I feel grateful to be able to create a tribute to a beloved pet. Diesel was a handsome guy and loved in life. Our pets give so much. When they are no longer with us we miss them. As an artist, I try to capture their spirit, a moment in time, that renews their presence, again and again.
AT THE END OF A ROAD
“Does anyone want a dog? Tim’s going to shoot that Border Collie.”
I was on a road trip, 40 miles off Highway 80 in Nevada, wandering around a historic site where Mark Twain had tried his hand at silver mining. The woman was delivering mail and an opportunity that changed my life.
Tim lived in a run-down trailer. Tragically widowed months before when his wife died in an off-road vehicle accident, he already had two Border Collies when his stepdaughter abandoned another. Tim’s work took him away for days at a time. The one-year old pup was more than an inconvenience, and it was clear that arranging a rescue was beyond this grieving man.
Another dog was the last thing on my mind. Back home, I had only Karl, a Shepherd-Pitt Bull mix. I was in no hurry to fill the emptiness left by Pumpkin, a goofy, willful Labrador.
I can’t be responsible for every dog in trouble, I told myself as I reluctantly made my way across the dirt road, biscuit in hand. I was prepared to resist. After all, not all dogs are a match.
Approaching the chain-linked enclosure I noticed her nose was bloody. Tim explained, somewhat annoyed, that the doomed dog had just gotten into the garbage. I concluded she had found the trash preferable to the contents of her food bowl, a combination of unnatural shades.
Classically beautiful, her brown eyes made intense contact that I was later to learn was natural for the breed. I spoke quietly to her, offering the treat through the fence. She showed no interest.
Her gaze remained strong, but she offered no response to my overtures. Taken by her elegance but torn by reluctance, hers and mine, I reached my fingers between the metal fence. I wanted to touch her, to reassure her that though I might not be her liberator, I was at least friendly.
As I did, she moved close to my outstretched hand, resting her neck contentedly against my welcoming caress.
“I can’t take her now. I’ll come back for her. I promise.”
Tim, in turn, promised not shoot her.
All the way to Cheyenne, anxious thoughts filled my brain. At the first opportunity, I called Tim. “Is she still there? I am coming back for her.”
Tears of relief filled my eyes as I heard his monotone reply.
A week later, on the deserted road toward Unionville, I felt jumpy. What if Tim hadn’t kept his promise? What if…?
Ten years later the what-ifs still echo. What if I hadn’t decided to explore Samuel Clemens’ historical site? What if I had arrived a few hours later? What if the postal woman hadn’t been delivering her mail at that exact moment? What if Sam hadn’t been there at the end of the road, wagging her tail, joyfully greeting me on my return?
No need to ask. We forever dog owners know how this works.
We met in November at the Barkley Pet Hotel in Westlake Village. I was immediately drawn to his intelligent face and handsome brindled coat and found myself a bit star struck at Little Bear’s pedigree. Not only was he an ancient and revered Japanese breed, Kai Kin, but he had once belonged to the Reagans, (yes, those Reagans.) After Bryan Michael Stoller adopted Little Bear in 2002, he became a movie star. All that should have been enough for me to fall in love, but then I found out the best thing of all about this guy. His side job was to visit hospitals.
Now, I felt truly honored to be photographed with him, because besides being a pet and animal artist, my past is filled with decades in such institutions.
My work as a hospital based diabetes educator was sometimes lonely and emotionally draining. I had to deliver bad news and encouragement in the same encounter. My patients were often scared and resistant to the lifestyle changes that would be required of them.
My work, though I loved it, was lonely, and during a normal day I often needed someone who would be there for just for me, someone who could wordlessly encourage my dogged effort.
Hearing about Little Bear’s other job made me realize that he is that kind of a dog and his owner, one of those selfless types who shares his beloved pet with sick people and caregivers.
After my photo op, they gave me DVDs, First Dog and The Wizard of Paws, both sensitive, uplifting stories about an unusual dog, whose wisdom, love and devotion changed a life.
But isn’t that what all dogs are apt to do, if we let them?
While visiting my granddaughter in Brazil, I created an image on her nursery wall.
When she sees Lake Tahoe for the first time, do you think she'll be looking for the bunny?
Ventura County Fair Professional Art exhibit was an impressive display of work. I was honored to be included.
Artist friends are the best.
I'm in Brazil currently, but my friend, Susan Colla did me the huge favor of submitting my Pretty as Pink, to the Ventura County Fair.
My artistic life comes full circle. Isn't this how at started - at County Fairs?
Check out Susan's work. She's a master.
Someday, I’m going to get back to my art. I know I have a novel in me. I don’t have time now, but when I retire…when the kids are grown…when…
What we need to do to move ourselves from someday to now can be different for each person. But it always takes work and courage.
Few are born prodigies. Most creativity – painting, writing, textiles, sculpture, graphics, design, music, acting… is work.
If you are having trouble taking your own work seriously, believing you have something to offer and especially believing that you have the right to your creative time, you are not alone.
Here are some steps to help you find time and space for your art:
Make a commitment. If not now, when?
Find your passion, even it’s just for now. What is it that makes you excited? Go in that direction. Along the way you may change your mind, or you may expand your horizons, but start – from where you are, right now.
Write a mission statement – take time to define and clarify what you value. A personal mission statement gives you a sense of purpose. It defines who you are and how you will interact with your creative self. It guides your actions and your choices.
Define what you do
Brand yourself. Be aware of what you’re good at, what you like to do, and
concentrate on it. It takes practice to make progress.
Be open to possibilities. Sometimes, you find you are good at more than one thing, or that your interests and skills may expand. Branding is not a box. Allow for growth.
Create a space
Defend your workspace, your work time and your mental space. Don’t let anyone move in. I know your kids want to do their homework there, or your friend wants you to go out for coffee to talk about your hobby. Take your creative time and space seriously.
Getting started can be the hardest. Figure out when is your best time to work.
Do things that move you toward starting. Is it a room? A piece of clothing, (your painter’s smock?), a time of the day when your studio has the best lighting, a frame of mind you can pull up that makes you start working?
Realize that getting into your right brain means leaving all the other must-dos behind for a period of time.
Self doubt – turn off the inner critic and just work. Believe that you can, and you will.
When destructive self-criticism creeps in, resist engaging in that conversation.
Strive to be the best you can, but resist perfectionism. They call it the creative process, because it is a process. Accuracy is not the same thing as the kind of standards that paralyze us. If you are not happy with what you are doing, walk away or put it away. Don’t throw it away. Later of tomorrow or even weeks and months from now, you may have a different perspective.
Resist guilt. What you are doing right now is good enough. Don’t let shoulds creep into your work time.
Stay away from negative people.
Don’t allow yourself to isolate. This creative self is a part of who you are. Share it or at least share your dreams with someone you trust.
Resist competitiveness. Honest competition – submitting your work, is a valid challenge, but don’t compete or compare. We all have our own creative lens through which we see the world. Yours is as valid as anyone else’s. Art is subjective.
Honest critiques. Find people who understand what you are trying to do and try to see your work through their eyes. It can only make you better.
Encouragement keeps us going. Notice when someone responds positively and enjoy the fact that you are developing fans.
Find a supportive environment – take a class, join a gallery or a writer's group. Have like-minded, creative types in your life.
Separate from your work
You are not your product. When you market yourself pretend you are supporting a very dear friend whose art you love. Market your work as if someone else had done it.
We must, at some time, let go of our darlings, and allow someone else interact with them, to form their own relationship. That’s the magic. That’s the payoff for being brave and believing in and being responsible for your talents.
Our work is imbued with meaning that may or may not be what was intended or may be more than we had hoped for.
Most artists find their studios to be lonely places. I'm lucky to have a companion.
She hangs out on the futon while I am at my easel. Sits on my drawings when I am at my table, perches on the printer and often walks across my keyboard as I work at the computer.
This day I was doing research for a cow painting. What shape are their pupils anyway? Felicity was curious also.
I strive to capture that moment when animals are trying to cross the species’ communication barrier.