The Well Dressed Dog

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

Or Blue?

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.

Gus– 8×6 painted paper and fabric collage on panel ©2011 Alyson Champ

Here is Gus in his new sport coat made from a silk necktie dating from the early eighties. It’s what all the fashionable lap dogs are wearing this season.
Gus -detail

Next up, Dachshunds!

The Dog Who Could Have Been

We first met Bella, a lovely smooth coat Jack Russell terrier, in our veterinarian’s office during one of our many visits with our poor, chronically ill, miniature schnauzer, Cleo. My daughter instantly fell in love with Bella and, as luck would have it, Bella fell in love with my daughter. Whenever we had to make a visit to the veterinary clinic, we had to pay a visit to Bella too, as the clinic kennel was Bella’s home away from home. She was (and is) one of Dr. Bill’s own dogs. And last summer, for a very brief time, she was also ours.

Cleo was my daughter’s special dog, and unfortunately she was a dog with myriad health problems. We knew that her life would be cut short, and sure enough last spring, just past her ninth birthday, Cleo had to be euthanised. Her death left a gap in our little pack and a hole our affections.

We had often joked with Dr. Bill that if he ever wanted to get rid of Bella, he knew who would take her, seeing as the dog and my daughter had hit it off so spectacularly. He told us that he had always wanted a Jack Russell and when he found one that was returned to its breeder in a divorce case, he jumped at the chance to adopt it. This was how he came to have Bella. Dr. Bill really liked her, but as time wore on it became obvious that the dog did not feel the same way. Not that the animal was hostile to him. No, in fact it was worse than that. As anyone who has experienced unrequited love will tell you, active dislike or hostility is at least something. The opposite of love isn’t hate: it’s indifference. My vet found himself in an unfulfilled, emotionally lopsided relationship with his dog. Naturally, he began to wonder if perhaps she would be happier somewhere else. So the next time we had business at the clinic, we came home with a Jack Russell terrier.

It started with the rabbit. Our pet rabbit Jasper, who completely lacks a fear of dogs (he must not have received the “prey animal”memo), looked on with placid amusement as this new deranged animal danced, yapped, bounced and snapped at his cage over and over again. She seemed never to tire of it, despite our repeated scoldings and corrections. A dwarf lop-eared rabbit and a Jack Russell in the same house was an accident just waiting to happen.

Then she fixated on our cats. First to catch her eye were the barn cats, and when she had succeeded in thoroughly terrorizing them, she turned her attention to our house cats. I knew that Jack Russells had a reputation as persistent hunters and could be problematic with animals of the feline persuasion; but, as Bella was already accustomed to living in a multi-cat household, and as Dr. Bill had assured me that she showed not the slightest interest in his cats, I didn’t think this would be a problem. I could not have been more wrong.

The pursuit of our cats both indoors and out quickly progressed from an irritating game to something considerably more sinister. We were unable to correct Bella’s behaviour because, quite simply, we couldn’t catch her in the act. Hell, we couldn’t catch her period. She was greased lightning on four legs, a white and tan Jack Russell whirlwind. Chased upstairs, downstairs, over the sofa, under the bed, up trees, and under the porch, our cats eventually became so panic stricken that they went into hiding. Obviously Bella couldn’t stay. Even my daughter, who loved the dog, was not willing to sacrifice the life of one of our cats. Shortly thereafter we returned Bella to Dr. Bill. And do you know what? She was HAPPY to see him!

What’s on the Easel

I couldn’t send Bella back home without immortalizing her, now could I?

Bella Looks Up – painted paper collage on panel ©2010 Alyson Champ
In the collection of Dr. William Johnston.

Boundary Issues

One evening last fall, my sheep came home to the barn with their fleeces a tangled mess of burrs and thistles. I noticed one ewe was also sporting a fringe of blackberry canes, another one had accessorized herself with a small tree. Now our pastures aren’t perfect, but I did find this odd considering I had gone to some pains to cut down, dig up, and burn as much of this sort of debris as possible. The next morning I went out to check the pastures and the fences and discovered that the back gate was open. The sheep had been out in the fallow no man’s land between out place and the neighbour’s woodlot, no doubt scrounging for crab apples. I cursed irresponsible teenaged ATV riders and closed the gate.

What I had hoped was a unique event began to look more like a pattern when the episode repeated itself the following week, except this time it had been raining. Not only were my beautiful, white, long-wool sheep covered with sticks, burrs and brambles again, but they wrre also WET. The first time had cost me hours of labour pulling out the burrs and disentangling the sticks; the second time I used the hand shears and gave the worst offenders “punk rock” haircuts. At least two of the sheep looked like they had been shorn by a blindfolded lunatic using a lawnmower.

Celeste with haircut. Photo by the artist.

Of course, that back gate was open again. This time, along with the requisite cursing, I also considered getting a padlock or at least putting up a sign asking whoever opened the gate to please shut it behind him (or her), thank you very much. As it turned out, I didn’t have to do either.

One Saturday morning as I was unloading groceries, a strange car pulled into our yard. A blond man in his early thirties got out and introduced himself as Sylvain, our neighbour. His house sits near the end of our long driveway, and although he had lived there for more than a year, this was our first real meeting. Casual observation of his behaviour from a distance had led me to conclude that Sylvain was both trigger happy, (he almost shot our other neighbour while out hunting deer the previous fall), and that he was quite possibly a pyromaniac, as he was always burning something in his yard, and had set fire to our ditch twice in a six month period. It was with some trepidation that I shook his hand.

“I was up here this morning, ” he said, “but no one was home, so I was watching through my scope for your car. Your sheep are loose out in the neighbour’s bush. I have permission to hunt there; I thought they were coyotes and I almost shot them.”

While I was annoyed that my gun wielding firebug of a neighbour could mistake a flock of Border Leicesters for a pack of coyotes, I was even more dismayed that this rather strange man had been using his scope to watch our house. My days of topless gardening were obviously at an end.

“Well, my sheep wouldn’t be loose if some idiot wasn’t always opening our back gate.” I answered.

“What gate?” he asked.

I explained the situation to him.

“Oh,” he said, “well where does your property end?”

And I explained that to him too.

“Oh.” he said, and paused as if contemplating something, then asked, ” Do you want help rounding them up? I could get my four-wheeler.”

I told him not to worry about it, that the sheep would come back on their own (which they did), if he would just please not shoot them in the meantime (which he didn’t).

This autumn I closed off the back pasture completely so the sheep no longer have access to it at all. Better safe than sorry, I figure. Throughout the year I have continued to check the back gate from time to time, just out of curiosity. I have never found it open since. Not once.

What’s on the easel

The Hemmingford Studio Tour takes place this week end (Oct. 2&3, 2010) from 10 am – 5 pm, both Saturday and Sunday. I’ll be at Petch Orchards flogging my wares. If you are in the area, stop in and introduce yourself.

Here are a couple of new sheep collages which will be on display during the tour exhibition.

I give you Miss Juliet,

10×8 painted paper collage on mdf panel ©2010 Alyson Champ

Fabulous Fionna,

9×12 painted paper collage on mdf panel ©2010 Alyson Champ

and of course… Celeste!

9×12 pencil drawing on paper ©2010 Alyson Champ

Differently Abled Daffy

“What do you mean one of my ducks is simple minded!” my friend Anna Maria wrote with mock outrage in an email to me a couple of weeks ago. In a note I sent her, I had mused that of the three male Muscovy ducks she had given me, one of them appeared to be a little mentally slow. Daffy (my name for him) is definitely different. Whereas the other two are very adept fliers, he can’t fly; when the others zig, he zags; while his companions are out foraging in the yard, he spends much of his day sitting in a corner in the barn looking at the wall. And this isn’t exactly new behaviour. While he still lived at Anna Maria’s place, he one day zigged when he should have zagged, got underfoot, had his tail stepped on and subsequently lost part of it. Truth be told, Daffy is a slow witted, off balance, flightless duck with no sense of direction and only half a tail.

Daffy is the off-kilter duck on the left. Photo by the artist.

In that same email, Anna-Maria went on to remind me that just as people have varying levels of intelligence and competencies, so it is with animals. This is undoubtedly true. Take my dogs, for example. I have one who can slip any collar, and who, through trial and error, learned how to undo the catch on the baby gate to let herself out of the kitchen. I have another who can stealthily rifle through a bag of groceries when my back is turned, extract a package of pastrami without disturbing the other contents of the bag, carefully open the plastic and eat only the pastrami. Pretty smart. And yet we had a third dog so stupid she couldn’t find her way out from under a blanket.

Even among the sheep, an animal with a reputation for stupidity, I have noticed a fairly wide range of intelligence. Take Julius the ram for instance, while not a deep thinker to be sure, he did learn to use his nose to pop the hook on the side gate of the barn to let himself (and the others) out in the morning whenever he felt I was being too slow.

Furthermore, intelligence seems to be inherited. One of my ewes is smart and vivacious and her daughters are just the same. Another ewe, the one we call Dumb Dora, invariably has stupid lambs who get lost in the grass or can’t figure out how to go around an open gate to get out of the pasture, or worse.

One afternoon this past summer, in the middle of a heavy downpour, I noticed my sheep standing outside by the front of the barn, wet, and looking completely miserable. Now, there was no good reason for them to be outside in the rain: the barn was open; they could go in if they wanted to. Weird, I thought. A little later, from an upstairs window, I could see a white shape racing back and forth along the fence line of the pasture behind the barn. I put on my boots.

First I went to scold my stupid sheep for standing in the rain when the barn was open, next I went in the barn to take a look around. Nothing looked amiss, at first. A moment later I noticed a water bucket was missing and I knew exactly what had happened and to whom. It was, of course, Dora’s daughter Violaine who had somehow gotten her head through the handle of the nearly empty water bucket, and it was she who had terrorized the other sheep now left stranded out in the rain, and of course, it was she who was now out by the back fence frantically trying to run away. From herself.

But back to those ducks for a minute. In about ten days, the ducks have a scheduled date with destiny. Destiny being Lavallée’s slaughter house. I have no doubt that I will be able to catch poor, witless Daffy- a sitting duck if ever there was one. As for the other two…I have no idea what I’m going to do. I don’t know how they know, but they seem to be aware of some impending disaster and have recently started roosting up on the wooden supports for the stable cleaner track outside the barn, putting them well out of my reach. I suppose I’ll have to figure something out. But for now, I’m afraid that I must live with the embarrassing truth: That I have yet again been outsmarted by ducks. Like I said before, there is a wide range of intelligence among all animals.

What’s on the Easel?

Well, quite a lot, as it turns out. I’m participating in a studio tour and a group show this fall, so I’ve been quite busy of late. I will include more information about these upcoming shows next post. For now, here are two small pieces .

Goldfish #3- 6×8 painted paper collage on panel ©2010 Alyson Champ

Salamander (Which Way Is Up?) – 5×7 painted paper collage on panel ©2010 Alyson Champ

Back to the drawing board er, collage table!

How to Pick Up Chicks

If you have been lured to this blog by what you perceive to be a promise of dating advice, you are bound to be disappointed. Sorry, but these chicks are of the small, peeping, fluffy variety, not the thong wearing bar hags you may have been expecting. So if this is the case, by all means, go elsewhere. Please!

Chicken Tuesday

Last Tuesday we got our thirty broiler chicks and twelve Guinea keets from the Co op. The decision was made in the spring to raise these meat birds organically and on pasture as much as possible. Pasture is no problem; we have that in abundance. Organic grain? That was a whole different bag of mash. Although we have some local organic grain producers in the area and one organic mill, I could not find anyone who could supply us with smaller quantities of bagged feed. It was half a ton or nothing. In the end we had to order the grain from a mill in Berwick, Ontario. Not that I have anything against the town of Berwick, but it would be nice to be able to get locally sourced feed and not have the added carbon footprint of all those extra kilometres. A girl can dream…

Chicks and keets Photo © the artist

In spite of a few mishaps and a couple of untimely deaths, the birds now appear to be thriving. Originally the keets and the chicks were supposed to be separated by a fence. As you can see by the above photo, the chicks and keets had other ideas. We gave up on the fence and are letting them eat out of the same feeder. And boy do they like to eat!

So, how do you pick up chicks? “Did it hurt when you fell from heaven?” isn’t likely to work on them. I suggest you scoop them up gently using both hands….

What’s on the Easel

I wonder if being obsessed with sheep is a classifiable psychiatric disorder? If so, I may very well have it. To be fair, I have recently completed some landscape collages, but I just can’t seem to shake this fascination with sheep. This morning I finished my newest painted paper collage. The subject is yet again my friend Anna-Maria’s beautiful purebred Border Leicester ram, Julius Caesar.

Pencil drawing for “All Hail Caesar©2010 Alyson Champ

Above is the preparatory drawing to work out the basic composition. Below is my work table with the work in progress.

At least it looks like I’m working hard. Photo ©the artist

And the finished collage: All hail Caesar!


All Hail Caesar – 8×10 painted paper collage on board © 2010 Alyson Champ

Summertime, and the Living Isn’t Easy

We don’t grow cotton here in St. Crazy but the soybeans in our front field are looking pretty good, and I’m sure if I were to take a stroll down to the river I could probably see some fish jumpin’. The problem is… I just don’t have time!
It must be a holdover over from the many years I spent as a student that my brain is still governed by the academic calendar. The New Year begins in September, not January, and summer is a time for those other three R’s: Recreation, Relaxation, and Rest. Of course, this totally doesn’t jibe with the farming calendar which begins to get busy in the spring with the arrival of lambs and continues to get ever busier as we progress into summer. We’ve done vaccinations, castrations, deworming, and tail docking. We’ve brought in new laying hens, but haven’t yet (ahem) ‘dispatched’ some of the old laying hens, and soon we’ll be getting our broiler chicks and Guineas. We’ve re-fenced the chicken run, turned and planted the garden, stacked next winter’s fire wood, are currently in the process of cleaning and refurbishing the barn, and soon we will have to put in hay and straw. All the while, of course, we do the regular feeding, tending, cleaning and WEEDING. O Lord, let us not forget the weeding.

Our more or less weed-free veg garden

I’m not really complaining. Our lifestyle is a matter of choice, and there really is something very satisfying about putting in a good solid day’s work. And speaking of work…

What’s on the Easel

In spite of all the other labour, yes, I continue to work in the studio most days, and there actually is something on the easel! I have, I’m proud to say, just finished my first collage landscape.
This drawing for Port Daniel Lighthouse I have already posted back when the collage was in its planning phase. Here is the finished work:


Port Daniel Lighthouse- 20×24 painted paper collage on panel, © 2010 Alyson Champ

I’ll get my rest and recreation in November.

Back in the Saddle

Along with all the gardening and animal husbandry (wifery?) that goes on around here, I have managed to make time to produce some new collages. I made my first attempt at an equine themed painted paper collage with the intention of submitting it to the jurying process for an equine art exhibition in the U.S. coming up this fall. It took a lot longer to make the collage than I thought it would, but I was still able to squeak in under the wire and get my entry in on time. Now I’ll just have to wait and see what happens.

Here is the work in question. I call it “Up and Over”.

Up and Over– 20X16, painted paper collage on panel, © 2010 Alyson Champ

This is a detail shot of the horse’s head. Yes, those are little pieces of painted paper. You can see why it took so long, can’t you?

Up and Over detail

And while we are on the topic of equine art, I found this print in a flea market near where I live. I was admiring it and, much to my surprise, my husband up and bought it for me. It is likely that the frame is worth more than the print itself, but still I thought it was beautiful. It’s probably a copy of a Mughal or Persian miniature.

Going Ovine

I’m not exactly sure what it is about sheep that is so appealing, but I’m happy to know that I’m not the only artist to find myself visually hooked on them. I have recently come across a collection of drawings by British sculptor Henry Moore depicting the sheep he saw outside the window of his studio. He too was fascinated by their beauty, their solid shape, and their behavior. Several of the drawings show the interactions of lambs and ewes, which bring to mind some of Moore’s maternally themed sculptures.

Photo © Alyson Champ

While we are on the subject of sheep and maternity, and with lambing nearly upon us, I can’t help but think back to last year’s experience with lambing. It was the first time we had bred our ewes, and as much as it was exciting, it was also nerve-racking and exhausting. Lambs, much like human babies, prefer to arrive in the middle of the night or the wee small hours of the morning. I spent a number of long nights out in the barn, waiting and watching and acting as midwife. The birth of our first lamb, however, I did not witness as she came as a total surprise. She was a few days early, and the ewe, a first time mother, didn’t really show much sign of going into labour. I got quite a shock when I went out to the barn early one morning to feed the sheep and heard a little voice calling out, “Baaa”. I looked around but could see nothing in the pen, just my sheep standing at the feeder waiting to be fed. I went into the pen with an armful of hay and again, “Baaaa”. There at my feet, in the bottom of the hay rack, was a beautiful little white lamb, still wet, and shivering with cold. Her mother had given birth to her and then, not knowing what to do, abandoned her. The baby had crawled into the hay to keep warm. Ewe and lamb had to be forcibly reunited and the ewe needed to be restrained in order to allow the lamb to nurse. It took the better part of a day before mother and child actually bonded, but they did, and the ewe proved to be an excellent mother, if initially a reluctant one.

Photo © Alyson Champ

What’s on the Easel
My collage exhibition is drawing to a close. The last day is April 4th. I’m delighted that my sheep collages have proved to be popular and I have sold several of them. I guess people just like sheep!


Celeste – 9×12, painted paper collage on panel ©2010 Alyson Champ

Julius the Magnificent- 12×12 painted paper collage on panel, ©2010 Alyson Champ
Fabulous Fionna- 9×12 painted paper collage on panel, ©2010 Alyson Champ

Bearded Beauties


I like Irises and grow several varieties in my flower beds. They are a graceful, stately flower with elegant and sculptural blooms which make them interesting subjects for my collages. Last summer I made a point of photographing all of my irises when they were at the height of their beauty and these images have kept me going (art-wise) over the winter. So far, I have produced seven iris collages of varying sizes, all of which will be on display at my solo exhibition.

What’s on the Easel
This second purple iris collage is close in colour range to my first Purple Iris collage, but the scale is just a little smaller. It’s a 20X16, instead of a 20X24.

Purple Iris II, 20X16 painted paper collage on canvas ©2010 Alyson Champ

The next two collages are actually mirror images of the same photo, but were conceived with complementary colour palettes. Small Mauve Iris relies on the purples, blues and blue-greens.

Small Mauve Iris 8X6 painted paper collage on panel ©2010 Alyson Champ

High Key Iris is based on yellows, oranges, and yellow-greens. It’s interesting how a shift in colour can totally alter the appearance of what is essentially the same image, isn’t it?

High Key Iris 8X6 painted paper collage on panel ©2010 Alyson Champ

My collage exhibition, Paper, Paint, Scissors, and Glue, is up on the walls at Salle Alfred-Langevin, 10 rue King, Huntingdon, and the labels are going on as I type. The door opens at 1:00 pm on Sunday, March 14th, and the vernissage starts at 2:00 pm. Bring the family!

Cut and Dried

My solo exhibition at Salle Alfred-Langevin opens in ten, yes count ’em, ten days. All the collages are finished, varnished and framed. Somehow I am ahead of schedule! Can I possibly be this organized, or have I forgotten something? I’m sure I’ll find out soon enough. While I’m racking my brain, trying to remember whatever it is that I’ve forgotten, here is a preview of a few small pieces which will be included in the show.

Sometimes I like to work small; it forces me to simplify my ideas. I can’t get too caught up in the details on a panel that is four inches wide and six inches long- the small scale just forbids it. Bold colour and strong design are what works best in the small collages. These two goldfish collages are companion pieces.

Goldfish #1, 4X6 painted paper collage on panel ©2010 Alyson Champ

Goldfish #2, 4×6 painted paper collage on panel © 2010 Alyson Champ

My tree frog obsession shows no signs of abating:

Tree Frog #3, 8X6 painted paper collage on panel ©2010 Alyson Champ

And last, but not least, something a little different:

White Park Steer, 5X7 painted paper collage on panel ©2010 Alyson Champ