Tuesday, October 1, 2013

..Establishing productive breathing space (Soxy's portrait)

It's been forever (okay, a year and a half) since I've posted on this!

Life and art have intervened, as well as a new house in the Arizona desert.  Last year, I tried to split my time between Colorado and Arizona.  That's still a work in progress, but it's a really fun project--I have joined the Sonoran Artists' Guild and have a few series in progress that draw on the Sonoran desert for my inspiration.

Like this place--this is about 3 miles from our Arizona house!  Pretty fabulous, no?

In the meantime, I've been WAY busy, painting custom portraits of animals.  I have the most wonderful clients and models in the world and I'm really happy with what I'm doing!  And I have work lined up through next summer.

Of course, I've found that type of workload can have its downside...I'm a bit concerned about keeping my work fresh for my clients, as well as myself.  I am afraid of the bizarre but distinct reality that I might get burned out painting dog jowls! So I'm becoming a bit more selective about the projects I take on and making it a priority to schedule time for non-custom work.

The thing that got me to do this was SOXY'S PORTRAIT!

Here's the backstory...a celebrity hired me to paint five of the family's dogs.

(WOO HOO!  I was totally excited!)

It's a long-term project, that's for sure.  We are doing some photo re-shoots on 3 of the dogs, and I am 1/5 of the way finished with the paintings.  But Soxy, number 2 of 5, has been thwarting me FOR MONTHS.  To start with, she's totally camera-shy, which I think you might be able to tell from her expression..here's her portrait thus far:

It's alright.  The likeness is there and I think she has something to say, even with this rather sad pose...but it's not finished and THIS PAINTING IS DRIVING ME CRAZY!!!  I AM LOSING MY EXCITEMENT ABOUT THE PROJECT.

So what happened last month was that, rather than stare fruitlessly at Soxy's unhappy mug every morning, I would avoid going into the studio altogether.  And I would get into NetFlix instead.

And we all know that is the slippery slope to hell because even the third terrible season of Battlestar Galactica (the one where Starbuck and Apollo actually GET TOGETHER and then everyone does things that are ridiculously out of character) is better than looking at Soxy and not knowing how to fix her portrait.  I can tell you from personal experience that there is A LOT of junk on NetFlix preferable to failing again at Soxy.

Finally I pulled the NetFlix plug. Then I got into my Kindle and got sucked into the entire "The Mortal Instruments" series.  And it is NOT A GREAT SERIES.  I should have known that when Stephenie Meyer puffed it on the series because Stephenie Meyer and I have VERY DIFFERENT ideas about what good writing is.  But it is still kind of addictive in the same way that cotton candy is.

And still preferable to Soxy.


Finally, I weaned myself from all the electronic distractions and pulled out a bunch of different art materials I had lying around.  I just RUINED my entire patio table by sloshing/spattering these very intense watercolors/metallic inks/copper and gold leaf around in several experiments.  And I had a total blast and have been more productive in the past two weeks than all last month!

Here are the first two results.  (The actual pieces are not on the backing material; I have been playing with ideas about matting them, since I learned how to mat pieces in the past month too--and THAT was also an experience in which I started out being hilariously, incomparably bad and gradually have evolved to being less bad...)

 This one's called "Mantle" and has many, many layers of watercolor, ink, and copper leaf.  I love how translucent and metallic it is!  Plus I feel like it has a heavy presence.  There are ink spatters on it that make it feel a bit like granite to me.

The next one is called "Altitude" and was very different--very light and atmospheric compared to "Mantle."  Just some translucent watercolor with more intense patterns...I think they came out somewhat like trees, although to be honest with you, I was thinking of an EKG feed when I painted them.

Anyhow, I'm interested in these and I feel like my creative energies are renewed a bit from doing them!

At least it's better than NetFlix!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Dog Movie/Nicholas Sparks Folly...

I just got done crying my eyes out at the end of “Hachi: a dog’s story” 

Sorry—SPOILER attached if you are really into emotional masochism and want to watch this yourSELF…

I got sucked into watching this thing because 

a) one of my most recent jobs involves an Akita named Hachi and I was DOING RESEARCH even though I tend to hate Richard Gere in just about EVERYTHING, and then 

b) they sprung this EXTREMELY CUTE SHIBA INU PUPPY on me (trying to sell him as an Akita although they fixed their error later) and I thought, “Well, it’s only two hours out of my life…”

So an hour later, Richard Gere had died of a tragic heart attack after bonding with the puppy and having taken the train to work every day and then being met by the (now grown) dog every night. 

Then there was ANOTHER hour of the dog running away from his home in inconsolable grief and LIVING UNDER A BOXCAR.  AND EVERY AFTERNOON HE WOULD GO TO THE TRAIN STATION AND WAIT FOR RICHARD GERE TO SHOW UP.


Of course, at the end, the old dog is hanging out watching the train station door and RICHARD GERE DOES SHOW UP.  But it is just a sappy way of expressing that the dog died…there is no weird “Lost” finale vibe, which I found disappointing, although I could name a lot of people who would NOT.

Even with the sap factor, I’m sitting there crying like a baby, cursing dog movies and my folly in even WATCHING one. 

And Smokey, who is on my lap and is getting all wet from the tears, is glaring up at me and here’s what she’s thinking:


But darned dog movies are ALWAYS the same.  I can’t pretend I don’t know what I’m getting into.  I mean:

  • Old Yeller
  • The Art of Racing in the Rain (not a movie YET, but I accidentally finished that book while changing planes and was CRYING all the way down the aisle of the second plane, while people were glaring at my husband, who had OBVIOUSLY MADE ME CRY…)
  • Marley & Me (didn’t even see it, but I JUST KNOW)
  • Where the Red Fern Grows.
  • Nights in Rodanthe  (Oops, sorry, no dogs in that one, but it is THE SAME FORMULA).

I don’t mind an occasional dip into the beautiful sadness of love and loss.  But I definitely HATE it when it has all the subtlety of a sledgehammer and I see it coming from ten miles away and I STILL cry.  And dog movies are kinda notorious for that…

It’s also why I HATE NICHOLAS SPARKS MOVIES.  They are SO predictable that there is ABSOLUTELY NO NEED FOR ME TO SEE THEM.

There will be some vaguely loser-ish person who, against the odds, hooks up an improbably awesome person (who may also seem loser-ish at the beginning).  Of course, both losers are Hollywood losers, you understand—each is still a relatively attractive person with atypically firm muscle tone.  Maybe he has some mild “bad boy” characteristics (nothing quite as serious as being a meth-head or a serial murderer) or he’s screwed up in the head from guilt over a Surgery Gone Wrong or she has a wacky fundamentalist father who won’t let her wear makeup or a philandering ex-husband she can’t quite dump, et cetera.

And then, after you sit through all the sexual pseudo-tension and the couple decides to get together and live happily ever after, somebody is going to BITE THE DUST. Or LOSE THEIR MEMORY.

Here’s how predictable they are:

My friend Natasha was channel-surfing one night and “A Walk to Remember” came on. And she, who’d seen it WAAAAAY TOO MANY TIMES before and (in my opinion) had gone into some Stockholm Syndrome type of agreement with the oppressor, insisted, “You have got to watch this!”

It was just at the scene where the “bad boy” watches Mandy Moore (daughter of uptight minister who won’t let her wear makeup) sing something and you can see he’s FALLING IN LUUURVVV.  They zoom in on his face, his eyes widen, and the violins swell in the soundtrack. 

I had never seen this movie or heard anything about it, but the bad boy’s acting in that scene is ALMOST as good as that of the marionettes in “Team America.” 


And I’m like, “Is THIS a NICHOLAS SPARKS movie???” 

(Because I had just gotten tricked into watching “Nights in Rodanthe” where Richard Gere was Diane Lane’s Awesome One True Love that Helped her Move On from her Philandering Husband and, right before they got together FOR GOOD, there was this TOTALLY RANDOM MUDSLIDE IN ECUADOR THAT KILLED RICHARD GERE OFFSCREEN.  And I was STILL feeling the pain of all those clich├ęs and losing those two hours of my life.)

And Nati stops the action and says, “Yeah, I think so…”

And I’m all, “Don’t go ANY FARTHER.  And let me guess…he FALLS in LOVE with her, he totally REFORMS, and then SHE DIES OF CANCER.”

No answer.  Nati just stared at me…

“Okay, okay,” I said.  “A CAR ACCIDENT.  She dies in a CAR ACCIDENT.”

Nati burst out laughing and said, “CANCER.  It’s CANCER!!!”

It’s always gonna be SOMETHING bad in Sparksworld.  So why waste the time?  There’s such a thing as tragic catharsis.  Shakespeare knew how to do it.  Nicholas Sparks, not so much.  Maybe it’s 60-40 on dog movies…

I never thought I’d say this, but thank God for “Beverly Hills Chihuahua!”

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Me and reading (a short post)

I LOVE TO READ.  And usually I don't check out Shelf Awareness, which is a daily update on publishing news.

And I tend to think that "rap music" is mostly an oxymoron.

But today I opened it up and found this awesome and amazingly creative rap video.  Or maybe it's hip-hop.  I'm not sure of the current terms.

But it kind of describes me...

Warning:  this is a bit lengthy, but if you're somewhat literary, you'll love it.  Or maybe if you're a Jay-Z/Kanye fan, you'll love it.  Annabelle Quezada is a genius!

Click here for the link to YouTube video:

B*tches in Bookshops

There is so much in here that's great--including the Anais Nin in the subway.  But my favorite's this line:

Nerdy boy, he’s so slow 
Tuesday we started Foucault
He’s still stuck on the intro? He’s a no go.
It’s sad I had to kick him out my house though –
He Mispronounced an author - MARCEL PROUST 

I'm just remembering years and years ago, when I was an education researcher.  All of us had a ton of letters after our names, some of them P, H, and D. And we were interviewing a potential new employee who also had those letters after her name.  And, during her initial presentation, she talked with great confidence about "that great French writer, Marcel Prowst..." (pronounced the SAME way as the hapless nerdy boy described in the song)

Which kind of goes to show you that a ton of letters behind your name does not mean you are necessarily well-educated or literate.  Mine really mean that I forgot to stop going to school!

Anyhow, I don't remember much more than that, but I'm pretty sure we didn't hire her.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

...changes of pace...

Sorry I have not posted for TWO WHOLE MONTHS...

Last posting was the dog show in Palm Springs, which was AMAZING.

Since then, I manned my booth at the big Denver dog show.  Which was even MORE AMAZING.

After looking at the artists in Palm Springs, I thought, "Hmmmm....well, maybe the dog show crowd is too CONSERVATIVE for my art."

After all, I like to use PINK.  And other colors THAT ARE NOT BROWN.

And I could really give a flying whatever about whether the dog's conformation is correct.  I'll get it right in the painting, sure, but what's really important to me is capturing that dog's soul.

And the art I saw at the California dog show was MUCCCCH more conservative than mine.  Beautifully done, sure, but...personally, YAWN...

So I went to the Denver show in February with my new little vendor tent, with its DALMATION SPOTS and giant paintings of pink French Bulldogs and wondered if I would be drummed out of the show because my stuff was too wild for those potentially stodgy dog people to handle.

And...NOT SO!

It was totally awesome--tons of people saw my art, and EVEN BETTER, tons of people BOUGHT my art!   And people seemed TO GET what I'm trying to do--in terms of communicating the animal's soul!  And, even better, if they didn't LIKE my art, THEY DIDN'T SAY ANYTHING!

So I am making sure that the dog show people know that yes, yes, yes I want to come back and am not above resorting to bribery to do that!

Which means I am REALLY busy now!  Hooray!  I'm even painting horses!  What the hay (ha ha ha).

Okay, now that you're wishing I'd taken a permanent hiatus from this blog, let me get to the point...

One of my new clients wants me to paint her lovely (but deceased) Lhasa Apso.  She came into my booth and really seemed to like my art (which at this point is all NEW acrylics--not the old watercolors/kid art style I have been doing for years).  But when she went home, she looked at the paintings in her house--all watercolors and oils and thought, well, maybe my style is too crisp.

She even sent me photos of the art in her home and wanted to know if I'd ever worked in any other media besides acrylics.

And since I spent years and years painting watercolors, I said absolutely and I sent her a few images of pieces I'd done (including the one above, which I call "Mazatlan Floral" since I took the photo at the lighthouse in Mazatlan and there are flowers perched on AN OILCAN.  Which kind of epitomizes Mexico and its approach to environmentalism, if you ask me.)

So she went for it.


I just tried a rough sketch using my old watercolors (which I practically needed a blowtorch and a pair of industrial bolt cutters just to OPEN) and I have to face it.


Which would really throw me into the depths of despair IF I DIDN'T HAVE A BUNCH OF OTHER WORK TO DO AND I DON'T HAVE THE TIME FOR A CRISIS.

Plus...at ONE POINT, I DIDN'T SUCK.  And I can even REMEMBER not sucking at watercolors.  It wasn't all that long ago.

Clearly this is going to be a bit of a re-learning curve!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

First time at a dog show...

Yep.  That's right.  This IS my blog, although you could be excused for thinking it had somehow morphed or mutated into something else, given the fact that IT HAS BEEN AN ENTIRE MONTH SINCE I LAST WROTE...

But what can I say?  The holidays, tons of portraits to paint, and lots of travel to do.  The blog just kind of fell away to the very backmost burner.

Anyhow, yes, the photo is of a POODLE, getting its hair sprayed.  And teased.  And back-combed.

It looks about as happy about the process as I would be.  Which is why my hair is so low-maintenance and gray and non-glamorous.  But the poodle is MUCH MORE TOLERANT of the process.  (And I used to think I would LIKE to show collies, back when I was a naive twelve-year-old who had read way too many in the "Lad, a Dog" series and didn't realize that the hairspray used on ONE single show collie could open up a hole in the ozone the size of Kansas.  And that I would spend ALL my spare time brushing the dog).

So, in case you're wondering, I spent last weekend in Palm Springs, at the big AKC dog show there.  It was IMMENSE.  There were over 3,500 dogs entered.


Given that many dogs, I was totally amazed at the lack of dogfights and UTTER lack of POO around. Then again, the show was held at a polo club encompassing many, many acres of land and employing many many people whose primary job was shovelling up unsightly piles of poo from animals much larger than dogs.

You see, it was my FIRST dog show.  And (you have the news first here) I figured that I'd better figure out what I'm in for, SINCE I HAVE BEEN TAPPED TO BE A VENDOR FOR THE BIG FEBRUARY DOG SHOW IN DENVER IN FEBRUARY.

I found out SO MANY THINGS...

I found out that there were WHOLE beauty salon stations--JUST FOR WESTIES...

This totally FREAKS ME OUT, because I have cats and can't imagine them putting up with any type of beauty treatment whatsoever.  They are, after all, PERFECT JUST AS THEY ARE.

I found out that, while dog handlers wear nice-looking suits all the time, the key aspect of those suits is that they have POCKETS.  So the handlers can keep their squeaky toys and brushes and combs and nice chewy chicken treats handily out of sight.

I found out the ONE piece of key equipment if you show a jowly dog like this champion Great Dane, or a Newfoundland, or a Mastiff...

...is a TOWEL.  To wipe all the spit off their jowls and chest and everywhere else, of course.  Including YOU.  Those dogs slobber like Pavlov's in the next room ringing his bell constantly.

I found out most dog show people talk to their dogs just like I talk to my cats:

"It's okay, honey, you did GREAT!  Who's mommy's little snookums? Who IS?  Who wants a treatie now?"

I think I've heard stories about overbearing, neurotic, evil people who push their dogs unreasonably in competition.  I THINK...but maybe I'm thinking of the Christopher Guest movie "Best in Show."

Or maybe I'm confusing dog shows with child beauty pageants.  Or cheerleader moms.  Or...Lemony Snicket, I don't know.  I can be kind of loose in my associations, that way.

All I can say is, if you get a chance, check out a dog show in your area!  Do it even if you are a CAT PERSON, because it's just an amazing experience!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

The magic point...


Hello again!  I have been incredibly busy painting pet portraits for holiday gifts.  While it’s awesome to have so much work, it can also be a little stressful.  Especially when you’re on the road.

For example, I have found out that the iphone photo of the little deceased Australian Shepherd that I’m working from has plumbed new depths of fuzziness.  No matter how much I use PhotoShop to try to straighten things out, there are THINGS ABOUT THIS DOG’S FACE THAT I CANNOT SEE

Although maybe it’s my middle-aged eyes.  Or the fact that I have been painting in iffily-lit hotel rooms and guest rooms across the Southwest for the past two weeks, and not in my usual studio.  Where, I should add, I can blow up the photos to 20 times their ordinary size.

Anyhow, I’ve been VERRRY critical of my work lately.  But recently on some of these pieces, I’ve hit the MAGIC POINT. (example above...)

What, you may ask, is the magic point?

Let me explain it to you like this.

I have this piece of canvas.  I take these crudely-wrapped bundles of bristles and I push around gobs of pigment to form different shapes on the canvas.  The shapes eventually start to take the shape of something vaguely recognizeable, like a raccoon, maybe, or (often, actually) a hedgehog.

Eventually the shapes, after I have done enough pushing and pulling, will get to the point where the pigments roughly approximate something like a cat.  Or a dog.  So then I have to keep going.

But it’s painfully clear (ha ha, the first time, I wrote this PAINTfully clear, which is totally a Freudian slip) that this is just a load of pigment on a canvas in some organic shapes.  It’s just paint.  It’s got no life.

But if I keep going, I know I’ll get rewarded.

So I keep messing around with this stuff, on and on, well past the point where a sane person would have thrown in the towel and headed to the neighborhood bar.

And then I reach the magic point.

All of a sudden, what was a bunch of random smears of paint suddenly coalesces.  I look down at what I’ve been doing, and say, 

“Ah, Fluffy, HELLO!  THERE you are!”

And they are.  There’s some essence of the animal’s spirit right there in the paint.  And I, being too stubborn or stupid to quit, have somehow captured it.

That’s the magic point.  That’s when I know I’m on the road out.  The painting may not be FINISHED (in fact, usually it ISN’T), but from that point on out, my job is mainly to NOT lose the spirit or cover it up by stupidly or carelessly slopping more paint on it.

At least that’s the way I think about it. 

But maybe I have been breathing too many paint fumes!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Trampoline no more!


Here's the follow-up to the piece that was giving me fits two blog entries ago or so (For more information and a much CRAZIER version, please reference my blog titled "A Trampoline for Your Eyes").  Basically, I toned down the background with several translucent coats of grey/green.  Whew!  It's amazing what just a few coats of paint will do!

And now I'm sort of kicking myself for WAITING TWO WEEKS to do that!  I think I was a little afraid that it wouldn't work and that I would be out ALL the labor and time it took to lay in that tartan pattern!

Oh, well.  The way out is the way through.  I just had to grit my teeth and do it!  And the portrait is clearly all about the DOG now, instead of being about the giant red SQUARES and then the green and then sort of the dog and then...WHY do I suddenly have a craving for Walker's shortbread and a headache???

Okay, back to work!  I have a bunch more in the way of holiday portraits to work on...and travel plans in the offing as well!  So if I don't get back to another entry before the holidays, please have a happy thanksgiving!