Daisy and Arnold waiting for a treat. Photo by the artist
Daisy, a miniature Dachshund, and Arnold, a Dachshund cross, are the much loved fur children of Margot and Tommy MacKinnon. The MacKinnons kindly submitted to my weird request to photograph their dogs wearing their doggie sweaters with a view to including Daisy and Arnold in my Well Dressed Dogs collage series.
Daisy and Arnold are something of a study in opposites. Daisy, the smaller of the two, is nevertheless the louder and more assertive- definitely a wild, feisty female.
Daisy standing her ground. Photo by the artist.
Arnold, on the other hand, has more of a laid back vibe going for him. He is lovably goofy (but polite) and will do pretty much anything for food.
Arnold, what are you looking at?Photo by the artist.
We had a good photo shoot on a nice mid-winter day. Outside first, but the space of the yard was a little too distracting for the dogs, so we went inside. In my mind’s eye I had imagined making a collage of the pair of dogs together on a chair. This was a little more difficult to arrange than I had anticipated: two dogs with two very different personalities and two different attention spans where the promise of a cookie is concerned. Arnold might have sat nicely for me all day. And Daisy? Well, forget about that idea.
Eventually I settled on the design for two separate collage portraits (both keeping the chair idea) which I hope revealed a little bit of each dogs personality. The preparatory drawing for Arnold is below:
There have been a couple of eureka moments in the past couple of weeks. One such moment came when I found a reference photo I thought I had lost forever (Filing system? I don’t need no stinking filing system!) and the other moment came to me after watching the work in progress of fellow collage artist Elizabeth St. Hilaire Nelson.
When I shifted the focus of my art making away from oil painting to painted paper collage, I found myself working in a medium for which I had had no formal training – in fact, I’m not sure if formal training really even exists in the art of collage. Although this was a very liberating experience artistically, it also meant that I no longer had any tried and true method or efficient working system to fall back on. Basically I have been making it up as I go along. My first collages were made on paper, which I found wasn’t really a heavy enough support and maddeningly prone to buckling.
After trying out rigid, acid free mat board and then canvas, which were better than the paper but still posed problems, I tried out medium density fiberboard, or MDF, as a support surface and this I liked: it’s rigid and stable and smooth. Unfortunately, it needs to be completely sealed to make it archival and safe.
I chose to seal the panels with black gesso because my idea at the time was to have a little of the black background show between the pieces of paper to give the collages a stained glass appearance.
Yellow Iris (2009) in progress. Note the “puzzle pieces” of collage on the black background.
The problem with the black gesso was that it was so dark that I had to work blind; I couldn’t transfer my drawings onto the black surface because no pencil, chalk or charcoal was really visible on the black. Nor, as it turned, was the stained glass effect quite as appealing as I had hoped. So, what to do?
For a while I continued working as I had simply for the lack of a better method. And then I happened upon Elizabeth’s work (shown below) and EUREKA! She draws directly on the panel and then preserves the drawing, while also sealing the panel, with a clear, acrylic sealant. Duh! Now why the heck didn’t I think of that?
As you can see, Elizabeth works free hand on her panel. I still prefer to make my preparatory drawing on paper first, work all the kinks out, and then transfer the main elements of the drawing via tracing paper onto the panel. Having a drawing to refer to and a basic drawing of the planned collage on the panel itself certainly is making my life a lot easier! And if you think Elizabeth’s drawing is terrific, I encourage you to check out the finished collage on her website, www.PaperPaintings.com It is fabulous! What’s On the Easel?
Quite a lot, actually! Thanks to some generous friends, I now have many more reference photos for my Well Dressed Dog collage project – yeah, I know I keep changing the name of the series but I swear “Well Dressed Dog” is it!
I’m also continuing to work on my large collage “Mara Under Water”. Check out the drawing and prepped panel below:
It was a funny week here in St. Crazy, both weather-wise and art-wise. The weather was all over the place: we had bitter cold, then above freezing temperatures, sleet, freezing rain, and snow. Now we are back to bitter cold again. Winter in Quebec provides a little something for everyone, I guess.
As for art projects, there was also a little bit of everything. My plan was to continue with my Clothed Dogs series of collages. I was waiting for an opportunity to photograph a friend’s mini-Dachshunds in their sweaters but the weather conditions and my schedule were not co operating. I did get as far as photographing one of my own dogs, though. Here is Toby looking smashing in a royal blue, form fitting, little knit number.
Toby in Blue – photo by the artist
With my dogs- in- sweaters plans thwarted for the time being, I shifted my attentions to making the preparatory drawing for a big collage that I had been planning for several months. I was having a good time working on that one until I realised that I wouldn’t be able to get beyond the drawing stage. The reason? My big garage/studio does not yet have proper heating (not good when it’s -20 degrees C) and my indoor spare bedroom studio lacks adequate workspace to accommodate the large panel. So…what to do?
Happily, mid-week my husband came home with a bag of cast off neckties- a gift from his father (thanks M.) – to add to my Cache of Truly Hideous Neckties, bits and pieces of which regularly appear in my collages. Check out these babies:
Photo by the artist
Now, when you look at these ties, I don’t know what comes to your mind, but to me they said, “Rooster!”. Lucky for me, I had already made drawings for some rooster collages which hadn’t gotten beyond the planning stage, (Hmm…anybody else beginning to notice a pattern here?) which meant that a fair bit of the work was already done. I simply had to get a-gluing. Here is the result:
My first collage of 2011, and the second dog collage in what I hope will be a series of Dogs in Coats, is finished. The subject of this collage is Gus, a pug who belongs to a friend. Here he is below.
Gus- photo by Alison Taylor
Cute little fellow, isn’t he? And also strangely noble. Big dogs often look goofy, but small dogs have a way of exuding self importance: they really don’t seem to understand the whole size-thing. I guess that’s just part of what makes little dogs so endearing.
As you can see, the photo of Gus shows him in a black coat. Black is not an especially easy colour to work with when making art. As colours go, plain black looks flat and dead and really dominates the composition. So, the black was out. I could also see that for design purposes the stumps would be problematic. As much I liked the original picture, clearly some changes would be in order.
Sorting out the background and removing the stumps wasn’t much of an issue. But the colour of the doggy coat? Well, would it be Red Gus?
Photo by the artist
Photo by the artist
After pondering this dilemma for a while, I remembered that I have a collection of silk neckties in the craziest colours and patterns. Finally, a solution presented itself.
I don’t normally do the New Year’s Resolutions thing. Tackling bad habits it has taken years to acquire, and thereby attempting to remake one’s life in a short list just because it’s January, smells like a set up for failure. I resolve instead to choose resolutions that are do-able, things I might be inclined by nature to do anyway, but just haven’t gotten around to doing yet. I hereby resolve to:
Use the word brachycephalic more frequently. English is chock full of fabulous words. Bamboozle is a beauty, as is mukluk*. Just saying mukluk aloud is guaranteed to lift one’s mood. You doubt me? Go ahead and try it.
See, I told you. Just recently I started making a series of collages featuring dogs in sweaters or doggy coats. Why? Well, as with the word mukluk, a dog wearing a sweater is so inherently ridiculous that seeing a canine so attired makes me smile. What could possibly be better than a dog in a sweater**, you might ask? Why, a brachycephalic dog in a sweater, of course! When I saw a friend’s photo of her pug in his little coat, I could not resist. Say hello to “Gus”, everyone. Isn’t he handsome?
Pencil sketch of Gus (Oh, and incidentally that’s two brachycephalics – no three- in one post! Bazinga!)
Quit Slacking Off and Actually Get Some Work Done. I went into the studio to work today for the first time in a couple of weeks and it felt pretty good. I was a little slow getting started, but did manage to get some drawing done and to get a panel prepared for the new collage of Gus. However, my studio assistant, Tabitha, was more than an hour late. During the Christmas break, she got into the habit of sleeping in a rocker by the woodstove – guess she forgot it was Monday. That’s coming off your paycheck, cat.
Tabitha on the job- photo by the artist (that would be me).
Make more drawings of sinister-looking rodents. Shortly before Christmas, I began a drawing of our rabbit, Jasper, to give as a gift to a friend who has a fondness for rabbits. I was quite pleased with the drawing until my daughter looked at it and said, “It’s nice, but he looks kind of evil.” I ended up giving the friend a tin of Bag Balm instead. What can I say? Bring on the mice and squirrels.
Spend more time discovering the work of other artists. Here are some artists whose work I have recently discovered. Elizabeth St. Hilaire-Nelson is a collage artist who lives in Florida. We recently “met” (in the virtual sense) and have exchanged Christmas cards (in the actual sense). I think her work is colourful and gorgeous. Claudia Roulier makes assemblages, collages, and paintings which are funny-bordering-on-disturbed. I have my husband to thank for turning me on to the work of Brian Dettmer. This guy carves books – yes, you read that right- carves books. Check it out. I guarantee his work will blow your mind.
Pay my hay bill. Sorry V. The cheque is (almost) in the mail.
Stop worrying about money. I have been poor, but neither I, nor my business has ever been bankrupt. Donald Trump has been on the verge of personal bankruptcy and his businesses have been bankrupt not once, but TWICE. So…. who’s the failure again? Plus, this is really my hair.
Spend more time petting my dogs, playing with my cats, talking to my sheep, and less time arguing with the humans in my life. That’s about it. Happy New Year!
* If it’s in the OED, it’s word. ** If any of you are dog owners and have photos of your dog in a sweater or doggy coat, and you wouldn’t mind seeing your dog so immortalized in a collage, please send those photos to me at: email@example.com Extra points for brachycephalic dogs. (That’s four times, baby!)
Well, here we are nearing the end of another year. Although I am looking forward to what the New Year might bring, like most people I can’t help but cast a glance backward over the old year now drawing to a close. On our farm, 2010 was a pretty good year. We had a number of successes:a healthy little crop of lambs which sold easily, many bags of beautiful fleeces, a freezer full of fat roosters and Guinea fowl, and a wonderfully productive vegetable garden with some of the most beautiful tomatoes I have ever grown. In the failures column, we had no zucchini, inedible pole beans, edible but strangely deformed pumpkins, some trouble with pasture parasites, and a favourite wether had to be euthanized. We got some things right and we got some things wrong. Where the sheep were concerned, 2010 was a year of learning from mistakes made the previous year and, no doubt, making new mistakes- ones which I am sure are bound to reveal themselves in due course. But that’s for next year. For now, here are the top twenty things I learned about sheep in 2010.
20.From the point of view of the sheep, there is no such thing as too many windfall apples.
19.From the point of view of the shepherd, “too many” windfall apples is approximately one half bushel less than the amount required to cause gastro-intestinal upset in sheep.
18. The friendliest, most persistently affectionate animal known to humanity is a 200 lb wether withdiarrhoea .
17. Don’t de-worm sheep on a day when it is cold and wet unless you also would like to be cold and wet.
16. Delphinium: It’s sheep Latin for “Poison? No! Eat me, I taste like candy!”
15. If it is thirty degrees and mid-July, and the renderer says he will be coming on Wednesday to pick up a dead sheep, he really means Friday. If it is minus thirty degrees and mid-January, when he says Wednesday, he means Wednesday.
14. Under no circumstances ever tell your dinner guests what is under that tarp outside the barn. If anyone asks what it is, just say, “Stuff”.
13. Sheep who turn their noses up at slightly coarse hay will, in the very next instant, eat their straw bedding.
12. Sheep are untroubled by such concepts as irony or logical consistency.
11. The first time your ewes lamb, your whole family comes out to the barn with you in the middle of the night to make videos or take pictures or to otherwise be a witness to the miracle of birth. Lambing the second time around, when you complain to your husband about having to go out to the barn at two am, he says, “Well, you were the one who wanted sheep,” then rolls over and goes back to sleep.
10. To a lamb, everything looks like an udder except an udder.
9.Ewes can’t count.
8. When given a choice between running through a gate to rejoin its mother and running headlong into a fence, nine times out of ten a lamb will choose to run into the fence.
7. A fat lamb will always find a way to get into the creep feeder. Getting out is another matter.
6. The first time you take your lambs to the butcher, you cry in the truck during the drive to the slaughter house. The second time, you plan the menu.
5. The most agile animal on the planet is not a gazelle, a cat or a squirrel. It is an overweight seven year old Border Leicester ram who does not wish to have his feet trimmed.
4. If your sheep are standing outside in driving rain when they could be inside, one of two things has occurred: either a) the doorway to the barn is currently occupied by a flock of bad tempered Muscovy ducks or, b) one of Dumb Dora’s offspring is in the barn, racing around with a bucket stuck on its head.
3. A long wool sheep with an itch is a force of nature.
2. The number of times a person is willing to replace, repair, or re-position automatic waterers which have been ripped off the wall by itchy sheep before one gives up on automatic waterers and goes back to using buckets is: six.
1. To look out at your pasture in the spring and see it clothed with healthy ewes and playful lambs is possibly the best feeling in the world.
For inexplicable reasons, I have recently developed a fondness for images of dogs wearing doggie coats. There is something about the way they look, the expression on their faces, that strikes me as funny. So when I saw a photo of a friend’s dog all decked out in his new threads, well, I just couldn’t resist, could I?
Eric, whose official title is Eric the Perfect Dog, is a rescued greyhound. He belongs to Dr. Cathy Gallivan, who is an animal geneticist, and who is also the owner and editor of Sheep Canada Magazine. Sheep Canada, you will recall, is the quarterly magazine to which I contribute a humour column derived mainly from the sheep related contents of this blog.
Cathy and I met kind of by accident when I was looking for ways to get my sheep art out to the public, and strange as the world is, it turned out that we had friends in common. Funny how that happens.
Out of this nascent friendship, we have formed a business partnership and this year have produced a line of Sheep Canada Christmas cards which feature my sheep collages on the front.
I wanted to make an artistic holiday arrangement of the cards in order to show them off to their advantage, but as you can see, my studio assistant Tabitha had other ideas. Here are the images:
Winter Julius – 5×7 card, printed on glossy card stock, with envelope, $3 each
Gerry – 5×7 card printed on glossy card stock, with envelope, $3 each
Celeste – 5×7 card printed on glossy card stock, $3 each
Bazoo – 5×7 card on glossy card stock, $3 each
The Sheep Canada logo is the back of each card, along with my contact information. The interior of the cards is blank.
The cards are available from me or from Sheep Canada -see the link above. The cards are sold individually or in packets of eight for $20 CAD, plus shipping. I will accept U.S. money orders and cheques at par.
As I wrote in my previous blog post, my studio is finally more or less finished, and every Saturday afternoon for the past month I have been teaching an Intro to Acrylics class to an absolutely terrific group of talented and enthusiastic women who have decided to throw caution to the wind and learn to paint.
Starting a painting is often intimidating, and not just for beginners, but for more experienced artists as well. A blank canvas is a scary thing- so much possibility, not only for success, but also for failure. How do you start?
When I was an art student, I can remember some of the most useful and instructive classes I ever attended were those where the teacher did a painting demonstration for the class. Not only were you told what to do and when, but you were actually shown how to do it. That really de-mystified the process for me. I once watched a teacher in a figure painting class paint a 24×20 inch nude portrait of a model, alla prima style, in just under three hours. He showed us how to make a basic drawing on the canvas to establish proportions. We watched him block in the major areas of the painting, watched him lay down shadows, make choices for colour and value, gradually developing the whole image, until the end when we saw him paint in the brightest highlights in the woman’s hazel eyes and on the tip of her nose.
And then we watched him scrape the whole thing off with a knife when he was done.
He didn’t destroy the portrait because it was a bad painting, but because it was just a painting, a job, a process, made simple for him because he knew what he was doing. He was capable of reproducing the same steps over and over again, with consistent results.
What’s on the easel
That type of demonstration was what I had in mind last week during the Saturday acrylics class. Unfortunately, I am a slow worker and I talk too much in class, so I didn’t quite get the painting finished during class time.
Anna-Maria’s Garden– 12×16 pencil drawing
When the composition is complicated, I like to work things out on paper first. This saves me a whole lot of headache later on. It’s so much easier to correct problems on paper first, rather than trying to fix things on the canvas later. I transferred the drawing onto the canvas by simply putting some charcoal on the back of the paper, placing the drawing over the top on the canvas, and then retracing the basic outlines again with a pencil. When I removed the paper, a simple charcoal outline is left on the canvas, which I then secure by painting over it with diluted, earth toned paint. (Sorry, I forgot to document that stage.)
Anna-Maria’s Garden – blocked in
Next, I try to establish the most important shape areas, colours, and shadows. It helps me to have a sense of where the painting is going in its entirety. I keep the paint fairly thin in order to avoid unpleasant lumps and visible brushwork where I perhaps don’t want them.
Anna-Maria’s Garden – the middle uglies
The middle phase of any painting is usually the worst part. This is where the tough decisions get made. I can see that some of the perspective is wrong and that the busy colours and brush work on the barn wood and the roof is too distracting for its place in the composition. It doesn’t recede enough, and since I want the flowers to dominate, I can see I’ll have to tone that part down and reserve the colour and detail for the flowers in order to achieve maximum impact.
I’ve been dreaming about having a proper studio for a long time, so when my husband and I were looking at properties a few years back, one of the requirements I had for a place to live was that there also had to be adequate work space for me. We bought the Funny Farm in part for its beautiful garage- yes, I know most people are hooked on kitchens and bathrooms. The kitchen and bathrooms in this house were great, too. But it was that 15 by 30 foot garage with a north facing wall, already wired AND with running water that really sold me on the place. No more tiny spare bedrooms or poorly lit basement studios for me! All the garage needed was insulation, some new windows, finished walls and a floor, and it would be a perfect studio. I could so easily imagine myself working away in my own little haven, teaching classes comfortably. I would finally be able to use my big French easel, get a drafting table! I would be so productive! Oh the possibilities! It’s a good thing I have an imagination, because imagining my perfect studio was pretty much as far as it got. For three years the studio remained unfinished. Since moving here, I have been working in a small upstairs bedroom, where the glare is so terrible I have to contort myself to see what is on my easel. When I started making collages, I found I needed even more room to spread out, so I shifted some of my work space to the ground floor, into the room where I teach music, a space where I also wound up teaching art classes. Once in a while, my art has taken over the kitchen when I needed extra room to paint, or to build a box to ship artwork, or to pack something. Even the living room wasn’t immune, as I sometimes went in there to work on drawings. Forget the problems of urban sprawl. In our house the problem was definitely one of art sprawl: easels everywhere, paintings and collages stacked up against the walls, empty frames, boxes of art supplies, packing materials and two separate studio spaces, both woefully inadequate. Fortunately this house hasn’t got much of a basement, or I surely would have found myself down there as well.
Lucky for me, my wait for a studio is now almost over. My kindhearted husband, who is a carpenter and a masterful maker of fine furniture, was able to find the time to get the studio almost finished- finished enough to make it a usable space, and for the past three weeks I have been able to work in it and teach in it.
Funny farm studio from the front. Photo by the artist.
You can’t imagine the happiness I feel whenever I open the door and see all that space, the perfect light, the beautiful north facing window, the peace and quiet …
Studio interior. Photo by the artist.
OK, the walls aren’t finished and the sink drains into a bucket, but still….
I had one of those moments recently where I was reminded of why I rarely do commissioned work: it’s a pain in the neck. I didn’t always have that opinion, though. For years commissions formed the main part of my artistic income, my bread and butter, so to speak.
When I spent most of my creative energy producing equine paintings, not only did I accept commissions, I eagerly sought them out. I traveled to horse farms, training facilities, and race tracks. I met all kinds of people- some real characters,too- and got a first hand look at the “back side” of horse racing in all its weird, distasteful, beautiful, hard working, corrupt, and somewhat faded, glory – something most people never get to see.
So why did I give it up? Well, for one thing, the market basically bottomed out. The race track in Montreal closed and a lot of the people who were in the business either got out of racing entirely or pulled up stakes and moved elsewhere. There was also the question of my stifled creativity and restricted artistic growth. When you spend all your time working according to the specifications of other people, you don’t really get to grow much as an artist. Commissioned work very seldom allows you the opportunity to experiment or take chances. He who pays the piper, gets to call the tune, and after a while, dancing to someone else’s tune gets a little boring. Then there is the Human Factor: you have to handle other people’s egos, their unrealistic expectations, their sentimental attachments, and in the case of the very rich and very busy (mostly) businessmen/racehorse owners, you also have to also have to work around their crazy schedules. I don’t mean to suggest that doing commissioned work was a completely negative experience, on the contrary! It taught me the two most important rules for an artist: 1) Always Have a Written Contract, and 2) Always Get a Nonrefundable Kill Fee of 30 % Upfront. It also taught me how to say no to jobs I knew just wouldn’t work out, how to humour difficult people, and how to distance myself from my work so that I didn’t take criticism personally. And if I hadn’t danced to the tunes of others, I would have been deprived of such learning experiences as:
– Being commissioned to produce a double portrait of a teenage girl and her horse only to have the ‘girl’ part of the portrait proclaimed unacceptable by the unpleasant mother because the LIKENESS WAS TOO GOOD! The girl had a rather prominent nose, which I had faithfully reproduced. The horse part of the portrait was deemed adequate and they eventually settled on the horse alone.
-Receiving photos in the mail of an aged brood mare and being asked to paint a portrait of the horse, but would I please: straighten the animal’s back, lift the sagging belly, remove a scar on the neck, flesh out the neck a little more, make the eyes more youthful, fill out the mane, and not include all the ear hair. I should have asked them if they would perhaps have preferred that I paint a different horse entirely.
-Being handed a handful of blurry, underexposed, distorted snapshots of a standardbred in a stall, and being asked to immortalize an animal I could barely see.
-Having to do a photo shoot of a racehorse outdoors in a snowstorm because the trainer was only available that one day. The owners wanted a summer scene.
-Delivering a completed racing portrait to an owner only to have him look at it and say, “But that’s the wrong horse.” Whereupon ensued a rather heated cell phone conversation between the owner and the trainer in which the owner said, “Bay? What the hell is bay?!”
-Being paid by an owner in cash,in thousand dollar bills, from a desk drawer stuffed with money, the provenance of which I dared not ponder. Fortunately he didn’t want change, either.
-Being sent to the wrong address and ending up at a sort of abandoned looking horse farm, only to find myself alone and surrounded by Rottweilers.
-Arriving at a training facility to photograph a stallion worth a couple of million dollars, and being told by the trainer that they were too busy to deal with me, at which point he handed me a towel and a bucket full of brushes and said, “Go put him in cross ties and groom him yourself.” So I did.