Something to Crow About?

If you found yourself passing by our yard on a summer evening sometime in the mid-1970’s and heard a cry of “WILLIAM!”, followed by a frantic scattering of children, you might think you were witnessing a game, perhaps some local variant of tag or British Bulldog. But in that notion you would be mistaken. “WILLIAM!” certainly wasn’t a game; he was a rooster.

For reasons I can no longer remember, in my childhood I developed the strange hobby of breeding Bantam chickens. Certainly they were pretty birds, coming as they did in a wild variety of colours and with all manner of fancy plumage. I had Cochins and Silkies, a black Polish hen, a beautiful pair of Mille Fleurs, and…. William. I don’t remember what breed he was, but he was tiny and multicoloured: gold on the neck, dark on the breast, with rusty wings and back, and he had a long opulent tail of the most exquisite dark iridescent green. He truly was a handsome little fellow. Yet only a fool would have been deceived by his lovely appearance and diminutive size. Simply put, William was a nasty piece of work.

An interrupter of games and a spoiler of fun, determined to eradicate all forms of childhood entertainment, William was a ferocious flurry of hackles, talons and spurs. Fast and devious, he would surprise us coming around corners or spot us from across the yard and then run at us full tilt. Nowhere was safe. He chased us. He jumped at the backs of our legs. And worst of all, if he could manage it, he flew right up at our faces.

Not only was he a misery to me and my family, but woe betide any visiting cousin or neighbour. The last straw came one day when I was playing outside in the yard with my best friend- a girl with waist long hair. William spotted us enjoying ourselves from some distance away. He ran at my friend , launching himself at her head and somehow in his fury, he got himself tangled in her hair. She was screaming and crying; he was flapping and fluttering. To remedy the situation I did the only thing I could think of: I grabbed a stick and swung.

Luckily, I missed my friend’s head. Unluckily for William, I did not miss his. The rooster dropped to the ground like a stone and lay there too stunned to move. I thought I had killed him. After what was probably only a few seconds (it seemed much longer), he got back on his feet. Humiliated and chastened, he made a staggering exit from the scene. And his pride wasn’t the only thing that he left without: he also left without his tail. Every single one of his beautiful tail feathers had fallen out and lay in a small heap on our lawn. William was never quite the same after that. Perhaps his change in personality was due to that blow to the head, or perhaps he was simply embarrassed. Either way his reign of terror ended. His tail never grew back either.

Almost William– preparatory line drawing, ink on paper ©2010 Alyson Champ

What’s on the Easel

I have a series of commissions looming- all collages. One will be my first ever large-scale landscape. I am both excited and a bit apprehensive about that. Soon I will also start work on a couple of dog portraits. Those are always fun. I’ll post photos of the work in progress as I go. Strangely, the collage commission which has piqued my interest the most is an order to produce a series of roosters. I’ve gotten as far as making some preliminary drawings, shown here above and below.

Pretty Boy Floyd– preparatory line drawing, ink on paper, ©2010 Alyson Champ

Some of the Nicest People I Know Are Dogs

I love dogs. I love dogs and I have three of them. And while they sometimes drive me crazy, usually I find them charming and entertaining. Happy, optimistic, and easy going almost to a fault, they truly make the best companions.

Cocker Head Study- 8×10 charcoal/white chalk on gray paper ©2009 Alyson Champ

Pretty much anything you would like to do is ok with a dog: You’re going to the store? Hey, can I ride in the car? You want to get the mail? No problem, I’d love to go for a walk. Roast chicken for supper? Great! I’ll just sit here beside you, you know, in case something falls on the floor and that way you won’t have to clean it up!

Just as my love of horses and my need to create often converge, so too does my artwork with my fondness for dogs. From time to time I get asked to paint a portrait of a family pet, usually a dog. Painting an animal portrait, just like painting a human portrait, is a tricky business. The most obvious problem is the question of getting a “likeness” – making the animal look the way it actually does. Photos supply most of the information required, but it is nice to actually be able to meet the animal, to see it move and to touch it. Dogs, like people, have character, and catching that individuality, that spark of life, or soul, is the hardest thing in painting any portrait. A painting can be accurate in representation and still fail to capture the “essence” of the subject. The result is a dead looking painting. Unfortunately, I’ve painted my fair share of those.

Once in a while though, I do get it right. I remember one particular case where I was commissioned to paint the portrait of a dog. The dog had recently died and I was given a stack of family photos to use as reference material. The owners told me a bit about the dog’s personality, the things he would do, how he behaved, and even how he had died. They then left me with my task.
I wasn’t sure how much success I was going to have: I hadn’t even met the dog! Nevertheless, the portrait was painted and when I had finished it, I invited the dog’s owners back to studio to see and assess the results- I was expecting to do a lot of touch ups. I had set the painting up so that it was the first thing they would see when the walked in. They were surprised to the point of silence, and then openly wept. Somehow, and I’m not sure how, I had painted their dog.

What’s on the easel

One of the projects I’m working on in the studio right now is a commissioned portrait of a cocker spaniel. This dog, thankfully, is very much alive and I was able to take the photos myself, so I had the pleasure of meeting him. He’s quite a guy: funny and goofy and full of mischief. The owner came here this morning to decide on the final pose for the painting from the three preparatory drawings which I have just finished.

She has opted for the pose directly below, as she wanted a full body pose, but she loved the head study above so much that, as a kindness, I offered it to her as a gift. Happy owner, happy artist. Now I just have to do the painting!

Cocker portrait study-8×10, charcoal on paper ©2009 Alyson Champ

Cocker portrait study 2- 8×10, pencil on paper ©2009 Alyson Champ