Inspiration in Unlikely Places.

An artists’ guide to finding brilliant ideas in a pizza delivery box – or wherever else you least expect it.

Big Night. December 2018. Oil on canvas. 24 x 30″.

This painting, and this post, are inspired by a photo of our three vizslas lined up and waiting for pizza scraps to be shared with them. But let’s back up a little bit. Our dogs are always hungry. They love to eat so much. This association with food and love and nurturing is all tied together in our relationship with them. It’s the basis for nicknames, inside jokes, and showing love.

Teelo dreams of beef.

We take a lot of care in feeding our dogs nutritious and tasty-to-them meals. Each morning they have dog food with a side of berry, spinach, and yogurt smoothie. Maybe some apple slices and peppers thrown in for good measure, leftover from lunch prep. Dinners are usually a variation of dog food with one of their favorites – sweet potato, scrambled eggs, leftover roast beef, steamed carrots. “What’s for dinner?” is a question that applies to the dogs as much as it applies to us when we open the fridge to figure out the evening meal.

Work in progress – December 2018.

That all three dogs are such food fanatics is a little surprising, especially for Teelo, who has reversed course in a huge way. From years one through three, Teelo was so busy, and such a picky eater. He was all dog ribs and long skinny teenager legs. We could not tempt with anything. And he could go days with only a few bites of food. To be honest, it was super annoying. The tides have certainly turned and Teelo has spent many years making up for lost time. We lovingly refer to him as, “The Beef Man,” (pretty self-explanatory – he loves it and looks like a pot roast). That Teelo is able to maintain a healthy weight is really only due to our extreme efforts to save him from himself. Teelo even eats a special “satiety blend” dog food to try to keep him sated – it turns out, he cannot be. He’s so clever and dexterous, that in his older (no filter) age he has taken to unzipping my bag packed with food for work, selecting a few snacks, and popping open the Ziploc bags to enjoy. This past January I came in one morning from cleaning snow off the cars to find Teelo in the middle of the living room, finishing off a peanut butter sandwich and carrot sticks (but not the celery, he left that littered around the carpet for me). There was no shame in his eyes for stealing my lunch. What a guy.

In comparison, our gruesome twosome Clicquot and Riggs are a lot less devious, but certainly are no slouches in the begging department and suffer from significant treat FOMO.

Good behavior is all an illusion.

And pizza – Pizza trumps all (except roast beef). It is king in the vizsla snack world.

Reminiscing about warm deck dinners in July.

This painting was inspired by our vizslas who love pizza so much that we lovingly refer to them as The Crust Dogs. Example of this used in a sentence: “Make sure you save your crust for The Crust Dogs”.

Clicquot.

The Crust Dogs do not discriminate – homemade or delivery. One summer we invested in a pizza oven for our BBQ and literally ate pizza for two months straight. As a hobby my husband set out to perfect his pizza dough-making technique a few years ago and in our house humans and dogs have enjoyed the benefits of this immensely.

At the same time, the dogs have granted the pizza delivery man a stranger-danger exemption – he is not to be scared off, but instead he is a stranger to be trusted, wagged at, toys offered to – and he is welcome to knock on our door in the dark at 10 pm on any random Saturday night – I can’t say that luxury is afforded to anyone else who visits us.

Just a typical Saturday evening in.

The reference for this painting was a picture I took of all three dogs lined up in front of me, good as gold, my three little angels, waiting for their share of my pizza crust one evening. They are never better behaved than when they are waiting for a valuable handout. This is why, “Dogs waiting for food,” is a standard pose for all dog moms. Other fail safes include, “Dogs sleeping,” and, “Dogs sun-tanning,” (the latter of two sometimes being one and the same – there’s often some overlap there).

This was such a great photo and I knew right away that I had to paint it.

Teelo.

Bringing this painting to life took a long time – the reference photo was taken last summer but I waited until I had transitioned to oils and then waited some more to think on this composition of all three dogs.

A single portrait is a big task, multiple figures poses many more challenges and I spent many months working on other paintings while the reference sketch of three vizslas hung in my art room. Sometimes even if I’m not physically working on a project, having it around to think about is like a type of work. And then when I sat down to finally get started – all those months of pondering it made the painting come together really easily. It was also painted against a backdrop of a lot of personal stuff – I was painting this piece when the email invitation to interview for my new job dinged through on my phone, and I completed the painting over the ensuing weeks of huge life decisions, serious conversations with my husband about what we wanted our future to look like, and the resulting upheaval that a big life decision brings. This painting was one of the very last items packed for storage before our move.

My paintings often play double duty – They capture a moment in time on the surface, but they are also closely tied to the time when I created them and everything I was feeling. While begging for pizza was the comical inspiration for this painting (picture me, I’m behind the lens probably with a slice in one hand, camera phone in the other), what is serious about this piece is how accurately it captures each dog. I love portraiture. I love capturing these moments in time and working through my feelings about my subject matter as I paint. In this case studying their sweet features and ruminating on my love for them.

Clicquot.

In this work, each dog looks just like their unique self. Teelo is Big Teelo, standing firm and gazing right at me, looking straight into my soul. Clicquot looks a bit like, hey, how did I end up here? Which is basically her standard. Always late to the party but never left out. The girl with the big, brown eyes. And that is a classic Riggs pose. There he is, with all of his middle-child narrative that we’ve created for him. He’s first in line, continuously inching his bottom forward with his head cocked in a pose that is at once inquisitive, but non-committal, eyes half closed but really fully alert, gaze partially diverted but still totally aware… ready to pounce if pizza is offered (deliberately or by accident).

Clicquot and Riggs.

I love these simple moments with the dogs, with my family. I love remembering them forever through my art. More and more I see my style evolving to remember people, places, memories frozen in time in my work. I find endless inspiration in this idea. A painting is really so much more than what you see. With so much change and uncertainty in my life right now, it’s comforting to reflect on a time and a place when I was at peace. I miss the routine of our quiet Saturday nights with The Crust Dogs. And I look forward to getting that familiar feeling back again. Soon.

Thank you for reading!

(Not) Born to Run

Thoughts from the dining room table as we transition to a new life in the Maritimes.

We made it! And just like that, I feel like I literally exploded my old life. We packed up all of our belongings, spent one last night sleeping on the (very bare and very hard) living room floor in our old house, locked the door behind us, and drove forever until we reached our new home.

Mom, WHAT is going on?!?

Except we’re not home, not for a little while yet, because our new home won’t be ready until the summer and my in-laws (very kindly) let us move in with all the animals. And reaching our destination didn’t mean that we were done dealing with the fallout of this life bomb in the least. In the past eight weeks, I feel like it’s been one major butterfly-inducing to-do item after another. I sort of envision this giant thumb just pressing down on me constantly during all waking hours – the pressure has felt so real and intense for so long. But, we made it here physically, and the pieces are ever so slowly falling into place and the pressure is decreasing.

We went out this past Friday for the first time since arriving here – not to go to the gym or run an errand – just a nice, casual evening out. Granted, there was no casual strolling through the streets of Fredericton. It’s been frigidly cold for May and our walk back to the car ended with me running through the parking lot to our car to escape the wind and drizzle – but still, our first evening out and a feeling that things are starting to return to a new “normal”.

During times of stress, I find there are a few constants for myself. I will definitely eat more, and I will definitely create less. With the combination of cold weather and prolonged exposure to high adrenaline – most nights I’ve been crashing with the dogs way earlier than I ever used to. The thought of painting or writing was as unappealing as the Mrs. Dunster’s donut holes have been appetizing – which is to say very.

View from my new office in mid-April 😦
Fredericton flood from the pedestrian bridge, end of April 😦

But, a new colleague and friend helped me to get out of my funk. She connected me back in April with a, “call for artists” for the summer art auction for a local restaurant called Isaac’s Way. One of the most appealing aspects about our new life in Fredericton is how arts friendly this beautiful city is. There is just no shortage of artists’ collectives and groups and galleries and prestigious and wonderful art schools – and I can’t wait to be part of it. Not to mention the beautiful scenery and architecture and rolling hills and life on the St. John river. I love it here. I found out about this ongoing art auction during brunch last summer at Isaac’s Way and I instantly wished that we could live here so that I could participate (and so we moved here, just like that! Ha!). The whole restaurant is set up like a gallery and over the months of the art auction diners and patrons can bid on their favorite paintings. Paintings are donated by New Brunswick artists (hey, that’s me!) and raise funds for various charities.

I was very happy to answer the call for artists, and so excited/flattered/thrilled (pick your favorite ecstatic adjective) to be accepted. Of course, then came the hard part – creating a painting when my entire art room is in storage and my life is in chaos. I knew I could only commit to creating something on the small side. I also didn’t want to invest in a lot of supplies because I have everything I could ever possibly need in a storage container in Ontario. Also, my current “art studio” is limited to a corner of my in-laws dining room table – suffice to say there were a number of logistical, spatial, and monetary considerations at play while I was considering my next masterpiece.

Current art studio 🙂

I have a lot of personal photos of Fredericton that I’ve been meaning to use for painting reference, and I’ve really been enjoying urban sketching so it didn’t take me long to narrow my focus to watercolour and ink on my favourite Canson art board.

Great little palette of paint, useless little brush.

I ordered a Winsor & Newton Cotman Watercolor Pocket Palette with 12 half pans for its economy of price and space. The set comes with a #5 pocket brush (which is actually horribly tiny with short handle to fit into the palette and which I have never used). I also ordered a pad of Canson Plein Air Watercolor Art Board – this board has a slight texture pressed into it but overall handles like a hot press surface that allows for nice sharp pen lines and quick, expressive paint application.

My economical plan was compromised a little because I had to supplement the too-tiny paintbrush with two Simmons paintbrushes from Endeavors but otherwise this has been my simplest set up in along time. I should also say that despite getting a lot of mileage out of this little palette and enjoying it for the most part, as per the online reviews it was nearly impossible to open when I first received it – my husband had to pry it open with a butter knife and I’ve never closed it again since.

Sketch for August Evening at Officer’s Square – just testing the waters to see if I’ve still “got it”.

I had my supplies but waited (aka procrastinated) another couple weeks to get started – that initial push to paint after a long time away can be a big barrier to overcome. Like when you take a day off from exercising and it turns into a year. I told myself I would just sketch and paint as much as possible over the next week and whatever came out best I would frame for the artists’ auction. No pressure! I was sketching for the first time in three months and at first it did feel forced but quickly I got back to my “zone.” And then I felt like I had so much to say with my paints, and became very focused and the week that started with a few uncertain lines on a random piece of paper ended with three finished paintings and a sketch for a fourth.

I sketched August Evening at Officer’s Square and eventually it turned into my first post-move painting.

August Evening at Officer’s Square. May 2019. Ink and watercolour on Canson art board. 9 x 12″.

I’ve been really enjoying taking the dogs to the University of New Brunswick for long weekend runs since we moved here and I have so many pictures waiting to be sketched. UNB has to be one of the most scenic, lovely, begging-to-painted universities anywhere.

This is one of my favourites so far, Head of the Class:

Head of the Class. May 2019. Watercolor and ink on Canson art board. 9 x 12″.

The reference photo was taken looking up College Hill at UNB at the Old Arts Building:

I love the gestural, unrehearsed feeling of these paintings and this style I’m developing. Such a nice break from my more “serious” works (which feed my artist soul in a different way). I also keep going back to pictures I took of Queen St. in downtown Fredericton last summer and it’s not the first time I’ve sketched the old Owl’s Nest location – I find these old buildings with their bright colors and different personalities to be so visually appealing and all the years spent visiting the Owl’s Nest Bookstore on vacation tug at my nostalgic heart. I rounded out the big week of art with this painting:

Everything Must Go. May 2019. Watercolor and ink on Canson art board. 9 x 12″.

It was a great week for art, and our casual Friday out wasn’t so casual afterall. I had August Evening at Officer’s Square framed for the auction and we had the big fun task of dropping my work off at Isaac’s Way. This is a dream realized – to be displayed in a public place makes me feel so happy and so validated and so honored.

So happy!
Nerdy photo with the Isaac’s Way’s Saucepan Sam 😛

It was a fantastic day and there was nothing left to do except return to the dining room table and get back to it…

Fredericton Playhouse

Change is hard. I keep saying, I never want to move again. Ever. But like my mother-in-law said to me once, “Sometimes a change is as good as a rest”.

Thanks for reading everyone.