Pet portrait

Last Night I Dreamed. . .

Last night I dreamed of a lizard, a beautiful black and white patterned one. In the dream I was quite excited to find it among some plants in my home. Because you see, when my boys were little, they were really into lizards, and especially a leopard gecko which Ben named Samon. His preschool art was filled with colorful geckos and our house chirped loudly with crickets that had escaped while trying to get them into the cage for Samon’s dinner. Our good friend Maureen, an accomplished photographer, posed Ben with Samon for her project on children and their pets.

photo by Maureen Morrison

So my delight at having a lizard appear in my dream is not a surprise, particularly at a time when I just published a book (for the family) titled The Cornelis Boys and Other Creatures. It’s a collection of stories about my sons’ early years, when I participated in endless expeditions to acquire a managerie of lizards, frogs, toads, caterpillars, butterflies, praying mantises and more. I became as enthralled as the boys with these creatures. 

But I was also delighted with the dream, because my Muse group sisters and I decided to explore the theme of spirit animals/creatures in our art. So today I got out my ink and got started with some Ralph Steadman style splatter to get the imagination opened up to the possibility of another lizard visitation. 

When finished I got out my reference book, Animal Speak: The Spiritual and Magical Powers of Creatures Great and Small by Ted Andrews and looked up Lizard. Here’s what he wrote:

“Keynote: Subtlety of Perception. . .a symbolism associated with the psychic and the intuitive. The ability to  perceive subtle movement – physical and ethereal, waking or sleeping – is what lizard medicine teaches. To some within the Native American tradition, the lizard is associated with dreamtime. Dreams contain some of the subtlest perceptions of the mind of which we may not be conscious. . . listen to your own intuition over anyone else’s. Learning to follow your perceptions is what will enable you to succeed most frequently.”

Sounds like pretty good advise for anyone, whether you’re drawn to the reptile world or not!

I can’t resist leaving you with another lizard family picture, of my other son Andy and his brother Ben. There’s obviously some photoshop going on here, but I suspect not with the lizard! (oh yeah, and then there was the rat chapter. ..)

(imagine)Post Pandemic Revelry

It requires a sturdy imagination to soldier through these days of shelter-in-place, for those of us who have the good fortune to be able to, that is. I started out at my art table, painting water shapes of birds and adding colors to the water as I worked my way around the paper. The source material was an article in National Geographic about “Why Birds Matter” with pictures of some of the most flamboyant birdlife. By the end it seemed they was celebrating something.

fluid acrylics on w/c p

Ah! Imagine . . .

The post pandemic revelry

Of pent up desires 

To shake tail feathers

To sing and dance together

. . .TOGETHER! again!

To share unfiltered air

Kiss the warm cheek

Hug the big belly softness

Drink the unmasked radiance

. . .of a SMILE!

I like to imagine the freedom of being a bird right now, especially when I’m eating my lunch, sitting in their flight path next to the fountain/bird bath. (Of course they have their own avian viruses at times), but I’ll enjoy their unmasked flights, their social songs and raucous bathing.

It helps, until such time as I can hug my human friends again!

Pet Portraits

I’ve been busy doing some commissioned pet portraits lately, working from pictures provided by the owner. I used to be able to take the picture myself and pose the pet with appropriate lighting. But with Covid I haven’t been making “home visits” so the portraits are a bit more of a challenge.

The main challenge is to get the eyes right so you can see that doggie love manifest. And yes, this one has one blue and one gold eye!

One of my favorite pets to paint is a llama. The eyes are so outrageously large and the long hair is just too gorgeous.

And yes, this is the puppy version of the first dog, already showing signs of great intelligence.

Meet Sofia

When I met Sofia over a year ago at The Living Room, she was always cradling her little dog Roger in her arms like a baby. The women who came for meals and other services all knew each others’ dogs. Over time Sofia became a part of the extended family of women and their dogs who looked out for each other as much as they could. (see more portraits with pets here)

Sofia was a lot younger than the other women I was meeting and I immediately felt a maternal connection with her. When I heard her story, I was impressed with her intelligence and determination to make her life better despite having so few resources and so many past disappointments.

I learned that in addition to her homelessness, Sofia would be dealing with a high risk pregnancy. Sofia is one of the women with whom I have been unable to stay in touch since the pandemic and honestly that makes my heart heavy. I would like to picture her cradling a baby in those arms and in a comfortable home with her boyfriend with the possibility of going back to school and eventually having her own business again!

Fire Evacuations: Donkeys, Goats and Us

Before the fire season got off to a roaring start with lightning strikes and wildland fires all over California, I had been occasionally enjoying the company of the donkeys and goats that live at the bottom of our road. After my dinner I would take a bucket of apples down in the cool of the early evening. They would see me approaching and come running. Did me a world of good to suddenly be so popular.

I’ve tried many times before to sketch them at the fence where they are so adorable and engaging, but it’s impossible with all the movement. So one time I kept them waiting for their apples, while I took pictures.

The donkeys are not that much bigger than the biggest goats and I had to distract the goats who are more aggressive at the fence.

Then last week, as we were packing for a fire evacuation I noticed that the field was empty and the donkeys and goats had beat us to evacuation.

Perhaps they were taken to the county fairgrounds, or perhaps a friend’s pasture, but I hope to see them home soon. It would do my nerves a world of good to have my animal friends gobbling apples from my hands again.

It’s been an exhausting and stressful week of evacuation to three different places in the Bay Area, to friends’ homes and a hotel. But our area was saved, thanks to the tireless efforts of firefighters, police, prison inmate crews, pilots, local authorities, rescuers from far away, and so many more.

We came home yesterday to a yellow ribbon on our mailbox “crime scene” which we figured was placed there when the police made their rounds of mandatory evacuation areas. Otherwise there is a dusting of ash, a lot of fallen apples, neighbors with their own stories to tell, and Sylvester the cat who no longer lives here, but hangs out here all day.

We still have a friend who is waiting for news of whether her house will be saved. And of course there are all the families who have already lost their homes, and that rests heavily on my heart. I’d like to say I’ll get right out and do more fire story sketches as I did in 2017 and 2018, but I haven’t had the extra energy to sketch through this crisis. One spends so much time just making it through the day, calling and texting friends and family, moving possessions in and out of the car.

And now I just want to enjoy home again. After all, that is the greatest gift when you almost lose yours and then don’t.

Pigs and Clouds

My friend Ruth happened to mention that her neighbor next door has pigs, so I invited myself over to visit them . . .oh, to visit her too.

Since there will be no county fair this year, no 4H kids with their pigs ready to show, I took the opportunity to meet Goldie and Zoomzoom. They were quite busy sticking their snouts in the wet mud, snorting and carrying on as pigs are wont to do. I’m not sure where the syllables “oink oink” originated because I heard none of that. I quickly gave up trying to sketch them from the perimeter and did this later from pictures.

GoldieandZoomzoom

Can you imagine the good fortune of the small children of this household who get to ride around on the backs of these remarkable creatures? Of course I wonder how they will feel when their porcine friends become bacon.

viewofsouthyard

The time to paint the sky in California is mainly in the winter and early spring when there is more than just endless blue skies. But one day last week I realized that we didn’t have many days left with those heavenly cloud formations. So I grabbed my sketchbook to try to capture the scene outside my studio door.

But then the light kept changing every five minutes and the smoke bush was glowing and changes colors and I got all excited and frenetic and lost it all!  So I turned it into a kind of map of one portion of my one acre home. Some day, who knows, I’ll look back on this sketch and it will fire off the sound of rushing waters in winter and the smell of mint and the excitement of my young boys who found the mint there and transplanted it closer to the house, where we now regularly pick it for recipes and tea.

Sketching the Spring Garden

The purple irises have just started blooming and they reminded me of a video demo my son Andrew shot and edited ten years ago while he was taking a high school filmmaking course. Wish he were around now to help me record.

I had such a surge of sentimentality watching this again! We no longer have chickens, and the trees have grown, blocking some of the view in the distance. Oh, and of course I’ve aged. . .just a bit. But the natural environment in this month of April is still extraordinarily active and abundant! So before I show you the video, here’s what’s happening now.

mothsex

Lots of sex. Butterflies, birds and bees of course, and yesterday I noticed this two-headed insect on a succulent plant. And of course my mind went a bit crazy trying to imagine how that joining was happening underneath. These two, I assume, moths were so intoxicated that nothing I could do would disturb their joining. I assume he’s the one on top, and more colorful.

turkeyeggs

The grasses in our back yard (acre) are about 5 feet high now and an excellent place for a mother to lay her eggs. As I said earlier we got rid of our chickens years ago. But the wild turkeys have taken up residence and this mother scared me as much as I scared her when I came upon this cache with her on it! They are bigger than chicken eggs, but not by much. I guess we’ll be seeing the make-way-for-little-turkeys processional soon.

lizard

This is the top of a birdhouse that’s on a bench directly outside my studio door. The lizard population has soared in the past two weeks and I rarely arrive at the door without a scaly critter waiting for me on the door jamb. What do they think they would do inside anyway? Pick up a paint brush?

OK, here’s the video. Hopefully it will get us both out sketching the spring garden.

 

 

Carmen

The portrait project at The Living Room is keeping me joyfully busy these days, collecting the stories of these women who have become my friends. They have all been homeless and many of them still are. They have that is common, along with other things I couldn’t have known about without spending hours listening to them. They possess a kind of hard won wisdom and a desire to minister to others who are down on their luck.

. . .Like Carmen, who leaned in to tell me her secret, “Sleeping on the streets you learn to be grateful for what you do have, and it makes you strong.”

Carmen

Carmensita is almost always to be found by her side.  She is the white “Yoda” in the stroller below. Likely she is dog sitting the large hound by her side.

dogduo

 

The Sweetest Cat no longer in this world

We’ve known for the past month that our beloved Phil, the sweetest cat in the world, was preparing for his final passage. It almost seemed he was waiting to spend his last days with the boys who grew up with him. Who can know such things? They lavished him with attention in the two weeks they were here for the holidays and he responded with steady purrs and the kitty conversation Phil was known for. He passed away on the evening the full moon rose.

philcollage

All my students and many folks who came to open studios over the years will remember Phil, because he was the official greeter, happy to receive a neck or belly scratch from all visitors.

I’ve gone back in history to find sketches and paintings of Phil I have posted here on the blog. The above collage is his “official” portrait, hanging in our home along with other beloved pets.

philhelps

I was never able to sketch or garden in our yard without the company of Phil. He would nudge me to let me know I must give him attention before I could get on with my business.

phil

When I was trimming plants in the garden I would have to take special care not to snip his whiskers or tail, because he couldn’t seem to get close enough and was always talking.

phil

Phil would eventually find a spot on the bench to nap after a long spell of purring.

phil

Phil was a teenager when he adopted us about 17 years ago, just showing up and insisting in no uncertain terms that we belonged to him!

sunrisePhil

He acquired the habit of throwing himself down suddenly in front of people on our walkway, exposing his belly, with a clear message that he was to receive love before one could proceed.

sylvester

And then Sylvester showed up, and his devotion to Phil was so complete that even though Phil gave him the message, in no uncertain terms, that this property was  his territory, Sylvester persisted. . .and eventually they came to terms with the arrangement and became Phil and Syl, eating, sleeping, and lounging together. When I finally got around to doing Sylvester’s portrait, I knew it would be incomplete without his best friend.

Recently on the cold winter nights when Phil was so weak, Sylvester warmed him with his body and checked on him throughout the day.

This may not be the end of my portrait-making of Phil, though it is the end of Phil, the sweetest cat in the world, who we will never forget! The boys want to plant a tree in the yard for him above where he is buried.

We would love to hear any of your memories of this lovable feline family member!

Pet Families

I like to sit in on the Community meetings at The Living Room where I learn about services that are available to homeless and at risk women and children. One particularly popular program is called Dogwood. It’s an animal rescue project that supports animals and the people who love them. And in the case of the women who come to The Living Room this service is as supportive as the hot meals, counseling, and groups. The pets support these women in crisis in fundamental ways we can all relate too.

gerrie_1

So I continually add to my sketches of women with their dogs and hear heart warming stories like. . .

“I couldn’t have made it on the streets without his companionship.”

“My dogs are like family, only better. They love me regardless of what happens.”

“I have learned that I have to take care of things even when I’m down so that I can continue to take care of her. “

“I need them with me so that I can feel safe in the [homeless] encampments.”

“They won’t abandon me like my ____________.”

“When I cry, they lick my face and make me feel better.”

sofia_1 “He sleeps on my chest, right over my heart.”

dogduo

The Living Room is a place where women can get help and feel connected with a community of people like themselves. And that connection flows generously to folks like myself whose only real difference is that I don’t have the anxiety and depression that comes as a matter of course with having lost the security of a home. And that caring spirit extends seamlessly to the pets, who enjoy an extended family of caretakers that make it possible for women to participate in activities at times without their pets.

See some of the other TLR pet sketches here.