Should we get a dog? My husband asked me. Back then he was my boyfriend and we had been living together in the big city for nearly five years. We were sitting in Queen’s park with a picnic, drinking the “good” soy chocolate milk, back when I was still a pseudo-vegetarian. At this point we had Beesa and Wiggis, the cats, and we had been living a pretty carefree life. We were both graduate students living together in a cozy one-bedroom condo in an old converted building, aptly called, The Gallery.
So, should we get a dog? Sitting on that park bench I thought, it would be pretty nice to have a little dog here with us. Of course the scene I pictured was of the two of us and an angel dog waiting patiently for us while we enjoyed a quiet afternoon at the park – and I can tell you that the peaceful scene I pictured has a never, ever played out in real life.
Should we get a dog? It was a question we would go back and forth about for a few weeks. And while we are now in a place where adding another animal to the brood seems like literally no problem at all, back then, this was a big question. There was a time in our lives, years before this chat in the park, that we had discussed getting a lab. But by the time we started to seriously discuss getting a puppy, vizslas were the only breed we ever really considered. We don’t really remember why. There was a neighborhood vizsla that we would see sometimes. My husband loved how she looked. And then my Runner’s World magazine did a piece on the top dog breeds to run with and – you guessed it – the vizsla was heavily favored (here’s a reprint from 2018). Not a lot to go on I suppose but all of a sudden this sweet, goofy, skinny red sporting dog was at the top of our list.
My husband really took the lead on getting our first dog. I think he really wanted a little buddy. I continued to protest, it’s what I do. I hate change, even good change. I had a list of concerns. What about the extra responsibility? What about the added expense? What about the shedding? I pictured balls of dog hair rolling like Wild West tumbleweeds around the condo. My husband persisted, he showed me pictures of vizsla puppies and suggested I could have a running partner. I relented and we started contacting breeders.
Now, when you enter the world of purebred animals there’s quite a process involved in actually obtaining a pet. I actually really appreciate the sentiment of these proverbial hoops you have to jump through because I am a huge proponent of responsible pet ownership and I love how much a good breeder cares about where her puppies are placed. We had gone through this with the cats already – attending several mandatory introductory sessions at the breeders house and passing a screening test before we could take sweet Beesa and Wiggis home.
After contacting vizsla breeders for a few weeks we found out about puppy Teelo (then known as “green boy”) on a cold call. His breeder actually had two vizsla puppies – Teelo and his sister, Pippin. We drove out the following weekend to meet him. After an hour of chatting with the breeder and meeting puppy Teelo – we were sold. His breeder? Unfortunately she was not so sold on us. Over the years we became good friends. She eventually told us that she lost sleep thinking of Teelo living in an apartment in the city. Where would he run and stretch his little vizsla legs? Would he be ok??? So really, we were incredibly lucky that she didn’t change her mind and allowed Teelo to go home with us in August 2010. We are so grateful she took a chance on us.
Perhaps sensing that we would have to make extra effort to give Teelo the best life experience possible as a downtown dog, we did everything with him. He had the requisite dog walks everyday, visits to the dog park, and then many visits to the vet to treat ear, eye, and GI infections picked up at said dog parks 🙄. We also took him on all sorts of fun adventures while he was a single child. He was the Prince of Downtown: High Park, Riverdale Park, Queen’s Park, Rosedale Park, Allan Gardens. Every single beautiful corner and side street of the University campus (back in the good old days, before dogs were banned). We signed him up for city-specific dog obedience which found us putting him in a sit-stay outside St. Lawrence Market and practicing his recall on the tennis courts at Kew Gardens.
And all these trips, all these adventures involved taking little Teelo on the TTC subway and streetcar like it was no thing at all. And so, half-inspired by little Teelo’s travels around the city, and half-inspired by Amsterdam Brewing Co.’s beer of the same name (note the awesome streetcar illustration on the can!), Teelo became affectionately known as Downtown Brown (even though Downtown Red would have been more accurate, strictly speaking).
This particular painting was inspired by a series of pictures from a trip we took with baby Teelo to The Pawsway back in 2010. He was probably about five months old here. I had a day off from work and my husband had a day off from school. This photo was taken on the College Street 506 streetcar heading eastbound. We would get off at Spadina and transfer to the 510 southbound, en route to The Pawsway at Queen’s Quay. We were always trying to think of creative ways to socialize Teelo and get him some exercise. The Pawsway was an indoor dog play area with a dog-friendly restaurant where your pup could sit at your table with you. So this was our field trip for the day and it is such a wonderful memory from our first few months as newbie dog parents. Normally packed during rush hour, at midday the 506 eastbound was empty, and Teelo hopped up to sit half on the iconic red fabric TTC seat, half on my husband’s lap.
I remember this trip, this simple day off with our new puppy, like it was yesterday. Now that we have three dogs, all around fifty pounds of muscle, and all on high alert to bark at anything askew in their immediate environments, field trips like this don’t happen the same way anymore. And certainly, many of our city travels were not as peaceful as this picture. Teelo isn’t Downtown Brown in the literal sense anymore He has a backyard now and he likes to inspect the perimeter several times a day, and he runs with me in the suburbs. But, he will always be little Downtown Brown in our hearts. This was a special day (what is it about simple days that just unexpectedly turn out to be the best days ever??) with my husband and the original Downtown Brown. It was really nice to be able to spend some time reflecting on it through painting it, and now it can be remembered forever with this painting. I’m really glad I persevered.
This painting took nearly two weeks to complete. The canvas is 18 x 24″. I wish it was bigger. I will never attempt a portrait with this much detail with a canvas this small again. It was really difficult to paint, I felt really confined. I wish it had been something like 30 x 40″ instead. I also just had horrible misgivings about this painting after my first evening working on it.
Painting my husband’s portrait was very difficult at first, I felt a lot of internal pressure to get it right. I went back with a transparency sheet with an outline of my reference drawing two times. Just taking a step back, allowing the painting to dry when I had these misgivings, and do this check was really critical.
I always have to remind myself that fussing never helps me. Once I had my husband’s face “right”, and my mother-in-law confirmed that I had got it, everything else seemed to come together quite easy in comparison.
The underpainting was done in Payne’s Grey because of all the black and cool tones in the reference photo. I transferred the sketch with Saral white transfer paper as per usual. This was the first painting I got to paint with my Neewer light gifted to me this past Christmas and it was soooooo nice being able to paint with good light regardless of the time of day I can’t say enough good things about this beautiful light 🙂
Colours used (all Old Holland):
Despite my initial misgivings, I absolutely love this painting now. I am so happy that I stuck with it. I particularly enjoyed painting the scenery outside the streetcar – it makes me feel like an Impressionist, so loose and carefree compared to my usual – and the repeating pattern of the streetcar seats behind my husband, and of course the bright pops of red in the streetcar seats. It just ended up being a really great colour scheme and I stayed pretty true to the reference photo. I don’t know what quality it is of oil paints but I find that they really lend themselves to realism. The blendability (not a real word), the softness and texture of the paint – I’m so happy I transitioned to oil painting this year.
I love painting from old photos. I love capturing and meditating on these moments in time, captured on film and then explored on my canvas. I’m looking forward to exploring this subject matter – the important moments, people, and animals – more in 2019 (in oil on canvas of course). Looking forward to posting about my 2019 art and life goals soon 🙂 so stay tuned for that.
And THAT is the story of Downtown Brown. And so to answer the question, Should we get a dog? Now I can’t even imagine having to ask myself that. Bringing home sweet baby Teelo, then Riggs, and then Clicquot – best life decisions ever. They make our family a family.
Thank you for reading!