Pet portrait

Butter, Eggs, and the Cutest Chick Contest


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.


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.


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.


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.  .


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



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?


A Dreamer on a Walk

crinkled masa paper, sumi collage, inks on w/c paper

she’s a dreamer on a walk
and always the birds
and the wondering
the movement at her feet
a nest of quail so careless
to build a home so low
she will be their protector
but how
how to secure life
without smothering it
how to let it be free
and still safe

I have a baby chick who is not well. I even lost sleep over it last night I think. Kept picturing its eyes half closed, so still, and me the only creature to keep it safe and well, but how?  It’s a bit better today, but I will take no credit for this.  Time is what’s needed and a safe place.

These concerns always work their way into the art.  This piece was a demo in last weekend’s SAturday Muse Group where we worked with crinkled Masa paper, painting onto its damp surface and later using it for collage over the first piece.

One Smart Chick

Acrylic on canvas, 30 X 24″

My latest painting in the chicken series.  This chicken is about three times life sized, which is how a chicken feels when you get down on their level and look them in the eyes.  Undoubtedly it’s the effect of the direct, unblinking gaze and threat of a sharp beak so close to one’s eyes.  They’re not really threatening – it can just feel disconcerting in certain moments.  Our cat Phil knows all about that and he hunts birds for dinner.  But the chickens are positively unnerving to him!

The Dog Named Bear

Bear, watercolor on 300 lb CP paper, 22 X 26″

I paint the occasional pet portrait.  This gargantuan dog named Bear was a particular challenge.  The owner wanted a large painting to go over the fireplace in the family room. Because the family was local I was able to take my own photos, and I really lucked out when the cat named Bart showed up in one of the shots looking through the window!  That was the easy part.  But a big, black dog with only the tiniest spot of white to offset the big blackness – that is a challenge to a painter. So I invented some red and blue and even a bit of green to enliven the picture.  Happily the owner saw her gentle giant in the portrait and was pleased!  Whew!

Aussie Canine enthusiasm!

adelaide“Adelaide”, watercolor, 20 X 14″

When someone approaches me about doing a portrait of their pet, usually a dog, I ask – what is the most familiar and endearing pose for you pet?  You know, the one that melts your heart.

Well, this particular pet parent said it was when Adelaide, her Australian Shepherd, jumped up at the kitchen window where she was looking out.  An unusual request for a portrait, but I was game.

So in my back yard Adelaide performed her remarkable jumping act while I snapped numerous pictures.  A particular challenge to paint, I must admit.  Give me the seated, head tilted, paw up and tongue out pose any day, but a dog in the air?!  Well, here she is, the flying wonder dog!

Nimbus digs for worms

nimbuswormwatercolor and Sharpee pen in Arches Travel Book

With spring vacation almost over I finally lured Andy (my 16 year old) out to the garden to film my next sketch video.  I had in mind that he would set up the video camera on a tripod and film most of it from one spot, and that would be it.  Clearly I am not a filmmaker, which he is.  So after I wrote a story board and he tested various camera angles and tried out his skate board as a method for moving the camera smoothly  while I walked, we settled into a spot where I could begin drawing.

By this point the midday sun was frying us and a sun hat was out of the question because that would interfere with the picture.  So, slathered up with sunscreen, and impatient to get into the shade, with the paper tilted at an awkward angle for the sake of the camera, I began.

But the amazing thing I’ve found with sketchbooking is that as soon as you put all your focus on what you’re sketching, none of the rest of it matters.  ANd somehow, the more uncomfortable the conditions, the truer is the sketch.  I’ve noticed this with my workshops where it rains.  The “weather” creates a vibrancy that is missing with more predictable settings.  Being thrown slightly off base, as we are when we travel,  perch on a rock in the woods, or with sand blowing on us at the beach,  seems to help.

It must have been a terrible embarrassment for this cool 16 year old, because I said I wanted chickens in the video.  Is that idiotic or what?   But he was kind enough to humor me, and so there will be about 30 seconds of Nimbus, my silkie hen, in the video, which will be published as soon as we can get it edited.  So stay tuned.  High school starts back tomorrow so it is at least several days away, but hopefully will be worth the wait.

Favorite Pet Portraits Debut!

Commissioned pet portrait, watercolor

In case you thought I was only fond of chickens and maybe cows and goats, allow me to share that I am in general fascinated by the animal world and have for years painted people’s pets. It all started actually with goats, the fluffy angora variety that used to graze the Berkeley hills eating poison oak and blackberry brambles (to cut down on the fire hazard!) And then I moved on to painting dogs and cats, and then moved to the country and started painting horses and even llamas.

And now you can see a collection of my animals and even order your very own pet’s portrait on my new website

But I must also report that, happy though I am with most of my contacts with the animal world, I could use some advice regarding my chickens. You see, while I was gone on vacation Nimbus (the Silkie who looks like a puffy gray cloud) started brooding (sitting on the nest where all the chickens prefer to lay their eggs) Even after her egg had long been removed, and even though, goodness knows, we don’t have a rooster and so will not likely have eggs that hatch into chickies! even then she continued to perform her motherly duty. Unfortunately the other 6 hens had gotten into a really slick routine of taking turns laying their eggs in that very same nest. Well, I guess we’re all creatures of habit, so we can understand their upset at not having easy access. (It must feel something like waiting in line at a public restroom when you really have to go) So I put another box next to the first, but they’re still so upset and raise their voices to a pitch that sounds like they’re being chased by the axe man! What’s a farmer girl to do? And don’t tell me to get a rooster. THat definitely was too noisy.

A cocky hen

Acrylic on collage textured illustration board, 22″ X 15″
By way of a Happy Easter greeting I thought I’d share the full version of my very own Cocky Hen (and let you imagine the beautiful Easter eggs she laid!). Yes, I know that there is no such thing, at least on this planet, as a rainbow colored hen. (Therefore she was volunteered for the short story of the failed betrothal of le Petit Prince and Zoey. ) However, the true and honest story is that this painting was inspired by, not Zoey the chicken, but Rasheed the chicken, who of all the baby chicks we raised last spring from day-old fluff-puff chickies, was the one who actually did that bonding/imprinting thing with humans (mainly Andy, but later transfered to me as well). So this painting is actually my emotional reaction to having a full grown chicken strutt up to me, clucking loudly and right in my face. If I try to ignore her and go about my business she follows behind, and if I’m unfortunate enough to have to bend down, she pecks as my butt or pant legs if that’s all she can reach, and she’s quite persistent. I know I’m bigger, but still.
Rasheed on Andy’s knee at about 1 week old
I went out plein air sketching yesterday not far from home. But I am embarrassed to report that the air was so warm and blossomy and my stomach so full of Easter candy that I mostly just sat there taking it in in big heady gulps until I got so sleepy I went back to the car for a nap. Spring has that effect on me. Sorry.