Saturday, October 25, 2008

You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed.

You are beautiful, but you are empty. One could not die for you. To be sure, an ordinary passerby would think that my rose looked just like you--the rose that belongs to me. But in herself alone she is more important than all the hundreds of you other roses: because it is she that I have watered, because it is she that I have put under the glass globe; because it is she that I have sheltered behind the screen; because it is for her that I have killed the caterpillars (except the two or three that we saved to become butterflies); because it is she that I have listened to, when she grumbled, or boasted, or even sometimes when she said nothing. Because she is my rose.
- Antione de Saint-Exupery.

I first read Le Petit Prince in french class in high school.  I'm really glad my first reading was in it's native language because even though now I can barely follow the french version (and that mostly from memory) there is a depth there that can't quite be caught in English.  That being said, even translated the book is beautiful.   That man was a genius.

I particularly love the above quote - that whole chapter in fact.  It's all about 'taming' - what it really is about is 'bonding'.

To me, you are still nothing more than a little boy who is just like a hundred thousand other little boys.  And I have no need of you.  And you on your part, have no need of me.  To you, I am nothing more than a fox like a hundred thousand other foxes.  But if you tame me, then we shall need each other.  To me, you will be unique in all the world.  To you, I shall be unique in all the world…
Wheat is of no use to me.  The wheat fields have nothing to say to me.  And that is sad.  But you have hair that is the color of gold.  Think how wonderful that will be when you have tamed me!  The grain, which is also golden, will bring me back the thought of you.  And I shall love to listen to the wind in the wheat…  

Why do I love pet portraits?  How can we reconcile the difference we face in veterinary medicine between a stray cat who is euthanized and one who's brought in by new adoptive owners that will have a long, happy life?  

It is because a cat or dog (or person for that matter) is just like a hundred thousand others on this earth - and for the most part meaningless to us as we go about our everyday lives.   That changes the moment we care - when we give the stray cat some fresh water, pat a loose dog and toss a stick for him, engage our neighbor in conversation - we start to forge a bond.  The more we interact, the more we give, the stronger the bond.  Is it any wonder we are so bonded to our children and pets?  And it's beautiful to observe, isn't it?  I don't have to know the old lady in the park with her little terrier on a leash, but seeing them interact can bring me, a complete stranger, joy.

But you can't have joy without sorrow to balance it.  
So the little prince tamed the fox. And when the hour of his departure drew near
"Ah," said the fox, "I shall cry."
"It is your own fault," said the little prince. "I never wished you any sort of harm; but you wanted me to tame you..."
"Yes, that is so," said the fox.
"But now you are going to cry!" said the little prince.
"Yes, that is so," said the fox.
"Then it has done you no good at all!"
"It has done me good," said the fox, "because of the color of the wheat fields."

I have experienced the loss of a loved one.  I have been present during many, many, many other partings.  When someone loses a pet through euthanasia or natural death it can be devastating.  When someone loses a pet or person they've been caring for, maybe nursing them through a bad illness, the loss is compounded by the sudden removal of that 'need'.  There is no-one to water anymore, no-one to put a globe over, or a windscreen around.  What do you do?  

Well - you move on.  And like the fox you cry.  And you see things in the world a little differently for having known and loved.  And whether you have a picture to look at, or you see it more clearly in the color of the wheat fields, if you take the time to look with your heart open you will see that they are always here with you.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

A small tangent...

One thing about pastels is that they're not very portable.. at least not 'Napping' which is 14 x 22". So since I was out of the house much of yesterday I'm using that as my excuse for not working on the painting and instead doing this:

It's 5 x 7" ink on regular drawing paper, regular except that it's been 'manipulated'.   

Some time back I treated this particular page of my sketchbook by soaking it in wet coffee grounds then flattening it under heavy books.  At the time I was striving to make 'coffee paper' - and I like the aged, wrinkled effect (and what a better surface to render Rosie, wrinkled little thing that she was!).  

However my hopes of using this as an art surface were dashed when I read that coffee is acidic - presumably counteracting any acid-free/archival properties of the sketchbook paper.  But necessity is the mother of invention (or the Internet is the big steaming pile in which you can find ANYTHING) and so after a brief search I found this which the manufacturers claim is acid-fast paper!

So watch for Eco-Art on tree-free paper.. coming soon to a blog near you!

But back to the current piece... this is Rosie.  She was an English Bulldog (adopted) who shared my life for 10 years before she succumbed to lymphoma.  I'd like to say she was an angel, but it seemed that when other dogs were around she tended to misplace her halo (to put it lightly).  She was a dear though - and despite her allergies, cancer, and the curse of being born a bulldog she was always full of life!  I can still see her scaring herself with her own farts!

Hope you like my little pen & ink.  It was fun to do!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Status Report - "Hey, we're napping here!"

Well - posting has indeed helped light a fire under me on this piece.  I decided to work on the second kitty (his name is Dufus.. believe me, he earned it!).  I wasn't getting his face just right so I flipped my page upside-down.  If you read my earlier post referencing Betty Edwards this may seem like a reasonable thing to do.  But in case you're not familiar with such exercises I'll explain a bit.  

Often when what we draw doesn't look the way we want it to it's because we're not seeing the subject properly.  By putting both our reference picture and our artwork upside-down we force ourselves to truly look at it - not as Dufus the cat, but as shapes, values and lines and their relationship to each other.  This, in essence, forces a shift to right-brain mode and generally results in a much happier artist when the work is turned back rightside-up.    

My initial blocking in of Dufus:

And the current status (his face isn't completely finished - I still need to do a value check and add whiskers.. but I save those for last, they're my favorite!!):

While I had the image upside down I decided to tackle the 'problem' I mentioned earlier.  I had used a really cheap pastel for the curtain, and although it doesn't show well on the image if you look close you can see that it doesn't completely coat the paper ('fill the tooth') leaving a grainy, dull appearance.  Terrible!  I honestly just wasn't thinking when I grabbed the pastel stick - but I've learned for myself what so many have told me - always work with the best materials you can afford.  This is so true of pastels... had I worked much with those sticks initially I think I would have gotten very discouraged indeed!

So to fix the problem my plan was to remove as much of the pastel as I could - using a small foam 'brush' (the kind you get in the hardware store painting section) I started to gently whisk away the white.  To my surprise the cheap pastel came right off!  You can see in this picture the upper left corner that is still white, which I whisked as well - but that part was done with a higher quality white pastel pencil.  The fix was much easier than I'd anticipated.  After I whisked all of the old white off I coated it with a better white which fills the tooth nicely and stays put!!

So here's the current status of the picture - I've also made changes to the first kitty's eyes (Michael).  Dufus' body will be next, then it will be time to tackle Nessie and the blanket under them.  

But before I go back to it - it's time for a value check!  In Photoshop I desaturate the image so I can see the values without worrying about color, compared to the reference photo it is easy to pick out places where the values are 'off':

The cushion behind him needs much lighter highlights, and the right side of his nose could stand some deeper shadows.  His eyes are a little different than the reference - that is actually on purpose (sometimes you need a little tweaking to make the 'real life' picture look good).

I think that's enough posting for today - I'll catch you up when I've gotten a bit more done!  Thanks for watching!

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Well autumn is here!

My favorite time of year - and this is our first year in the Rockies, it is absolutely perfect!  In the past weeks we've watched the trees filter through each stage of color on the way to their winter rest.  I only hope that I blaze as brilliantly in the last quarter of my lifetime!

Traditionally autumn is a 'downgearing' time of year - activity slows, preparations for the winter ahead, hibernation (if you're into that).  But not this year, not for me.  Things are just revving up here and anyone reading this can come along for the ride!  I started this blog to complement my forage into a career in the arts, without really much direction.  It's been about a month since my first post - mainly because I wasn't really sure *what* to post.  I know one thing that always fascinates me is watching the process.  So it seems prudent to put some of that into my blog - and I've got a lot of process going on!  

Perhaps someday I'll be more structured and disciplined, but for now my M.O. is to have multiple projects going at once.  I always try to keep conscious of my mental attitude when doing my art - if I'm getting frustrated with a piece it is best to walk away, otherwise I run the risk of overworking it or just spinning my wheels.  But I'm not always done with art altogether at those times - so having another piece on the go allows me to divert my energies but keep moving forward.  When I come back to the first piece I have fresh eyes and usually I know what I need to do.

So in that vein let me introduce you to my current pastel works-in-progress (WIPs):

First: "Hey we're napping here!".  This piece is giving me minor fits - I started it awhile ago and since this medium is new to me I'm already adjusting my techniques.  Plus there is a problem that may not show up on the scan, it involves the white curtain in the background and it may or may not be correctable.  But I'm determined to finish this piece so by placing it here I'll *have* to keep working on it, right?  

Second: "Cuppa".  Now this piece is the biggest one I have on the go - but the problem I mentioned for 'Napping' is even bigger here - that being I started it with some crappy quality pastels while waiting for my order to come in, and I may not be able to salvage it.  I'm not quite ready to give up on it though - so I'm posting it too!  

Third: "Sarah and Harley".  A new piece!  Not even started yet - you can watch the progress on this one as we go.  

There's a lot of fodder for me to blog about here!  As I work on these pieces I'll post the progress.  If you have any thoughts please leave a comment!!