Skadi, done




I think Skadi is done.  I’d left it for quite a while to allow the initial layers to dry.  I had never painted on board before, and found it extremely challenging.  For me, board  (even gessoed) is too slippery for oils, and I thought that the underpainting would allow subsequent layers to grip; but I guess I just paint too thin, or too oily.  This was mostly an exercise for fun – to practice applying paint in a more painterly style, rather than focus on the finer details.

A Juxtaposing Weekend

I had the good fortune of attending a day of panel discussions and breakout sessions for artists at The Art of Protest: Public Art and Scholarship as Political Resistance at the Mayapple Center for Arts & Humanities at Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, NY.  The day included visual arts, poetry, filmmaking, writing, and music, from a diverse panel covering a number of topics in confronting injustice through our art.  In the afternoon, I joined the visual arts workshop led by David Birkin.  I was inspired not only by his projects, but by the panel discussions with all of the participating artists both before and after the workshops, and my mind was frothing with the need to speak more truth in the art that I produce.  But how?  The barrage of assaults on justice happening daily in the U.S. are overwhelming.

I had packed a bag to include an extra night of wandering if the desire struck, and so I headed north toward North Adams, MA, instead of eastward toward home.  I figured that, as long as I’m so far west of home, I may as well visit the newly opened Museum of Dog.  I wasn’t sure of the juxtaposition — leaving such intense subject matter and the drive for truth to head for dog nostalgia and folk art?  But drive I did, with no radio, no news, no social media, not even a podcast, in the hopes that my mind could process my day during the few hours or more that I would take meandering up rural routes.  What is the truth that I want to try to represent, and how would that look?

IMG_4550As I drove along winding roads passing motor lodges, diners, and pointy white steeples jutting upward from the valleys of trees, I enjoyed the occasional aromas of hay fields in the sun and wood-burning stoves. It occurred to me that the more I try to confront the sociopolitical reality of the country that I live in now, the more I recoil into the comfortable, the past, the notion that peace and harmony surrounds me.  Eventually, I pulled in to a motor inn nestled in the pines, interrupted the very nice couple having supper, and I got my key –  the old, clunky kind, attached to a big plastic key ring with the room number etched in big numbers  –  and settled in with my notebook and a book.  Will my brain be more focused in the morning, after a quiet slumber?

IMG_4560I got up and headed out to a diner, where I sat at the counter with my coffee and eggs and ingested the arts section of the local paper (interesting interview with Zachary Wood about the need to listen to opposing viewpoints).  Then onward my disheveled dogmobile wound, up mountains and around turns, past campgrounds and closed antiques shops, and we rolled into North Adams and turned in to Mass MoCA.

I began wandering through the buildings and looking up at artwork that really doesn’t speak to me much, moving quickly along with rolling eyes and muttering breath; but soon walked into Jenny Holzer’s exhibit of autopsy reports from Abu Ghraib and GTMO, correspondence and memos from ICE on what constitutes acceptable torture, handprints of detainees (most of whom were innocent, of course), and finally stopped to appreciate the enormity, the breadth, the scope; to read report after report, memo after memo, story after story, letter after letter.  While it was a tough exhibit to really take in, I was grateful not only that it is there, blown up on so many walls for all to read, but that it brought me back to yesterday.  Not the yesterday of campfires and diners, but yesterday’s panel discussions on the need for voice and truth.  In my fear that it would dissipate into the smoke billowing up from chimneys or tree lines falling off into valleys, I instead saw it weaving in.

Then I went to the Museum of Dog, stopped for ice cream, browsed the shelves of a little book store, and headed home in silence, in the hopes that it would all coalesce into a more meaningful understanding and a more inspired way to express it.


The Subconscious Beginnings of a New Idea

I’ve been puttering around in the studio, working on this and that, enjoying a little time to work on my own ideas while the next couple of commissions make some decisions (which size?  Is this picture the one?).  Sure, it slows down the queue a little, but I am always happy to have time to work on what I want to work on.

Wait- what do I want to work on?  I’ve been talking a good game lately about how I’m going to start these plant portraits – close-ups of plants in the style of my dog paintings, zoomed in and maybe from unexpected angles – but, to be honest, I’ve been really stuck on them because I can’t even decide what to paint them on.  My usual canvas on a thick stretcher bar?   A thinner stretcher so I can put them in a cradled frame? What size? Glass?  Board? Old window frames?  My Gestalt style where I use a ton of small canvases in grid format?  Watercolor, gouache, and pen & ink on paper?  I’m really not so good with decisions.  And so I ignored it and plodded along with the couple of paintings I have going… but really, mostly taking way too much time in choosing which podcast to listen to, or check if that person replied to me, or to make sure I entered the Hamilton lottery today.

But, in the back of my mind (you know, those dark recesses that are processing shit you have no idea of?  That, but slightly more conscious), I’ve been thinking about those plant portraits.  What plant should I start with?  Where will I find the time?  What if I don’t actually ever do them, and everyone thinks that’s typical that I just never followed through?  Can I really afford to take time away from commissions?  This is kind of exciting!

And then, as I was either checking Facebook or mixing a new dog-tooth-off-white color (but probably the former), I noticed a canvas that I had started years ago, stacked with a couple of others against the wall.  It was so blue, like a dark sky that appears in one of my plant photos.  Funny that I would have such a blue canvas when I work 99% in browns and blacks and grey and whites.  Whaddaya know.

IMG_4188I pulled it out and saw the outline of a dog painting that I had started years ago, then painted over. Thing is, I had started the background in a sky blue, which had dried, and left the image of a dog standing in anticipation.  I had moved on to a much better composition / canvas for that dog, and so after the background had dried, I painted over the whole thing in a different blue, and left it.  I even used it as a practice canvas to squirt paint on (to get it just so for a shower scene… which sounds really weird for a dog painting) and smear painty brushes.

But the original outline of the dog was still visible, and it suddenly occurred to me that this would (maybe?) be worth investigating as a canvas for a plant portrait.  I do dogs, I do painting, I do herbs.  The visual compilation is intriguing to me.  I started mixing some new blues to blend in over the squirts and smears, while listening to a podcast I had finally decided on.

We’ll see.  It will surely take me another few weeks to decide which plant I want to paint, but in the meantime I have other paintings to work on and some dog coats to sew.  My subconscious will likely figure it out while I’m sewing,

Intermittent Reinforcers

Like most of us, I have a love/hate relationship with Facebook.  While it has always been obvious that the user is the product on a free social media platform, Zuckerberg’s despicable brand of greedy exploitation of others to serve his own self-interest has its own strain of wanton deceit (obvious to anyone who listened to even a few minutes of the recent congressional hearings).  It’s not that I have anything to hide or am a carefully guarded person; it’s that he thinks he’s pulling one over us while he feeds our info to other capitalist sleazeballs whose goal is to inundate our private domains.  But, all my interests organized in one convenient location…

I curate my friends list carefully.  I unfollow a lot of people that I’m friends with so that their ‘magic of turmeric’ memes or Tom Brady posts don’t take up precious space in my newsfeed.  The Events feature helps me keep track of cultural events going on in the city that I may otherwise never know about (especially the quirky ones that pop up only because that eccentric guy that I don’t know very well but has tentacles into all the things clicks “Interested”). With Groups, I cling to interests usurped by painting, with the expectation that I will return to them soon (hello, medicinal herbalism and canine nutrition).  My sharer-self is thrilled to find that doohickey that I’ve been wanting but haven’t found is on the curb over on Sycamore Street.  (Bing!  Intermittent reinforcer.)  And so I stay.

Still, every few months or so, I decide that I’m deleting my account.  Need to spend more time off-line, living in the present, experiencing the physical world and the (according to studies I’ve seen in my newsfeed) creativity it inspires.  If I wasn’t scrolling Facebook, what could I be doing?  Writing a blog post on my website? Trying out those new watercolors and pen tips in my sketchbook?  Updating my accounting files?  Studying the history of some arcane topic?  Journaling?  Searching gallery shows to enter, or doing a little of that ever-needed marketing stuff?


That does it!  I’m leaving Facebook,  Honestly, there is nothing there that I absolutely cannot do without, and I have so much to gain.  I am going to be so much more productive.  I’m really excited to finally be doing this.

And then a picture appears in my newsfeed of a face or an expression that I simply must paint and would never have found anything so perfect elsewhere.

Damn you, Facebook (but thank you, friends).

[Pictured is the underpainting of an oil on board just started.  It still needs much work, once this layer dries, but will be on the easel during this weekend’s Somerville Open Studios.  Stop by!]

Whys and Whatnots and Talking to Dogs

I was talking with another artist recently about artist statements; why we do the work we do, and how we articulate the reasons why we do the work we do.  The artist statement is the bane of our existence.  Never-ending, we are constantly re-examining iuand tweaking, editing it for every gallery we contact and each show we submit to, but never truly satisfied with it, and always readying for the next rewrite.

She had just re-written hers, and she read it to me.  It was inspiring and eloquent, and made me think about my paltry little paragraph where I say that there is no deep meaning in my paintings – just dogs being dogs and people being people.  She questioned that, pushing me to be more honest with myself.  Really, you just paint dogs because you like them?  Paintings are the outlet of the psyche, after all; surely there’s more to it.


It got me thinking about anthropomorphizing and IMG_2300how much I enjoy it.  It tickles me to see dogs in bow ties or bowler hats (or both!).  What’s up with that, anyway?  (I mean, sure, I’m a woman in her mid-50s with no kids, but can’t I just love being a spinster?)  Walking dogs in the afternoons, I see other dog walkers out there with dogs, and it occurred to me a year or so ago that they’re never talking to them.  Other dog walkers don’t talk to their dogs.  They just walk, in silence.  I realized then how odd my conversiveness (which should be a word) must seem to other functioning adults, out in the world.  Or kids, even.  I was walking Barney and Frankie through a cleared path in a snowy sidewalk one day last week, explaining something to them (probably about the laws of physics and that they need to move over to let people pass) when a kid heading home from school, slouched under the weight of his backpack, stopped and straightened up and turned to me, saying “You know they don’t understand what you’re saying, right?”  I immediately started laughing, and assured him that yes, I did realize that; but it also made me realize that there I was, out talking to dogs in public, again.

Lately, I’ve been making coats for my walkers.  I set up a sewing corner in my studio, with a table, and cubbies for fabric and buttons and velcro and snaps, and on the cork board wall next to it I tack up the patterns I design for each, their names and measurements written clearly across them in pencil.  I often think that I really should utilize the leftover fabric from each one.  Is it obnoxious to make matching poop bag dispensers?  But that soon leads to well, maybe a little hat or scarf… 

No, no.  Of course not.  That’s a terrible idea.  But it does bring me back to that question of what is in the depths of my subconscious that has me fascinated with painting dog faces — and in the same manner that I paint people faces.  The various expressions, the humor, the sparkling eyes.  Like they’re people, or something.  Like there’s so much going on inside that noggin.

Well, there is.  And tapping into it is truly fascinating.  I still don’t have ten dollar words to explain in my artist statement why I paint dogs so much, but I’ll keep thinking about it.  And talking to my walkers about it.


He’s in a Good Place

IMG_0613After having my work hung at Christopher’s in Cambridge, I was contacted by a local veterinary clinic interested in exhibiting my dog paintings on a rotating basis.  They were fairly new to their address and the walls were bare.  I met with them and we hit it off; nice people with a vision compatible with mine, and we moved forward.


Shortly afterward, they emailed that they would like to buy a painting for their permanent collection.  Great!  They weren’t sure which one, and I was in no rush, so I imagined in my own mind which they may like.  Link, catching the ball, is large and framed, and portrays a dog in a happy and healthful state, joyful anticipation on his face as the ball descends.  The Jack Russell jumping straight out of the canvas is visually simplistic and tends to generate a smile for all that know Jacks.  Hydrocodone is probably the best brushwork…  though I guess a vet’s office may not want to display an overly drugged dog…

They emailed after a while to announce that they had decided, and would like Rupert.  Rupert?  Well, Rupert is my own dog.  It never occurred to me, in the center of my own universe, that they would want to buy my dog.  There were all of those other dogs that surely they would be interested in.  But, sure, OK.

As artists, we approach our subjects from our own place of knowing, and we bring with that all of the joy or baggage that our psyche wants to pack up with it.  After painting so many commissions, I had decided to paint my own dog while he was still alive.  And so, my psyche approached it from that place of sheer intimacy that we have with our dogs.  That all-knowing and unconditional love.  I painted him laying in the studio, his front paws crossed in that “I’m content now” pose, probably wanting to go home or for a walk or to eat, but content to be where I was, together.

And so I brought Rupert when I went to do an initial planning session.  Later, when I IMG_0654brought the other paintings, I was happy to see that they had hung Rupert on the narrow wall in the waiting area.  Its long shape fits the wall perfectly, and it faces the door as you enter.  We went through the paintings I had brought and agreed on placement, and we hung them in various rooms.

Last week, Rupert died suddenly but peacefully at home.  He was 12 1/2 (when you’re a 12 year old Swissy, that half year is worth mentioning!), but had no obvious health issues and his bloodwork was always on target.  He was just old and slowing down.  As usual, he ate like a viking the night before.  He went outside, pooped, and after inspecting the yard for a while, hopped back up on the porch to come back in.  He settled into his bed and he died.  Couldn’t ask for a better way to go.  It was a Sunday, so I went and got some flowers and sangria, and some friends and I waked him, celebrating his life and laughing over funny stories about him.

We are so used to managing our pets through end-of-life health conditions and planning euthanasia, and it was truly a gift to have a dog die naturally in his own home, in his own bed, on his own terms, and with his own person.  It has had a huge impact on my response to his death; no gloomy sadness, doubts, or regrets.


In life, he was a very happy and — aside from his fear of shiny flooring — a very relaxed, go-with-the-flow kind of guy.  He always came to work with me, whether it was at a dog wash on Broadway in Southie, hiking the woods at the Fells, or walking dogs on the sidewalks of Cambridge and Somerville; but he was always calm and helped the other dogs to be calm.  It was his superpower.  It’s especially meaningful to me now that he watches over the door at the veterinary clinic, in his calm and content posture, reassuring those who enter.

Rupert and several other paintings are hanging with the super staff at Heal Veterinary Clinic, at 150 Belmont St in Watertown.  You won’t find shelves of Science Diet; just some happy faces.

Furbo, in process

Whoopsiedaisy – I’ve been forgetting to post updates on Furbo’s progress. I’ve spent the morning working on hair brush strokes; the interplay of hair growth direction and the shadows it creates. I can get lost in that process, it’s almost meditative. This is why I love working with smaller brushes; they allow for that prolonged detailed, zen-state zone. 

So, undershadowing is done and just have to add white hairs on his chest (I think chin is done). Then ears and ball and grass!

Furbo, started

Some dogs I like better than others.  Beagles definitely fall into the ‘better’ category.  They’re funny little dogs, with IMG_0581
their quirky little habits and insistence on doing them.

Furbo’s humans chose to have him portrayed in all his glorious joy – in the grass with his ball at his feet, letting out a big beagle bay to the sky.  I love the image they decided to go with.  It doesn’t show his eyes (or even his face, for that matter) — but it captures more about what makes him Furbo than any head-on perspective.



Home at Last


She said that they had the perfect wall to hang this painting.

His mom (I never know what to call the people who share their lives with dogs.  They’re not parents, but they’re not owners.  “Guardian” is so proper, and “companion” is so contrived.  OK, so his mom) wanted to have it before Thanksgiving, as they were having the family over, and this wall with the track lighting facing the front door entrance could really have used a painting of a Swissy.  That’s fine.  It was hanging at Christopher’s in Cambridge, but I could replace it there with another that I had just finished.

When I painted this from a photo posted to a Swissy group on Facebook, I had never met the dog, and I wasn’t even painting his face.  So, when I drove to drop it off, I was thrilled to finally meet Clay.  I worked on this painting for quite a while (with my little brushes), and there was a familiarity that I gained with him (well, with his paws, and his chin, and his belly…) and so when I met him, I kind of felt like I knew him, already.  Weird how that is.

Anyway, I love it when I receive pictures of paintings once they are finally hung in their homes!