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!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

On non-profits...

How many of you have worked with or at non-profit agencies?

Do you find that their leadership is typically SHORT-SIGHTED?  Or they work with BLINDERS ON, like these horses from Colonial Williamsburg?

I’ve been wondering about this, partly because I used to work for non-profits in the education sector.  And, in my experience, while the delivery (or research, or policy analysis) staff were EXCELLENT and hard-working, upper management was an amazingly silly (and frequently corrupt) batch of lunatics.  Not that you could always tell that at first sight.

Anyhow, I ran into this again this week, but from the OUTSIDE this time.

Here’s how it came about.  I’ve been scheduled as the featured artist for a show early next year at a Barnes & Noble store about an hour away.  And my artist reception is scheduled at the same time as B&N is holding a bookfair for a nonprofit up there – a place that has a herd of therapy horses that they use to work with physically and emotionally-disabled people.

For the purposes of this blog, I’ll call the place “Hernias and Horses.”

My being scheduled for a show at the B&N had NOTHING to do with Hernias and Horses. 

It had to do with the fact that I used to sell my children’s book up there a few years ago and when I stopped by recently to visit my friends who worked there, they remembered that I USED TO DRESS UP AS A SHEEP AND REGULARLY SHOW UP FOR SCHOOL BOOKFAIRS. Even in blizzards. 

And they liked my current paintings. 

And they think of me (somehow, despite the sheep costume) as a professional they can count on. 

So they scheduled me for February.

I’ve been looking to paint some horses for awhile now.  I’ve stopped by local riding stables and taken photos, as well as a number of shots when I travel.  And I thought, “Why not call Hernias and Horses and see if they’d like to do something TOGETHER for the bookfair?”

Why not, INDEED

I’m basically a team player.  So I worked up an idea about possibly painting a horse or two from the Hernias and Horses herd to add to my body of work, getting a print made and seeing if we could sell it at the bookfair.  And I’d donate HALF THE PROFITS (after the cost of making the print) to Hernias and Horses.

I didn’t HAVE to offer this, you know.

But it SEEMED like a win-win situation to me.  Hernias and Horses would be out NO money, and potentially could make some money.  I could get a few more horse photos to add to my collection and paint some horses to add to my body of work.  And sure, it would cost me a little bit, but I take that sort of cost on all the time when I work with pet supply stores and vets’ offices.

With the understanding, of course, that I WILL GET PAID IF THE WORK SELLS.

Because I am also a professional.

The program director at Hernias and Horses LOVED my idea.  She seemed to be on board with the whole idea, at least until I mentioned little things like charging the customer enough to PAY FOR PRODUCTION.

And she said she’d take it to the Executive Director, who apparently is the head guy with the blinders on.


So I started going through my OWN horse photos and selecting some for use in paintings for this show.  Because I already KNEW what was coming...

When the program director called back, I could tell she was kind of embarrassed.  And the message she had for me from the Executive Director was something like this:

“Typically when we work with people like professional photographers and the like, they donate 100% to Hernias and Horses.  We’re giving them EXPOSURE and it’s part of their marketing cost. It would be a lot cleaner to have a 100% donation.”

  • I didn’t laugh in her face. 
  • I didn’t ask her how long the so-called professional photographers could afford to keep doing photography and not pick up a barrista job at Starbucks because they worked with too many short-sighted non-profits like Hernias and Horses.

I just thought, “Well, a 0% donation is also a lot cleaner, and that’s the route I’m planning to take now.”

I feel sorry for the lady.  She seemed to feel really bad about it, and she personally loved my artwork. It's not her fault she's working for a dope.  She wanted to let me know that the door isn’t closed (at least not from THEIR direction) and invited me up to visit their facilities and talk with the Executive Director in person.

But I don’t think it’s a very good use of my time.  


Monday, November 14, 2011

The Walking Dead--a rant...

This is an image from AMC's "The Walking Dead" and they have all the copyrights, etc. etc.  I am just using this to have a relevant image for this post.

Anyhow, I forgot the magic word—or shortened word (Decaf, in case you are wondering) when I picked up my Starbucks at 1:45 yesterday afternoon, so I am wide awake and it’s the middle of the night and I’m too jittery to pick up a paintbrush (although I have SOLVED the “trampoline for the eyes” problem of my last post!)…

But my typing speed is SPECTACULAR.

And, typically for me after watching TV last night, I am thinking about zombies.

(Just a sideline; did you ever wonder about how many HUGE real-world problems might be solved if people actually spent their time solving real-world problems instead of fanwanking about zombies?  Probably a lot.  Clearly zombie fiction is the cause of current societal downfall.  Or maybe it’s vampire fiction.  If you ask me, there is NOTHING MORE TERRIFYING and telling about our current low standards for literacy and storytelling and expectations for boyfriends than the “Twilight” series’ success..)

But again, I digress.

If you haven’t watched the 11/13 episode of TWD, I am going to spill the beans.  So go elsewhere or suck it up.

I started out LOVING TWD. And what I LOVED about the show really has to do with WHO THE REAL MONSTERS ARE.

Hint:  They’re not always the undead.

In fact, they’re USUALLY NOT.

But lately, it’s been getting on my last nerve.  Here are the reasons:

Reason #1:
The pace of the writing is GLACIAL. 

Our Gang of Zombie Survivors has been looking for that idiotic child, Sophia, for what seems like YEARS now. Dale should have died OF OLD AGE in the space of time these people have been hanging out and sponging off of Veterinarian Hershel, using up his antibiotics, losing his horses, screwing his daughter, and SOMEHOW TOTALLY MISSING THE FACT  (until last night) THAT HE HAS A BARN FULL OF ZOMBIES.

Which kind of makes me hate the show more.  Just as I’m about to un-DVR it, SOMETHING KIND OF MIND-BLOWING happens like that and I’m sucked in for another few weeks of nothing happening except for extremely idiotic characters getting pregnant, arguments about the presence of God, etc.  And a few zombies for window dressing.

It’s almost as bad as “Ringer,” which I only started watching because I was a “Buffy” fan and now I’m realizing why Joss Whedon and Sarah Michelle Gellar never talk much about each other.  

They clearly have REALLY DIFFERENT IDEAS of what’s GOOD.

Sigh.  At least with TWD, the zombies LOOK like zombies.  In “Ringer,” they’re just very pretty people all ACTING like zombies.

Anyhow, back to TWD.  I could get all Doc Jensen-y here and ramble on for PAGES about the metaphorical significance of Sophia, “Sophia” being the Greek word for wisdom.  And the show is a big MESSAGE, possibly about our lifelong search for wisdom, blah blah blah, until death comes for us, probably in the form of a lot of rotting, staggering things who catch us and gnaw us to death because someone we THOUGHT WAS OUR ALLY used his last bullet to SHOOT US IN THE LEG so he could get away.

But I’ll leave that to Doc Jensen.
Which leads to…

Reason #2:



It’s been bothering me ALL WEEK that the ONLY character that I even remotely want to survive TWD’s zombie apocalypse is a bigoted, crossbow-toting redneck.  Then I watched last night’s episode, and, in addition to being bigoted, here are some of Darryl’s OTHER qualities:

  • AND HE’S STARTING TO GET VISITED BY HIS PSYCHOTIC (and presumably dead) BROTHER MERLE, who cut off his own HAND last season to escape the zombies, kind of like Gaius Baltar’s visits from HeadSix on Battlestar Galactica.

All this makes Darryl EVEN MORE AWESOME TO ME.

Maybe I’ll keep watching it, just to check out Darryl and HeadMerle.

Because everyone else is an IDIOT.  And I don't CARE about them.

Shane is a self-serving, friend-shooting, best-friend’s-wife-screwing hothead whom I suspect is carrying a stash of steroids (which would explain some of his behavior).  The wife in question is both vapid and opinionated (although she is NOT, contrary to typical Hollywood casting, blonde), and she’s a package deal with the kid, who would be much more interesting if he got zombified. 

There IS a blonde who used to be interesting but is now mainly a compelling argument for gun control, since she is always yelling about her Second Amendment rights but could not pass a Hunter Safety course even if she slept with the instructor, and who, in fact, once she GOT her gun and learned how to point it, shot DARRYL instead of one of the undead. 

Glen, whom I used to like, got very uninteresting once he discovered sex (lost his virginity?) with the vet’s daughter, although he did just discover the secret barnload full of zombies…and then there are other characters that I resent too much even to list.

Although—GREAT LINES OF DIALOGUE between Glen and the vet’s daughter:

GLEN:  “What would you say if I told you we had 11 condoms left?”
DAUGHTER:  “I’d say that was 11 more minutes of my life I’d never get back.”

Unfortunately, examples of this type of dialogue are few and far between. 

And Rick, the main character, went from being a real person to an allegorical mouthpiece for hope (as well as… atheism???) in about TWO EPISODES FLAT.  Let’s get real.  We could kill him off and SOME OTHER CHARACTER could say those lines, and we probably wouldn’t notice the difference.  After all, Rick has already given his sheriff’s hat to Carl, along with whatever personality he had.

It’s interesting though.  It makes me wonder if that’s the point of the show—to bring out the viewers’ intolerances of others.  After all, I don’t TYPICALLY dislike people.  Real people, that is.  But this show is bringing out the monster in me – which is a horror theme at LEAST as old as Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein.”

Or maybe it’s just too much caffeine.

Friday, November 4, 2011

A trampoline for your eyes...

The image is of a client's piece that's in progress that is GIVING ME A TREMENDOUS HEADACHE.

It's kind of a secret because the piece will be a surprise Christmas gift, but I figured, "Hey, I only have about five blog followers and I'm not using names here."  So please do NOT RAT ME OUT or share this with anybody who has a Scottish Terrier until AFTER CHRISTMAS.


Anyhow, because the client has a Celtic heritage (no, the OTHER Celtics, they are NOT Boston basketball fans), I thought it would be BRILLIANT to incorporate their terrier with a tartan background that relates directly to their family.  So I did the research and found out what the tartan looked like.

Then I pitched it to the client along with a rough sketch.  They ALSO thought it would be brilliant!

So I went ahead with the painting.



I have spent DAYS on that freaking plaid background, toning it down, bringing it back up, etc.

And what I have is like that silly Old Spice Commercial where the hunky, six-packed dude says, "Look at your boyfriend.  Now look at look at your boyfriend..."

Although I think I encountered that first with the ad for "Puss in Boots" where Antonio Banderas' voice purrs out of Puss' mouth, "Look at your cat.  Now look at ME..."

But this version is more like:

  • You look at one of the BIG RED SQUARES.
  • Then you look at the dog.
  • Then you look BACK at the BIG RED SQUARES.  

Boy, you think, those are big.
And red.
What was this piece supposed to be a painting of, I wonder?

  • Then (maybe) you look back at the dog.  
Oh's a dog portrait!
  • Then it's back to those freaking red squares.  Or maybe one of the blue lines.
  • Then ANOTHER piece of the background--maybe that IDIOTIC white and yellow line.
  • Then you go lie down with a headache.  
  • Or you go pick up a Magic Eye book, to give your OWN EYES A BREAK!

I called my friend, Ann, today (she is one of my most trusted artist friends), to try and get her critique on it, and, after I described it to her, she said,
"Oh, so it's like a trampoline for your eyes?"

And YES.


They bounce ALL OVER THE PLACE with this thing.

And it's supposed to be ABOUT THE DOG!

So I need to change that.  I've decided to bury it in the closet this weekend and take a look at it early next week with Ann, to see how to fix it.

From experience, I know that I'm smack-dab in the UGLY UNDERPAINTING PHASE.  And the only way out is through.

But I don't have to ENJOY it!  Grrrr....

If you have any insights, they are HUGELY APPRECIATED!  But I'm taking the weekend off from this guy!  Happy Friday!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Remembering Autumn...

It’s the Day of the Dead, which has gotten me to thinking.  Last weekend, I booked my first commission for a deceased pet—a bouncy, playful Australian Shepherd who apparently met a premature end.

But, then again, I think that the short lifespans of most pets (barring those relatively noncuddly things like parrots and tortoises) ALWAYS seem premature.

Bonding with an animal that you’re almost guaranteed to outlive – well, that’s one of the crueler aspects of life on this planet, even with a cat that’s ALMOST TWENTY.

In case it is not TOTALLY obvious, I had to help send my little almost-20 cat, Autumn, on to the great beyond last May.

It seemed DAMNED premature.  Even at the last, I could still see her as a kitten, when we used to make “cat burritos” by rolling her up in my Mexican rug.  And then I would tease her and poke at her from outside the rug and she would grab at me from the inside, eyes glowing and whiskers twitching with excitement.

Autumn and I LOVED making cat burritos.

So, in May, we made one last cat burrito together.  I rolled her scrawny old body up in her kitty-cat printed quilt, and we took her to meet with a vet for the last time to help her away.

It was not as fun as it used to be, but it had to be done.

Because, even though it seemed premature, it was simultaneously WAY PAST TIME.  Her little body was past its expiration date, she was REALLY ready to go, and those things were crystal clear.  Her last breath was a sigh of relief.

But it didn’t really make it any easier for me to have to do it. For about two weeks, I was just SAD a lot.  And I don’t typically hold onto sadness about much of anything, although I’m crying like the guy from Pagliacci as I’m writing this.  I don’t regret anything about having Autumn in my life for the past nineteen years, including having to give her a good death.  But these silly short lifespans are just a pain to have to deal with.

Even though Autumn remained “my” cat for her whole life, about seven years ago, we sent her up to my parents’ house on an extended sabbatical.  Here's how it happened:

Smokey, a recent escapee from the former meth lab across the street (I am SPECULATING here, but those people really had some odd habits.  Maybe I have been watching too much "Breaking Bad" but Smokey does wheeze sometimes around chemicals like carpet cleaner, like maybe they'd been cooking a batch of meth and forgot to give her a respirator.), had come to live with us after the meth cooks moved elsewhere and apparently abandoned her to starve.  And we already had another cat, Windy.

And Autumn, with her genteel ways, went straight to the bottom of the household cat power structure.  The other two cats, much as we tried to intervene, banished her from our laps, and Miss Autumn was mainly relegated to hiding under the stairs and crying about the injustice of it all.  So off she went to Idaho Springs, where she could once again be the main cat in the household and get some attention.

But she would still visit every once in awhile, because my mother, despite her status as Queen Bee of Idaho Springs society, suddenly found herself incapable of asking ANYBODY ELSE besides me to take care of Autumn when she wanted to travel.  (Despite agreeing to take Autumn, she was not 100% on board with the whole sabbatical program, so that was her way of getting back at me.  That's my interpretation of it.)

Anyhow, several times a year, Autumn would get stuffed into the Pet Taxi and brought back down to our house, where she had a standing reservation in the Greta Garbo Suite for Cats Who Want to be Left Alone (by other cats). And when she visited, she LOVED laundry duty.  I would sort the laundry into a basket and then leave it out for her, so she could burrow into the socks and towels and hang out.  And I got a bunch of great photos of her several years ago.

So I painted a portrait of her, a month or two after she was gone.  That’s it, above.  My husband is not that thrilled that, in addition to Autumn, his dirty socks are memorialized for everybody to see.  But IT REALLY COULD HAVE BEEN WORSE.  I edited all the underwear out of the painting.

Anyhow, I’m very happy with this portrait.  I think that, on this day where we commemorate the dead, it helps to do that for me with Autumn! I feel like I have something of Autumn and her personality with me still and I’m very thankful for the times I had with her!

I hope I can do the same for the shepherd’s owner!

Monday, October 31, 2011

On decisionmaking...

Why do we make the decisions we do?

I've been wondering about that a lot this week, partially because I've been wearing ruts in memory lane for about 10 days.

You see, last weekend was my 25th college reunion!!!  And Jon and I made the trek back to Williamsburg, Virginia.  I was never very good at taking the advice that Steely Dan gave me, and I DID, after all, attend (and graduate from) the College of WIlliam and Mary in 1986.  

We had a total blast, wandering around the college and partying with friends in Colonial Williamsburg (a place I never had the disposable income to frequent back when I was a student) and kicking leaves and going to a late-night fireworks/open-bar/dinner/dance-party in the Sunken Gardens that was AWESOME!

As I was dancing to a WHOLE BUNCH of Michael Jackson cover tunes at said party, I suddenly remembered a time, 26 years earlier, when I was a student, living in one of the old dorms near to the Sunken Gardens.  

And the Homecoming alumni party was going on REALLY late, and I NEEDED TO STUDY.  Those old fogies just WOULDN'T STOP! I quite clearly remember thinking the words "old fogies."

Now I'm one of them.  Which you could think of as sobering, but I mainly think of as HILARIOUS!

Anyhow, there we were, hanging out in this beautiful place, and I was channelling the Talking Heads and asking,
"Well, how did I get here?"

It was quite a leap from a small mining town (mostly converted to tourism) in the Rockies to go to Tidewater, Virginia, a place I had NEVER BEEN.  So I got to thinking about it.  Why on earth did I end up there?

My EXCELLENT American History teacher, Mrs. Klusman, had gone to Williamsburg the summer I turned 16.  And she brought back all sorts of pictures and raved about how awesome it was...

But that wasn't really why.

Then, when I became a senior in high school, I was inundated with all sorts of promotional literature from colleges ALL OVER THE COUNTRY.  My PSAT scores were high, so everybody except the ATHLETIC places were trying to recruit me.  I had POUNDS AND POUNDS of promo packets from all shapes and sizes of places from all over the country.

Deciding among all that was a tough thing.  And Mr. Fowler, my high school counselor, was little to NO help.  He might have been okay as a football coach (although how would I know?  I only went to half of all the home games and that was only because I played in the band at the halftime show), but his counseling skills weren’t great in terms of helping you make a logical decision about college.

Mr. Fowler thought my scores were AWESOME.  And he really really pushed me attending Smith or Wellesley.  I don’t know why.  Maybe his wife had gone to one of the Seven Sisters or something.  So, okay, thanks to Mr. Fowler and generally being overwhelmed with all the information, I sent apps to Smith and Wellesley.

Which, incidentally, although I was accepted, were two schools that I COULD NEVER IN A MILLION YEARS HAVE AFFORDED.  But I didn’t really know that, at the time.

Add to that, the fact that, despite all my reading, I was a kid in a tiny Colorado town, and the only places outside Colorado that I’d ever been in my life, besides a few trips to Kansas and Wisconsin to visit family, was backpacking down the Paria Canyon.

And the Paria did not have an accredited college.

But I did kind of want to see something different.

So, in addition to expensive Smith & Wellesley, I also applied to the Colorado College, JUST IN CASE I won the Boettcher Scholarship, which provided a full ride to any school in Colorado (and I did not win the Boettcher).


So I applied to William and Mary, almost based on a whim.

The photo I included with this post is VERRRY similar to one that was in William and Mary’s promo pamphlet in 1981.  It was of one of the campus’ old brick buildings and a picket fence next to it.

I REALLY liked that photo. 

That’s why I picked William and Mary.

I remember that Mr. Fowler was less than impressed at first.

I had no idea at the time (and neither did he) that William and Mary was the second-oldest institution in the country, or that George Washington/Thomas Jefferson/etc. had all gone there.  I didn’t realize it was considered one of the best public schools in the country.

I DIDN’T EVEN KNOW IT WAS IN VIRGINIA UNTIL WE MADE THE PLANE RESERVATIONS TO FLY THERE WHEN I STARTED SCHOOL.   (The geography standards people would probably have a field day with that, but there IS a Williamsburg in West Virginia…)

I fell in love. Williamsburg was a great choice and William and Mary was a great match for me.  And I am still in love with the College and the colonial part of town and the wonderful professors and students I worked with!

(To be totally truthful, I sort of hate the New South crap on Richmond Road, where I worked at a sweatshop/pancake house full of ex-convicts the summer after I graduated and it gave me a new perspective on Southern living that was closer to “Deliverance” than I’d received from studying at William and Mary.  And a lot of writing material.  But that’s another story.)

And it all hinged on that one photo, which I can still see, clearly as ever, even through all the years and the many miles.

Decisionmaking…it’s funny!  The power of an image is IMPRESSIVE!

Happy Halloween!

Friday, October 14, 2011

Investments in business...

I've just been thinking about the whole rationale for why you invest in marketing and publicity and...well, anything related to your business. Hypothetically, you pay for things because they're SUPPOSED to strengthen your business, right?

Of course, this is no exact science, and that is PRECISELY what marketers and publicists and people who sell you advertising count on to keep their own businesses afloat.

For instance, years ago, when I published two children's picture books through Snowbound Press, I invested $12,000 on a publicist. He came highly recommended. He was very, very nice. And my good friend Lydia also spent a similar amount on him to promote HER children's book.

Unfortunately, publicists are not typically paid for productivity. They are paid up front, for their hypothetical connections (which may often be imaginary or inferior to your own connections, to be honest with you).

Nice and highly recommended though Adam was (and I don't think I'm letting the cat too far out of the bag with just a first name there), he GOT FEWER PRESS REVIEWS FOR MY BROTHER'S BOOK THAN I DID FOR MY BOOK WHEN I WAS HANDLING PUBLICITY OUT OF MY DUSTY, SPIDER-INFESTED BASEMENT ON AN UNPAID BASIS.

AND THIS WAS AT A TIME WHEN MY BROTHER WAS HEAD OF STORY ON A MAJOR DREAMWORKS ANIMATION RELEASE. Really. His name on the credits actually showed up BEFORE the movie. And they were in letters LARGE ENOUGH TO READ when you freeze the DVD. It was a big deal!

Whereas, when my book came out, I was famous for NOTHING other than a doctoral dissertation that was so esoteric even I have trouble remembering what it was about, and a bunch of research reports on standardized test validity and assessment systems that nobody bothered to read (OBVIOUSLY, or this No Child Left Behind garbage would not have been such a complete and utter flustercuck).

And I still got loads more press, awards, and sales for my book than the $12,000 guy did for my famous brother's book.


Not a good business investment, that.

Of course, times change. Businesses change. And so what you invest in will change as well.

Now, with my new business, I am VERY happy, because I found something that really works.

The photo is representative of part of my job--getting good reference photos for the portraits. To a large extent, the quality of an animal's portrait is dependent on the quality of the photograph I base it on.

And I have been plagued with photography situations this past week involving squinty cats, bad light, an unfamiliar camera, dogs who WILL NOT PERK THEIR EARS UP, NO MATTER WHAT, and all sorts of twitchy animals who WILL JUST NOT LOOK AT ME BECAUSE I HAVE A CAMERA IN MY HAND.


Squeaky rubber chicken.


Happy Friday!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

On the resilience of dogs...

This is Oreo.

He's a 4-year old purebred Cocker Spaniel, and I got to know him a little better because his owner, Melinda Elkind, won a free pet portrait of him in a drawing I sponsored over the summer.

So a few weeks ago, I traipsed over to Oreo and Melinda's house to take some photos for use in the painting.

Oreo is a very pleasant dog. He has good social skills. But he's not one of those dogs who immediately is ALL OVER YOU, giving you the hard-sell like he's Orphan Annie and you're a potential adoptive parent.

Maybe this doesn't happen to you, but it has happened to me MORE TIMES THAN I CAN COUNT. I'd go to a party, and usually there'd be a new baby there (to be fair, this happened MUCH MORE when I was a bit younger).

Now MOST women are very BABY-oriented, so they would get sucked into the baby's orbit like the additional moons and assorted space junk that get sucked into orbiting Jupiter.

I am not like most women that way.

Sure, I like babies as a rule, and I will politely admire them, because, generally, they're very cute. But PLEASE DO NOT ASK ME TO HOLD ONE. They seem very pink and fragile, I never quite know how to support their necks (which seem disconcertingly weak relative to their enormous HEADS), and they are nerve-wrackingly susceptible to irrational crying jags. Plus they are FULL of all sorts of liquids that are apt to come OUT at any time from a dizzying variety of bodily apertures, and these liquids are not the sorts of things I want on my clothes.

I am the person who zooms out of the swarm around the baby at the earliest possible opportunity, looking for the family dog or cat and/or the bar, not necessarily in that order.

And what would inevitably happen at that point is that the dog immediately would attach himself to me. I'd start to pet him, scratch him behind the ears, talk to him, etc. And then he WOULDN'T LET ME STOP. He'd try to crawl in my lap or show me the latest awesome trick he'd learned. And every time I'd try to rest my hand or wash my hand or deposit the dog hair in a wastebasket or go somewhere for a drink refresher or the bathroom, there he'd be, following me and begging for more attention.

So that was the long way of saying OREO IS NOT THAT KIND OF DOG.

Like I said, he was very polite to me, a relative stranger (although he does take his watchdog duties somewhat seriously), but he's clearly not interested in selling himself like those needier dogs. He was well-behaved; Melinda let him off-leash part of the time and he did not flip out and start running for miles, just because he COULD, like some other dogs I could mention. He was a good boy!

Then Melinda told me about his background.

You see, Oreo is a rescue dog. When Melinda got him, three years ago, he was a year old, and had spent most of his life in a crate. The woman who owned him did not know anything about dogs, and her two children basically spent their time POKING at him through the bars of the crate.

So he would snap at people.

And I can't blame him, really, given his life experience.

But apparently he had bitten TWO people and was scheduled to be put down. Melinda was one of his last chances. And she took him in.

It was not easy, I'm sure. She said that, when she first brought him home, he wanted to constantly be up on tables, coffee tables, chairs, etc. But once her husband established that HE was the top dog, Oreo fell into line. Sure, he still indulges in the occasional criminal act (usually involving a food theft of some kind) but he seems to be a lovely pet!

I came away rather amazed at his resilience. I would never have guessed that he didn't come from a stable home and happy puppyhood. But I am constantly horrified and amazed by the many idiotic and cruel ways in which people mistreat their companion animals. And I am always humbled by the incredible grace and resilience of many of those animals who bounce back and are again willing to offer people their love and trust.

We, as a species, could probably take a lesson from that.

I don't know that Oreo was ever technically in a shelter, but, thanks to the ASPCA, October is Adopt a Shelter Dog Month! If you're in the market for an animal companion, please plan to adopt a shelter animal this month. There's more information at the ASPCA's website.

Think about it! You, like Melinda, will not only be getting a great companion, you'll be saving a life!

Monday, October 3, 2011

On civic responsibility...

I got this piece of mail a few weeks ago, notifying me that I MUST appear tomorrow at the courthouse for jury selection.

It makes it quite clear that, if I choose NOT to fulfill this civic responsibility, my alternative is to appear in a courtroom under quite a different set of circumstances. Or to pay all sorts of unspecified fines and fees.

Both of these alternatives are quite STICK-y.

I can handle a little bit of stick, you know? But generally, I appreciate there being some CARROT ALONG WITH IT.


Well, to be fair, I guess I get DISCOUNTED PARKING in the parking structure downtown. But that, in my opinion, is not much of a carrot. It's more of a moldy old turnip, especially when paired with the added necessities of waking up 3 hours earlier than usual and driving downtown during RUSH HOUR and paying for parking in a PLACE I DON'T REALLY WANT TO BE ANYWAY.

But I guess I'm just pouting, because, after all, it's my opportunity to fulfill my responsibility as a citizen. Even though I'm self-employed, and, if you're self-employed in Colorado, "you must compensate yourself for the first three days." (The theory is that most trials only last three days; after that the state pays all jurors $50/day).

Compensating myself for the first three days of time spent hanging about with criminals and lawyers (which, mathematically speaking, are overlapping sets, a belief that...hmmm...JUST MIGHT exempt me from jury duty) is not much of a carrot in my book.

I understand civic responsibility. I really do. I vote. I try to stay REASONABLY well-informed on the issues, at least as much as one CAN, given how unreliable and biased almost ALL current "news" outlets are.

I even READ those multi-page blue booklets that come out in Colorado prior to every election, the ones that hypothetically summarize the pros and cons of each measure in exhaustive detail. Unfortunately, from years of being an expert researcher and policy advisor, I also know how BIASED those summaries are, and how much the devil is in the details of policy implementation. So I don't trust much of what I read.

But I do think the "corrections" system is grossly mis-named and based on arbitrary and dysfunctional laws. So I'm not sure that the greatest good here is for me to sit for three or more days on a criminal jury listening to arbitrarily selected bits of information so a group can come to a fairly arbitrary decision that will not, in all likelihood, rehabilitate the criminal or recompense the victim. Especially when, instead, I could be doing something CONSTRUCTIVE. Like painting peoples' pets and building my business.

But it's my civic duty to go along with it (as I have been reminded by the BIG STICK wielded by the state). So I will have to show up.

But honestly, ever since I have gotten this summons, whenever I think about it, NINETY-FIVE PERCENT OF MY ATTENTION IS IN HOW I CAN GET OUT OF IT.

But that doesn't quite seem workable for me.

So I've got a different list. Along with possibly flogging my PhD. (somebody told me once that lawyers don't like people with advanced degrees), I'm thinking about talking about religion and my cynicism about politics and the justice system.

Princess Leia will be my last resort.

And, of course, I will SUCK IT UP if I HAVE to. But I'm really hoping that I won't actually be selected.

The last time I was summoned for jury duty (and dismissed), I was not painting puppies or writing kids' books; I was writing a series of very dark, macabre short stories.

This is a partial summary of a short story, the treatment of which I wrote WHILE I WAS IN THE COURTHOUSE WAITING ROOM,about a juror who avidly WANTED to do her civic duty (which, of course, demonstrated that she was not HUMAN, but instead was an odd life-force sucking vampire). After the first trial (which went very long and ended with violence and all 11 other members of the jury aging about 10 years in 2 weeks), this woman came out looking younger and plumper and sleeker. And then she kept coming back, with new IDs, serving on new juries, sucking out their life forces, and coming out younger and younger every time. I will spare you the ending (there was a bit of a twist) but it was NOT PRETTY AT ALL.

Maybe it will not be so bad. But does anybody else feel this way?

Monday, September 26, 2011

On going grey...

I've made a conscious decision to let my hair go grey. Or maybe it's just laziness. I can't be bothered with the whole time-suck of getting it dyed and then, from now until the END OF TIME, getting my roots touched up. Until I am a wizened little octogenarian with improbably red hair that goes EXTREMELY well with my liver spots and is fooling NOBODY...


You can tell somewhat where the creeping greyness is at in that process from this photo--although it's not quite as noticeable as in some OTHER photos where I much more closely resemble Cruella DeVil. Or Pepe LePew.

If you squint your eyes a lot, the streaks at the front of my hair ALMOST look like they're blonde. But no, they're actually grey/white. I have hopes of someday having the Bonnie Raitt/Joe Perry slash of white in my hair (and the associated coolness), but with my luck, I will end up looking like a very aged mouse instead.

Yes, I HAVE DYED MY HAIR IN THE PAST. But the first time, I was 14 and succumbing to peer pressure. The second time I was in my early twenties and it was the 80s, and, while I have no excuses really for a bleached-blond top and dark sides, I would say that there were no excuses for a LOT of very public fashion experiments in the 80s.

Fingerless lace gloves.
Wham, the band
Boy George
Gaultier's pointy bra thingy that Madonna wore in concert
Giant linebacker shoulderpads...

I could go on and on, but you get the idea. My little hair-dying experiment was mild compared to some of THAT.

And the third time I went through dying my hair, I was in my thirties and had had the same style for YEARS and I felt sorry for my stylist, who was dying of boredom after about the tenth visit where I had her do the same trim on my plain brown hair. So, at her suggestion, I had her dye blond streaks just in the FRONT of my hair.

I ended up looking kind of like Rogue from the X-Men, if Rogue was a thirty-something policy analyst. As policy analyst hairstyles go, it was pretty edgy, but had to keep going in and touching up the roots. Plus there were none of the Rogue-associated powers that I would have put to good use, like sucking the life force out of whatever idiotic politician I was working with at the time who was convinced that "No Child Left Behind" as written was a GOOD THING.


So I let that grow out.

So I've been thinking about this recently, mainly because Jon and I went to a wedding and he had me help him put some "Touch of Grey" haircolor in his beard.

Just to be clear, I don't usually spend time thinking about my hair.


But every once in awhile, society comes in and reminds me that, according to the media, I am just advertising my decrepitude by not going the dye route.

Like that ad for the same "Touch of Grey" haircolor--where you leave JUST a BIT of grey in. All these hunky forty-something guys with just a little bit of grey in their hair--the "Doctor Strange" amount of grey at the temples, say--cavort around doing active things! They're on the beach, with their surfboards, displaying their improbably buff bodies, then they're hiking a fourteener and then they're cracking open some cold brews with their pals. And their women--a whole bunch of equally buff, active chicks who like to apparently WATCH these guys surf and climb fourteeners and then drink beer with them. Or at least FETCH the beer.


Just saying. Not sure if the women with all those partying dudes are supposed to be TROPHY WIVES or just THE MEN'S DAUGHTERS...or if they're forty-something women who dye their hair ALL THE WAY, the way maybe I should be doing.

And I caught a HILARIOUS Simpsons episode the other night, where Marge stops dying her hair. After a series of comments that I have often received ("Thank you for your bravery!") and others that I think might have been the subtext of comments I've received ("I hope I look as good as you when I give up!"), the clincher is given by Ralph Wiggum, who says,

"Grandma had hair like that when she went to sleep in her forever box!"

I could NOT stop laughing at that! And, even though Marge caved in and went back to the blue dye, this is what I have to say:

Helen Mirren
Richard Gere
Emmylou Harris
David Byrne
Jamie Lee Curtis


Thursday, September 22, 2011

About cats...

This is Goat.

She's about six months old and WHAT A CHARMER...

I was at the Rocky Mountain Feline Rescue's shelter two weeks ago when I met her. And her sister. And her other sister, whom I THINK got adopted that same afternoon.

It was EXTREMELY foolish of me to physically venture into the shelter because I have a very low resistance to the Kitten Time Warp. This is a condition where you lose the ENTIRE afternoon's productivity when you are in proximity to kittens, and apparently for me, prior exposure does not guarantee immunity. (See my post from June, titled Lost Time Phenomenon Explained, for more details.)

Not only that, but I nearly broke the overlords' first rule:


Goat and her sister Bellow were so CUTE though. And they were working HARD to close the deal with me. It was a close thing, let me tell you!

But the overlords would have been OUTRAGED. I would have PAID...

And my husband would have been none too happy, either. Because TWO CATS ARE MORE THAN ENOUGH, especially when one lap is not big enough for both of them.

So I left Goat and Bellow there, along with all the OTHER cats, and I dropped off my package and left.

Oh yeah. That package was why I was there. I donated a gift certificate for a portrait for the Rocky Mountain Feline Rescue's "Wine and Whiskers" silent auction/wine tasting event, which will be held tomorrow night, September 23, from 5 pm til 10 pm at the Molly Brown Summer House in Denver. Tickets are $40/person, which includes wine and hors d'oeuvres, and ticket proceeds and silent auction proceeds will benefit RMFR.

I could have EASILY mailed that package. But maybe I just needed a kitten fix.

So today I decided, instead of trolling the cat shelters, that I would look up some wacky cat "facts" on the Internet for my kitten fix.

And I found this amazing statistic at

A single pair of cats and their kittens can produce as many as 420,000 kittens in just 7 years.

Wow...them's some impressive numbers.

Also according to this site, more than 35,000 kittens are born in the U.S. each year!

After reading this, I was all impressed with the site, despite its lack of citations.! After all, it was on the InterWebs, right? It had to be correct!

Then I read another "fact" from the site:


Okay, I was with them until I got to the whole BATH part.


I cannot even fathom the work that would go into getting them BATHED, but it would NOT be a pretty sight. There would be yowling and blood and screaming and it would probably look sort of like the scene where the crazy Brazilian doctor cut out the American blond girl's internal organs in "Turistas, Go Home." And splashing. Lots and lots of splashing.

And then, after all that, BLOW-DRYING?

I don't THINK SO.

By the time Smokey got to the stage where I should be blow-drying her, I would probably be in the emergency room, looking forward to taking another 10 days of antibiotics for cat-bite.

But I do know this.

There are far more cats and kittens out there than there are homes for them. Cats like Goat and Bellow and the others at the RMFR are the lucky ones. They're in a no-kill shelter, so the clock isn't ticking for them. But most cats aren't that lucky.

I'm a total advocate for no-kill shelters, but without a comprehensive spay/neuter program, there are STILL too many cats to go around. So, even though I don't REALLY trust the numbers on this site, I still agree that you should spay or neuter your cat!

But BATHING them? No WAY!

Friday, September 16, 2011

Early morning ramblings...

Holy cow. It is taking FOREVER to load this image.

Maybe it's because I'm on the road and off the mainland, sitting in the lobby of a Hawaiian hotel (the only place in the building that they have wi-fi and I CANNOT HANDLE THE WHOLE CABLE CONNECTION THING WITH MY MAC, which is all they have in-room).

Plus Jon's asleep upstairs. Did I mention it's 3 in the morning? Even though that's 7 AM in Colorado, it is PITCH BLACK here. And I very rarely SEE 7 AM in Colorado, anyway.

There's a surprising amount of activity here for 3 in the morning. I have already deflected one guy who came in off the street, looking for some action (although, as I would define it, I am not exactly looking actionable since I just rolled out of bed and threw on some clothes before I staggered down to the lobby. I still have those CRUSTY things in my eyes, for Pete's sakes).

And WHY am I here? TOO MUCH KONA LAVA JAVA ICE CREAM last night.

Jeez. I have NO caffeine tolerance. At least my PULSE is racing, even if the Internet connection is NOT.

I should probably apologize for the long hiatus between posts. Basically I have been travelling a ton. Last weekend was Vegas, for a wedding and I had a deep objection to paying Planet Hollywood an extra $14 a day for internet over their extravagant weekend room rates. Then it was immediately to Hawaii, where I have been on the running track at King Kamehameha School during EVERY SINGLE WAKING HOUR and sleeping the rest of the time. So I have been giving my cell phone a workout in terms of email retrieval.

And I just SUCK at typing with my thumbs.

Anyhow, since I finally HAVE access, I thought I'd post this beautiful image painted by my friend, Tabetha Landt-Hastings. I bought the piece, called "Red Rocks," almost two weeks ago--although I had been eying it for some time. And I finally thought, "Okay, I am going to go ahead and get it." It's an original oil painting, and I know folks have been looking at it in Tab's gallery for YEARS.

MWAHAHAHA, folks! It's MINE! All mine!

Although you can get prints if you like! Check out Tab's online store at:

Aloha for now!

Sunday, September 4, 2011

What I've learned the past three months...

So here are a few things I've learned over the past three months of painting animal portraits. The photos here are of my portrait, "All-American Beagle"--which relates to point 7 below on criticism...and the Boston Terrier has to do with the first point!

Boston terriers come in multiple colors besides black and white. They also come in brindle or seal (black but with a red cast when seen in bright light) and white. This is Rudi, looking doubtful about something (perhaps having her photo taken). I can’t tell if she’s brindle or seal here.

Bulldogs. I just REALLY REALLY LIKE BULLDOGS. Too bad about all their breathing problems and potential jowl infections, but wow, what cool personalities they have. And such expressive faces. And the fur on their heads is SOOO soft. Plus the whole skateboarding thing.

I need to find more venues for getting cats to paint, because I am spending way too much time thinking about dogs’ jowls and teeth. Or horses. I would REALLY love to book a commission for a horse right now!

When a cat bites you, IT CAN BE SERIOUS. After Princess, my neighbor cat,(now aka Evil McEvil) chomped down on my foot last month, I found out that cat bites are really prone to infection. As my doctor said, “It’s like they’re injecting EVERY SINGLE DISGUSTING THING that they’ve put in their mouths RIGHT INTO YOUR BLOODSTREAM.” So if Fluffy, like Princess, decides to fang you, you should get to the doctor quickly and prepare to take at least 10 days of ENORMOUS antibiotic pills to combat the infection! In my case, I’m not sure if Workman’s Comp would cover a cat bite or not! I do know that, when I limped into the doctor’s office and told them that a) I painted animal portraits and b) a cat had bitten me, they all LAUGHED uproariously!

It is difficult to paint while your foot is elevated over your heart. (My doctor prescribed that, in addition to the enormous pills.)

My cats, even though I have been focusing inordinately on DOGS lately, are still very interested in supervising my work, standing on my drawing tablet, blocking my view of the computer monitor and mixing the paint in my palette with their butts. So I guess my paintings are currently both cat/dog portraits in a mixed-media sort of way.

If you’re an artist, just putting your work out there is going to result in unasked-for criticism. And you need to strengthen yourself against it, consider the source, sift out the crap and keep going.

I’m not saying that you shouldn’t listen to criticism. I’m just saying it shouldn’t stop you from your own creating. This just came up because I got the oddest email the other day from a breeder that I’d sent my information to. She very helpfully said (and I am paraphrasing here, but this was the basic gist) that, unless I added softness and charm to my portraits, I was never going to sell them. At least not to beagle breeders or enthusiasts. They like something different.

She was much more polite, but she basically said my whole style would need to be changed because it’s not what beagle people want.

So that stopped me for about half a day until I started wondering how she had gotten elected to be the official spokesperson/tastemaker for all beagle breeders/enthusiasts. I think she really intended to be helpful, but it just didn’t make sense. I’m sure that there are SOME beagle people out there who like a modern and colorful style. After all, I’ve found that people with OTHER breeds of dogs like my style. Why would it be so unattractive JUST to beagle owners? Is it something about harkening back to the good old antebellum days of the foxhunt and wanting something evocative of that?

So I did not tell her what my father told me to tell her (he is a totally AWESOME dad in the artistic support arena so you can probably guess what he said) but I thanked her for her opinion and her expertise as a breeder (she had told me a great thing about the breed standard, which had something to do with a soft pleading expression). And I told her that I would certainly share later beagle portraits with her when I booked them. I also let her know how busy I am painting for people who seem to prefer a lack of charm in their pet portraits (although I hope I was more subtle about it than that).

Then I started painting again…a REALLY ugly, hard-edged poodle, in case you’re wondering, Because I think the poodle people LIKE ugly.

There are a whole bunch of mixed-breed dogs that are now being marketed as “designer dogs.” (Golden doodles, Schnoodles, Maltipoms, Foxton Terriers, Labradoodles, etc.) Supposedly there are logical REASONS for cross-breeding these dogs (like they have hypoallergenic properties, instead of the more-likely reality that, oops, Anita was in heat and she got out of the yard and got jiggy with the neighborhood pit bull) . And THAT IS SHEER MARKETING GENIUS. Because what’s actually the case is that you’re getting a fancily-named mixed-breed dog with uncertain characteristics. And you’re paying TOP DOLLAR for it!

Face it, you could get something EXACTLY like that at the local shelter for MUCH LESS!

I could USE the marketing geniuses behind “designer dogs!” But they are probably all somewhere making big bucks working for Equal or some other industrial poison that’s being sold as a low-calorie sweetener.

IN CASE YOU CAN’T TELL…I like big mutts, and I cannot lie…

Happy Labor Day!