Pet portrait

Holiday Stories

Both our sons were home for the holidays, lapsing into eating and lounging and occasional computers games. I lapsed into holiday mode of buying groceries, cooking and cleaning up. That and taking a moment here and there to sit and sketch. . .

But first there was the Messiah Sing-along. . .

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which presented the challenge of standing up and sitting down repeatedly as the audience rose to join in the chorus. Each time some part of my sketch stuff clattered to the floor as I stood!

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When Ben occupied the kitchen counter and Andrew the front room I moved around to capture this thoroughly mesmerizing game they were sharing (in low light!)

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Andrew got stranded here for a couple extra days due to the storm so we asked him to capture the errant rooster that has been driving us crazy with its day-long crowing and pooping on the front step. Here’s how it’s going, as seen from the front window.

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Sylvester

This is a story of cat love. Our country abode has attracted many cats, birds, and rodents and more over the years. The water fountain and bird bath are a favorite neighborhood stop. Our beloved cat of 15 years, named Phil by my boys when they were little, showed up as a hungry abandoned teenager and hung around crying all day until we embraced him as ours. Many years later we noticed this gorgeous black angora cat following Phil around all day, and we realized he was here to stay. Sylvester is his name for obvious reasons (white bib and markings). And now years later Phil and Syl have become an old gay couple with side by side food bowls outside under the sycamore tree.

sylvesteracrylic and fabric collage on w/c paper, 10 X 11″

Since we have paintings of all our pets over the years, going back even to the gecko drawings that Ben did when he was in preschool, the bunny, and definitely Phil; I decided it was time to include Sylvester in the pantheon. I did it in the style similar to the portrait I’d done of Phil a few years ago – fabric collage and acrylic paint with a helping of whimsy. It was clear that a portrait of Sylvester must include his beloved Phil.

philcollagePortrait of Phil

Today Phil is standing by in the drizzle of rain watching as Andrew, my son who is still visiting, is using all his wiles to try to capture our latest uninvited guest – a handsome and surprisingly smart and elusive young rooster, who is tearing up our garden and loudly proclaiming his virility with day-long cock-a-doodle-dooing and leaving his poo patties on the walkway. So far the errant rooster has won and I’m readying my sketchbook to at least derive some artistic satisfaction from this epic battle of the wits.

 

Wine Country Fire Evacuees

Our wine country fire evacuees are plentiful just now, 10% of the population of Sonoma County I heard this morning! I am not one of them. I am also not one of those heroic first responders. My lungs cannot tolerate smoke and I’ve been spending a great deal of time fretting and checking on friends and neighbors and just sharing stories and of course fears as the fires rage on.

I was happy to see that someone in our rural neighbor of a shared water company had found an old fire hose to attach to the simple fire hydrant which sits next to my driveway.

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We’ve all been watering around our homes in hopes of preventing fires here if the wind changes directions and blows the embers our way. I could go years and not have so many conversations with my nice neighbors as I’ve had this week. I learned for instance that you can plant native plants that burn up and out quickly and then sprout again the next year! And then there’s the Scotch broom which makes for a more deadly fire.

Today I visited my friend Liz who has welcomed evacuees in her home (inside and out) so that I could meet and then sketch them. The air was more clear today thanks to winds from the north overnight so I climbed inside the pig pen with Madeline and Liam while Barbara enjoyed the sun and serene country setting.

pigs5You can also see Zoey in the picture to the left. She’s the only one who actually lives here ongoing. Barbara, in the chair, was evacuated from a senior living center which luckily did not burn (although her son’s home in Santa Rosa did) and the miniature pigs are the beloved pets of other people who needed a temporary place to house them. Normally they are actually indoor pig-pets, so these accommodations were a bit of a come down for them. But they were adapting admirably. They were not however the best models for sketching.

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I spent my first few minutes trying to understand their various parts as they were in constant movement. These little pigs look more like miniature warthogs without the tusks.

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They had the annoying habit of burying the parts of their body I was sketching in the straw where they were finding something delectable to eat. Nevertheless I was rapidly becoming enamored of them, particularly their gross lip smacking snorting sounds and gorgeous curly tail swishing. They really are the epitome of bad table manners when eating, which seems to be non stop and it’s hilarious! Madeline has these long white eyelashes and bright pink halter (for if you would want to take her for a walk), and Liam is small and dark and they’re both so friendly. Here’s a picture of Liam when he got interested in painting and gave my palette a good wet snort-sniff.

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I wasn’t feeling particularly successful with the sketching, but thought I’d give it one more try. And after a while they actually stopped eating and got kind of mellow.

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and I had more time to observe.

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But once home I had try one more from a photo. My heart goes out to all the fire evacuees, but these little piggies totally stole my heart.

The Sweetest Cat in the World

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acrylic paint and fabric collage on w/c paper, 10 X 11″

About 13 years ago this little yellow cat appeared in the bushes in front of our house and meowed incessantly for days until we finally let him join our other cat as a (reluctant to us) family member.  He had that piercing Siamese kind of meow, which makes you want to do anything to shut it up.  Food always worked, and later it was petting that worked.  And after a few years, he had us trained well enough that he only had to ask once, and we knew what to give him. My boys named him Phil after some poker champion (go figure) and I had no say in the matter.

Fast forward a few years.  I’m not sure when it happened that Phil learned a technique for getting any passer-by to pet him.  He flops down in front of you while you’re walking, so that you have to do a quick little dance step to avoid stepping on him.  His soft exposed belly and audible purr is enough to get the message across, and most people find it impossible not to scratch an ear or rub that belly.  That’s my favorite part.  He’s my buddy whenever I’m outside gardening, or sitting eating my lunch or doing my Chi Gong under the trees or sketching.

The hallway of our home exhibits some of my paintings of previous pets – Alexander the cat and the bunny whose name I’ve forgotten.  I wanted Phil there too. So when I introduced a new mixed media lesson in the Muse group on fabric collage, I decided to try doing Phil’s portrait.

This pose is a typical daytime one.  He loves to sun himself in the dirt in the garden and look up at us langorously as we pass.  I took a picture and did a line drawing of the pose on the paper.  On a trip to the fabric store I picked up swatches of fabrics I thought would be fun to use.  The rest is probably obvious.  I cut strips of the cloth, piecing them to fit the drawing and then added paint to complete the picture.  I imitated the style of one of my favorite mixed media artists Mark English.

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golden brown ink, dip pen, watercolor in watercolor sketchbook, 8 X 5″

Another one of Phil’s typical poses.  He likes to sit under that table between our chairs outside watching me while I eat, and then falling asleep. Look at that face.  Like I said, the sweetest cat in the world.

Festival of Feathers

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fountain pen with Noodler’s Golden Brown ink, watercolor in Strathmore w/c sketchbook, (9.5×7.5″)

We joined the crowds at the Santa Rosa Bird Rescue Center’s annual Festival of Feathers on Saturday to practice more standing and sketching  (in a jostling crowd).  Most of the birds were relatively good posers (except for the raven) and there’s just nothing like coming up eyeball to eyeball with these elegant wild creatures. We lasted about an hour and a half and then were so exhausted we had to stop.  The sketches were done on site, the painting afterwards.

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Japanese bush pen with water soluble ink.

The raven was completely black, but that felt like it would be too much.  After “melting” the ink line to create volume I added just a touch or two of color.

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Wowl is the poster child of the bird sanctuary and my absolute  favorite!

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Butter, Eggs, and the Cutest Chick Contest

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Fountain pen, watercolor on HP w/c paper (handmade journal, 8X10″ spread)

Saturday my intrepid sketch-buddy Carole and I attended Petaluma’s famous Butter and Eggs Festival along with a good portion of the population of the north bay area.  We set our sites on the Cutest Chick contest which was held in the middle of Kentucky street and consisted of a mob scene of parents with be-feathered babes waiting for their moment on stage before the judges.  Clearly the babes had not been asked if they wanted this honor, and there were parents wondering “What was I thinking?!” Nevertheless it was an event which brought smiles to all.

We insinuated ourselves in the middle of it, sketchbooks open and pen at the ready.  These drawings were done in this fashion, standing, and later painted when we rested in the coffee shop.

buttereggs

I was experimenting with the Pentel brush pen with the drawing on the left. This dark pen is often good for anchoring the dark values with painterly marks (see Mark Taro Holmes)  But the effect with babies the effect seemed too harsh, so I put it away.  There were in fact feathers floating everywhere, and I could imagine the local craft stores selling out of their feathers.  Or maybe, since it is after all Petaluma, famous as the home of chickens and eggs, they were gleaning from chicken coops!  There were also a lot of orange rubber gloves on or falling off of little feet.

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The streets were also full of booths of all kinds from food and crafts to petting animals and donkey rides for the city slickers. These ducks were molting with their high fashion poof hats.  There wasn’t much action, since we caught them at nap time.

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By the time I found a donkey that was not carrying children slowly down the street out of sight, the sun was beating down rather fiercely, and I got out my emergency sunscreen.  Mistake.  Never put your sunscreen on while you’re sketching, because it gets on the paper and acts as a resist for the paint!  But better than burning I guess.  .

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I use my sketchbook for all kinds of drawing play. This one on the left was a homework assignment in the new Sketchbook Skool course titled “Stretching”.  Basically it’s an ink blot (blotted over to the opposite page) doodle.  The exercise is to drip ink, blot, draw with a wide dip pen and ink.

So we’re still in Petaluma, and are wearing out with watching the interminable parade with every band and civic group and school and etc. walking slowly by, and we duck into a restaurant to eat in peace and do some more sketching.  I open the page to the blue/black ink blot and am inspired to sketch the couple sitting beneath a painting.

The World’s Best Model

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Sketching Woodrow in Humboldt Redwoods State Park

Do you see the green/blue behind the horse’s tail?  That’s the swimming hole by our campsite that we frequented each afternoon and had practically to ourselves.  One day we heard a ninnying and found this beautiful Arabian there in the shade, his human family in the shade below.  Excited, I got my chair and sat in front of him, Woodrow the horse that is, and commenced to sketching.

Well, I’ve sketched chickens and goats and sheep and cows and dogs and cats, all of which resulted in quick sketching, as in glance/memorize/hope for the best.  This noble creature almost stood still for me.  And can you imagine a more perfect subject for sketching?

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