and a limitation.

Perhaps that's why I love babies, and puppies, and kittens, and piglets. . . . well all things infant.  All that wonderful, amazing potential is there in its raw form.

But, to create anything, I must apply the paint, sketch with the charcoal, glue on the paper.  I must choose.  I must evaluate and judge.

Somehow in the bigger world, beyond art, that has gotten a bad rap.  "Don't judge me."   Well, judge we must.  In everything.  Do I like this or that?  Do I choose to sleep in or go to the gym?  Even do I want to be around this person or not.

As a human I cannot absorb or be or do all things.  So, I must judge and I must choose.  And, having done that, I begin to create.  But, I also limit that amazing potential.   Such is life.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

So where are the portraits of my own critters???

Much like the cobbler's children or the hairdresser's own hair, my fur-face family members have been neglected on the portrait front!

It's time to fix that starting with the eldest, Lucy Cat.  Our dogs, Cocoa and Buck, wear the name McArthur, but it seems to me that cats are just too independent to take another's name, so Lucy and Ellie have retained their own surname, Cat.

Lucy came to us from a rescue home almost 18 years ago.  She was a tiny kitten with ring worm when we got her.  Even then she was very spirited, and my husband named her for the Charlie Brown character - fittingly.  Our old dog Mousse was still alive, and not yet old, when we got Lucy, he being a good sized chocolate Lab.  Tiny Lucy took one look at him and decided that he would not be in charge, she would.  Before long their favored sleeping position was with Mousse curled up in what had become known as "Mousse's chair" and Lucy asleep on his back.  That became the basis for one of my earliest hand-drawn Christmas cards.

Lucy developed a reputation among friends and family as a bit of a challenge.  She'd sit on a chair back and hiss at any one who walked too close.  She chose her spot on the furniture and he or she who dared to sit there would simply have a lap full of cat in short order - but dare not presume to pet!  Our old pet sitter used to tell me that Lucy would be friendly for a bit, then would simply chase her out of the room.  (OK, really? Who runs from a cat?)  For some reason she especially didn't like small dogs and they simply weren't to be tolerated near her.

We've always had a bond, Lucy and me.  If I'm sick, she will lie on my chest and purr, even pat my face with one little paw.  She's never bitten or scratched me, but she's given me many warnings!  And, over the years she has mellowed.  It's been a long time since I've had to wrap her in a towel and trim her nails one paw at a time.  Even the vet now refers to her as sweet.  But, watch out.  The younger Lucy lurks just beneath the surface of her fluffy fur; irritate her at your own risk.  I say she still runs the house with an iron paw.

So, choosing a Lucy pose to paint was easy - it had to capture her intensity.  And, choosing a portrait size - well the 24 x 24 inch - so she will be large and in charge on the wall.

This is almost right.  It just needs a slightly exaggerated sense of intensity, and I can supply that when I paint!

Lucy tends to pull one eyebrow down when she's giving the stink eye, and her stare is strangely human.  

Easy color choice on the background to bring out those eyes!

Yep, that's Lucy!

The last couple of years have been difficult for my girl.  She who never, ever got sick has had a couple of bladder infections and is on what will be life-long treatment for a thyroid disorder, pretty common in older cats.  She gets a joint supplement that keeps her able to jump up on the bed.  Right now, as I type she is lying at the foot of the bed where she can keep a close eye on the two big dogs asleep on their beds.  

I need to get to work on a commission of a beautiful boxer.  Then if I can find time, I'll squeeze in our Cocoa, next in line by age.  Keep watching. 

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

How the portraits come to life

Sue is owned by a young man I've never met.  His mother asked me to paint her as a gift to him.  The first photos I was given were not usable - too distant, too indistinct, out of focus - so I asked mom to have her son email me photos.  I soon received a bunch of photos.

A number showed Sue in costume: 

Not the look for the portrait, but it gives me a glimpse into her personality.  She happily wears whatever her human puts on her without objection.  

One really caught my eye for it's fun factor: 

  Again, not for the portrait, but can't you just see the personality shining through?  This is a happy, loving dog!

The photo we selected, and both of us had input, was pure Sue.  I cropped it to a more close up view, and this became the basis for the portrait.

Next step, choosing a background.  In certain light some of Sue's shading appears almost lavender.  Nah, not a color for a young man's home.  White or off white would certainly pop her coloring, but on a wrapped canvas, it would melt into light walls.  Nope.  None of the pastels, she's too strong a personality and look for that.  
Finally, I settled on a brick red with quite a bit of brown thrown in.  The owner wants to be surprised, so the balance of the process will be without his input.

Next I laid in the background and did a very rough sketch of our girl. 

Sue gets laid in in almost a color block fashion.  I always like this stage, well except for the empty eyes, as I can begin to see the dog take shape. 

More shading and detail goes in over the next couple of days, then it's time to let it sit, step back and look for things I don't like. 

OK, fix the one ear, it's just wrong.  Soften the shading.  Emphasize the eyes.  Notice that I turned her pose just a bit more forward to have her looking at the viewer.  I like the feel that her eyes look directly out from the portrait. 


 Done!  All that's left is to deliver and wait for feedback.  I'm really anxious to hear from the son/owner and see if it says "SUE" to him.

As an aside, I really loved painting this girl.  I dubbed her Sweet Sue as we went through the process.  I very much admire the American Staffordshire Terrier, aka Pit Bull; and I detest what some humans have done to and with them.  This lovely lady is an example of how they are when treated with love and gentleness.  

Friday, January 18, 2013

A painterly experiment

I just finished painting two small portraits of cats that share a home but are not biological sisters.  They belong to a good friend of mine.  I thought, since she wanted the little 6" x 6" size, that I'd try working on both at once.  It just didn't work for me!

The two girls could not be more different.  Riley, as in Life of, is a black and white long hair.  She's very quiet, almost shy, and tends to be delicate.  Grace, so named in hopes it would bring her some, is a short haired multi colored girl, sturdier in build and tougher in attitude.  Rumor has it that she beats up on her more retiring sister periodically.

The idea that one canvas could be drying while I worked on the other seemed smart, but I didn't factor in that I tend to get, well involved with each critter I paint.  I like to know their names and their personalities and we talk while I paint.  I found that I'd get quiet, feeling gentle when working on Riley.  Then I'd turn to Grace and just couldn't pull up enough oomph for her.  Then I'd settle into Grace for a bit, try to go back to Riley and overwhelm her with brush strokes too quick and rough for her.

So, I set Grace aside and decided to focus on just Riley - she being the first of the two to join my friend's home.  Better, much better.  When Riley was almost done, I brought Grace front and center and found she was ready to cooperate also.  All that was left was finishing touches.

The girls are done on the same background so they can be placed together.  They can face one another or be back to back, depending on their mood.  

I'll be seeing their human this weekend and can't wait to give these to her. 

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Soon we'll be launching a new web site devoted to my pet portraits.  Yeah!  It's been a long time coming.

Here is a painting of my father-in-law and his kitty, mixed media, on a combo of canvas and mixed papers,  I would say "featuring" a pet.

And, here is something I did for my husband, he and our two dogs hiking, done in pastel on sanded paper, "including" pets.

And, this is a pet portrait, up close and personal, meant to capture the personality of the pet, done in acrylic on a gallery wrapped canvas, and meant to be hung sans frame.

It's the portraits that will be featured on the new site.  Yes, I'll still do other things; but this will be devoted to critters and those of us who love them.

Keep watching.  I'll let you know when the website,, is up and running.