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.

My Muse, Miss Clicquot.

To love her is to paint her. ❤️

Oh Miss Monkey Bananas Clicquot. Sweet girl with the biggest brown eyes. She joined our family when she was two years old. Clicquot is the younger sister to Teelo and Riggs. I did worry about her blending into our animal menagerie at first, and how that would go. I remember letting her out of the car her first night in our home and she trotted into the house like she owned the joint. She spent the next 48 hours chasing Beesa everywhere and she placed herself firmly and unwaveringly at the top of our animal hierarchy. Since then, she has ruled over our home like the Princess and the Pea with all of her delicate sensibilities and constant demands.

Like clockwork, every night at 9 pm she cries and grunts until you cover her with a blanket. Hers is a pushy, aggressive type of love. Clicquot thinks nothing of climbing up on an already crowded couch and camping out on top of one of her brothers until they make the sensible choice and leave, vacating their spot for her. Or body-checking her grandmother when she comes to visit (sorry mom!). Or head-butting everyone in sight when she knows it’s “walk time”.

She loves the fireplace in the winter, and sun- tanning on the warm deck in the summer. Sometimes you have to save her from her love of heat – turn the fireplace off or bring her in from the sun when it seems like any sane animal or human would’ve had enough. It is impossible to get mad at her, and that is how Clicquot gets away with it all. Really, all she wants is to be warm, and to be loved, and she is not shy to demand either when her meter is running low. And we – we are so happy to supply her with all the cuddles, blankets, and love she could possibly need.

With her almost cartoon-like features, and that face, Clicquot has been a huge source of inspiration for my art. She’s my little vizsla muse.

I realized I’ve done quite a few portraits of Clicquot and I thought I’d share them with you. Miss Monkey Bananas, below, represented a real level up for me. The solitary figure, vibrant colours, and solid background cutting in with confident lines around my subject – this is a style I returned to and experimented with many times in the latter half of 2018.

Miss Monkey Bananas Clicquot. August 2018. Acrylic on canvas. 12 x 12″.

My husband and I took Clicquot for an epic 35 km backcountry hike at Algonquin Park the summer she came to live with us. We planned it as a bonding experience for just the three of us (the boys stayed with their grandparents and were thoroughly spoiled). Clicquot was such a good little hiker. She stayed right beside me even when we was off-leash, and she was NOT interested in meeting any other hikers, human or canine. We hiked about 17 km the first day and when we arrived at our campsite at Hart Lake we spent the rest of the summer afternoon chilling on the rocky shore. Clicquot was our little lookout dog. This painting makes me want to take her back to the backcountry… such happy memories.

Clicquot at Heart Lake. February 2018. Acrylic and ink on canvas. 18 x 24″.

And finally, this painting was inspired entirely by Edward Hopper’s Pensive Lady in Pink, replaced by our own little pensive lady in red. I went through a bit of a Hopper tribute phase in the first half of 2018, covered in this post. Every time I finished a Clicquot painting, I would think of another painting idea, or take another perfect photo of her that was just begging to be painted.

Pensive Lady in Red. May 2018. Acrylic on canvas. 16 x 20″.

Clicquot 3 x 3

The Clicquot 3 x 3. I love this. This is an ongoing Clicquot project that I started about a year ago and which I would really like to return to and finally complete. My recent sketchbook tour sent me looking through other sketchbooks for fun and I was reminded of this series. This was inspired by a sweet book my husband gave to me many, many years ago: Arty Dogs. In it, dogs are added to famous paintings accompanied by a short story that explains how they ended up there, and it’s just really whimsical and great. It gave me the idea to feature sweet Clicquot in nine different scenes inspired by nine of my favourite artists. Whenever I don’t have another project going on, I try to finish a Clicquot sketch. Lately – that hasn’t been very often and this project needs some attention. I envision finishing all of these on hot press drawing board, with white frames, and hanging on a wall in a 3 x 3 formation (obviously).

This first sketch is inspired by Salvador Dali’s melty clocks and the Persistence of Memory. I absolutely love this quick sketch that I did in about five minutes during lunch at work one day. I hesitate to try to create a more polished, final drawing from this sketch because I think it might be difficult to reproduce the spontaneity.

The Persistence of Clicquot.

This is Clicquot standing outside looking into the old Apollo Grill at Hunter and George Streets. Inspired by Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks it puts a local spin on the classic painting. This makes me think of an independent little Clicquot who took a stroll downtown to get herself a hotdog only to find out, “No Dogs Allowed” inside the diner.

Nighthawks Clicquot

This is Clicquot starring in Edvard Munch’s The Scream and reimagined as, what else? The Howl. Clicquot doesn’t howl much. None of the dogs do. Teelo is the only one who ever really has, but the conditions need to be exactly right. He used to howl when we lived in Downtown Toronto, and he was still Downtown Brown. Sometimes when we were out for a walk, a firetruck would pass us with the sirens wailing. If the firetruck approached us from an adequate distance, so that the sirens were going for awhile, Teelo would sit down, throw his dog head back, and hoooooooooowl along with the sirens. Everyone on the sidewalk would turn to look. It was kind of his thing. This sketch reminds me of that, even though Clicquot is the subject.

The Howl.

Oh this is one of my favourites. I made many drafts of this sketch to get it just right. It is inspired by Roy Lichtenstein. We have three Lichtenstein prints hanging in our house. We spent many months trying to source that perfect trio of prints that explore domestic un-bliss and melodrama. I love pop art, I love Lichtenstein’s primary colour, dot-matrix portraits, and this is a combination of the “I don’t care…” sentimentality of Drowning Girl, and Kim Carnes’ song, “Bette Davis Eyes.” I always think of the line, She’s ferocious, and she knows just what it takes to make a pro blush. I’m pretty sure that Teelo and Riggs think Clicquot is a spy sent from outer space, or from our breeder’s house. Hence the title. 😉

All the Boys Think She’s a Spy.

I recycled this title for my Beesa painting, This is a Cat. I sketched this with Magritte’s pipe in mind – The Treachery of Images. I like it. It’s cheeky, just like Clicquot.

Another Magritte, another surrealist painting, another portrait of Clicquot. A cross between Magritte’s Green Apple and Decalcomania. I like how it pays tribute to three Magritte works in one. This will be the final composition for the Magritte drawing.

Ceci n’est pas un chien.

Below is a rough sketch of my Andy Warhol Clicquot Portrait. I think we all know the silk-screen Warhol Monroes on repeat, and the Campbell Soup Cans. This would be neat as a sketch but also as a mixed-media kind of decoupage that combines a black and white photocopy of Clicquot with multiple contrasting colours. I’ll have to think on its final execution a little more. I remember going to see the Warhol exhibit at the Art Gallery of Ontario on a wintery weekend with my MOM back in grade 10. I wore high heel boots that really hurt my feet and she insisted on taking the subway. After living downtown for ten plus years, taking the subway is no thing at all now but I was quite concerned for our safety on that first roundtrip into the big city. Anyway, the whole exhibit focused on Warhol’s work as a graphic designer. I loved it – I was really interested in graphic design as a career for myself back then and it was so interesting to see it elevated to fine art at the AGO. The exhibit was partly Warhol’s work interwoven with snapshots and pieces of his life. There was even a little display within the exhibit that featured a bottle of Clinique’s Dramatically Different Moisturizing Lotion that Warhol used. I used the same lotion then, and I use it now! And I’ve been a fan of Warhol since way back then too.

Candle in the Wind Clicquot.

My husband’s favourite artist is William Blake, the British Romantic painter unwittingly responsible for so much of the imagery in the Red Dragon movie (of Hannibal Lecter infamy). Unbelievably, he was a watercolour painter – I think his works are amazing. This is Clicquot howling along with the dragon in a sketch appropriately title, The Great Red Vizsla and the Dragon Clothed in Sun. Not sure if I’ll take my chances and paint the final work as a watercolour too… it’s not always guaranteed to be a success for me.

The Great Red Vizsla and the Dragon Clothed in Sun.

And that’s the entirety of my works inspired by Clicquot. Now that I’ve had a chance to return to the Clicquot 3 x 3 I hope I’ll be able to make it a priority to finish in the next few months and finally get it framed and on display. I counted and it looks like I’m two sketches shy of having all of my ideas. Kandinsky? Cezanne? Picasso? Seurat? We will see.

Representing my loved ones and my own memories through painting is a huge theme for my work. This is a subject I hope to explore more deeply through portraiture for the rest of 2019. I think it’s interesting to kind of push my own idea of a portrait a bit, paint my subjects from unconventional viewpoints, play with the colour and background and contrast. I have a number of paintings already lined up.

Clicquot has such an easy face to paint – I’m in the middle of a portrait of her and her brothers right now, and as soon as I filled in the darkest parts of her eyes I sat back and thought, I’ve got it! Those expressive features, and her fierce and pushy and lovey personality – we are just so lucky to have Clicquot in our family. I always call her my sweet girl. I feel like she’s been my little girl forever. There was no warming-up period, it was just an instant bond. That first weekend with her in our home my husband had to work. So I ventured out for a solo walk with all.the.dogs. It was unusually hot and when we got home it was quiet in the house. I lay down for a rest after the triple-dog-walk excitement (um, mayhem) and I remember distinctly that Clicquot just jumped right up beside me on the bed and curled close in next to me. It was love. It’s been her spot ever since (not counting her first few nights here when she was crated to stop her from hunting Beesa while we slept 🙄).

And there you have it – Little Miss Monkey Bananas Clicquot. Thank you for reading everyone and happy Monday!

Paint-along still life apple.

Acrylic painting for absolute beginners. Everything you need to know ☺️

If you missed Parts 1 and 2 of my Absolute Beginners painting series, you can check them out here and here.

So, you’ve chosen to paint with acrylics! Excellent choice! Or maybe you’re just reading this post for the heck of it – also excellent! Thank you so much. If you’ve never painted with acrylics before, please, let me be your guide.

Today we are going to paint this (if you want to):

First up, let me explain the basic of acrylic paints in this video below:

Notes

What exactly are acrylic paints. Well, as we covered in Part 1, all paint is made up of a binder or vehicle (the stuff that keeps the paint together, sticks to your painting surface, and holds the colour in place once the paint is dry). The pigment is mixed with the binder – this is what gives your paint its colour. Acrylic paint has a similar consistency to oil paint – both are generally pretty-heavy bodied and thick. The binder in acrylic paint is acrylic polymer emulsion. Straight out of the tube acrylic paint is water soluble. So all you really need to thin your paint and work with them is basic water. If you like you can buy a product called retarder which is an additive for increasing the working (drying) time of your acrylic paint. Once acrylic paint dries it is water impermeable and permanent. It is a great paint for beginners.

Basic acrylic painting shopping list

Yay, you get to go shopping! Here’s what you’ll need to get started with acrylics:

  • Acrylic paint, 60 ml tubes (I recommend TriArt or Golden paints): Alizarin crimson, cadmium red medium, cadmium yellow medium, ultramarine blue, burnt umber, raw umber, burnt sienna, raw sienna, chrome oxide green (optional), Payne’s grey, titanium white
  • Brushes: Round #6, flat 1/2″ thick, filbert #2 or #4 – short handle if you’ll be working at a table, long handle if working at an easel (I prefer synthetic soft bristles, other option is hog hair, see what you like) – inexpensive is ok, but I don’t recommend dollar store paintbrushes – you would regret it
  • Pre-stretched canvases – you can buy a bulk pack for a volume discount (12 x 12″ is a good size to go with) and/or pad of inexpensive canvas sheets for practice
  • Retarder (optional) – Golden makes a good one
  • Palette: Disposable palette sheets (optional, looks like a pad of paper) – or a piece of plywood or Masonite board – it is up to you
A bunch of well-loved brushes. From the top: Hogs hair filbert, synthetic soft bristle filbert, flat synthetic soft 1/2″, round synthetic soft #6.

Paint-Along: Still Life With Apple

Here’s what you’ll need for our paint-along:

  • Titanium white
  • Cadmium yellow medium
  • Naphthol red medium (or cadmium red medium from basic palette0
  • Alizarin crimson
  • Payne’s grey
  • Chrome oxide green (optional)

Click below to watch me paint. You can paint along with me! I recommend you get all your supplies assembled, a nice cozy tea, and then press play! You can follow me, skip around to the parts you need. You’ll have your first painted masterpiece in no time. I’m no Bob Ross but I really try to break it down for viewers. And I apologize for the length! This is my first kind of “paint-with-me” video and there’s definitely a learning curve. But I thought, ah, I’ve got to start somewhere so here we are.

Our apple palette!
Today’s subject.
Reference drawing.
All the colours – before.
All the colours – after.
Remember to paint your canvas edge to finish everything like a star!
Don’t forget to sign your work!

I hope you all enjoyed this little how-to and tutorial. The best way to learn how to paint, is to paint – as much as possible. If you painted along, please please please share your work in the comments below! Any comments? Questions? I love to hear from you!

Thank you everyone for reading and watching!

Running Free in Rusagonis

My dogs grew up running with a pack of labs on our annual trip to New Brunswick. Painting two of these boys, Guinness and Ronan, was a labor of love for me.

It’s been difficult but I’ve had to keep my Christmas commissions under wraps until now. Today I wanted to share with you a project that was especially close to my heart.

My sister-in-law asked me to paint two labs, Guinness and Ronan, for her husband’s family. They passed over the Rainbow Bridge earlier this year. Even though winter officially started on December 21st, thinking about these sweet boys reminds me of summer trips to New Brunswick with our own dogs.

Whenever we take the dogs on the crazy long drive out east, one of our first stops upon reaching Fredericton has always been to meet up in Rusagonis. Every time we pass through Woodstock on the last leg of our journey I can feel myself gripping the wheel a little tighter and speeding up towards Fredericton, trying to ignore the whines of the bored dogs about to lose their marbles on the backseat. Once in, “The Gornish” the vizslas would run through the woods and burn off all their pent-up energy with an enormous pack of labs owned and loved by my brother-in-law’s various family members. After navigating through big city traffic and driving for sixteen plus hours, arriving to the peace and solitude of the New Brunswick wilderness for this rejuvenating walk has always been such an amazing feeling. Freedom.

First it was just single child Teelo joining us on these hikes, then a few years later we were a two-dog family and we introduced Baby Riggs to the crew. Every year the same – once reacquainted with bums sniffed, growls exchanged, and alpha-status re-established, we would head out with this motley dog troop. We picked our way through a long field before entering the woods and zig-zagging down to the river’s edge than runs through the property. Teelo, being the kind-of jerk dog that he can be would always grab the biggest stick that he could find and taunt all of the other dogs with it, despite being the smallest dog there. You’d want to tell him, dude, read the room! What a guy. And Riggs, always scared to swim would bark at all the other dogs from the shore, all the while leaning precipitously close to the water, but never allowing himself to touch it. There would always be a ton of east coast mosquitoes and I’d complain and run around because they always attacked me – not the native New Brunswickers who seem to have some sort of genetic repellent against them in their blood. It was fun. It was funny. It was a relief. These memories are all wrapped up for me in the misty rose-coloured hue of nostalgia.

I knew these portraits of Guinness and Ronan had to be perfect to be a perfect tribute to their memories. But, the process was a bit of a challenge from the start because my sister-in-law only had one picture of Guinness and Ronan, shown below. She also asked that I create two separate portraits of them. As you can see, the dogs are fairly far away in this candid reference picture, and as a result their features aren’t very detailed. They are also a bit cut-off. Since the dogs have passed and this was meant to be a surprise for Christmas I had to make this work and I assured my SIL that I could. And then my work began.

I have developed a little bit of a trick for working with photos that do not have a lot of detail. Here’s my little method. I took the reference picture and cropped it separately around Guinness and Ronan because they were meant to be separate portraits. Then I edited both photos – I maximized the structure, and sharpening, and also increased the brightness while decreasing the shadows as much as possible. This results in edited pictures where the major lines are most predominant and it makes it easier to sketch the likeness and capture the most important qualities:

And the resulting sketches sent to my sister-in-law for her approval:

Another “trick” that I employed for these paintings – just like I’ve been doing for my oil paintings, I under-painted both canvases with the colour the was to be predominantly featured in each final portrait – burnt umber for Guinness, and Payne’s grey for Ronan.

With both drawings enlarged and sized about equally, I transferred the reference sketches with Saral white transfer paper to the prepared canvases. After finishing some larger commissions and working in larger sizes for my personal works, the 12 x 12″ canvases did seem a little cramped. Heck, my current 18 x 24″ streetcar painting has been challenging for this reason – I feel like I’m moving towards only working on gigantic canvases which is going to fill our walls at home up way too fast.

Progress pics:

And the finished paintings (both completed with Tri-Art and Golden Acrylic paints):

I worked on these paintings over the course of about two weeks in November. I had to balance my time with finishing up some other Christmas commissions and my Beesa projects. I really like the minimalist quality of these paintings – no erroneous brushstrokes, everything is kind of pared down and is important to the final works.

Working on these paintings and knowing that Guinness and Ronan have passed on really made me reflect on my bond with my own dogs, all of our animals actually, and all of our happy memories.

When I look at these photos it feels like yesterday we were in the woods together, hiking with all.the.dogs. In some ways, these old pics remind me of simpler times. We were all on the cusp of being real adults with real jobs and real responsibilities.

Clicquot hasn’t hiked with the Rusagonis crew. Our own little family is a little less mobile now. It’s hard to road trip with three dogs but I hope we will be able to initiate her into this little group one day. It would be funny to watch our little queen push and shove her way to the top of the pack. She has no shame.

These beautiful animals come into our lives and enrich us a million-fold. They all have a piece of my heart. I wish I could freeze time, just like in these pictures, and keep them young forever. I wish they could stay with us longer. Forever. It will never be enough. In the very least, I hope my paintings can capture a moment that lets them live on in our hearts, always happy and healthy, and always here with us. xoxo.

Thanks for reading everyone.