Dog love and pooch portraits
April 12, 2009
People who read my pets columns in the ABJ for nearly 10 years have laughed and cried with me and shelled out big bucks to rescue uncounted deserving creatures.
I loved every minute of it, met animals whose amazing presence I feel to this moment. Owners who demonstrated stratospheric wisdom and courage in the tender loving care of their pets when they were ill and dying, times when the pain of love like that cuts the deepest. Animal people rarely waver. They give until they're stone cold dead.
If any of you have found your way to this long-in-coming blog, I thank you for carrying me through my Pets column years on your noble shoulders. And I want you to know that while my animal devotion is no longer in column form, it is far from gone. I will contiue to write about them here as well as show you my new works, including pet portrait commissions and animal landscapes.
It's a risky business, switching from the written word to fiber art, but one that I have been practicing for since I was a kid with a sewing machine. I am what the world calls an "outsider" artist, which means that I do not come from a university art school background. On the other hand, I study each summer under some of the most accomplished international quilt artists. For those of you who are interested, I will mention names in upcoming entries.
My very first art quilt was Mystique of the Llama, which I made for Kathy Varga of Crooked River Herb Farm Shop in Peninsula back in 2003. I didn't know how good it was until I saw a tear slip out of the corner of her eye when she first saw it. Since then, I've stitched at least nine breeds of dogs, half a dozen pet portraits, several llamas, Chilean flamingoes, sea creatures and cats. I feel a goat coming on and I can't go to the Dairy Barn at Lake Farmpark without vowing to make a baby calf. When oh when will I find time?
My most recent pet portrait, completed in March, was of her terrier mix, Rocky, for Diane Barton of Akron. Diane discovered my penchant for portraits when she wandered into my studio at Jimmy's Cafe last fall and saw a likeness of the late great spaniel mix Clyde I crafted for my friend Maura in Boston. Clyde's photo is posted under the Memorial/Tribute tab of this website.
I will grant you that my portrait of Rocky would have looked more authentic if it had been cut from a rug, but it's hard to add expression to a hunk of carpeting. So I compensate for the fur by stitching it in shimmering metallic thread against fabric that has a good deal of texture to begin. In Rocky's case, I used a half dozen hand-dyed fabrics, selecting two different ones for his ears so they were not a perfect match. To that I added untamed elements such as Rocky's trademark terrier eyebrows (you may not be able to see in the photo). They dangle free of the surface for a comic touch.
I do not attempt to make a carbon copy of the animal I see, but flesh him out as his owner describes him, adding visuals to represent the passion and the emotion that they relate. I don't plan these things, they just seem to happen. I turned Rocky's nose into a flower with crystals inbetween each of the pedals.
In preparation to make his portrait, I invited Diane to bring Rocky and his sidekick, Jackie, to the studio and took dozens of photos of them, fed them cookies and spent some time getting to know them. I pasted photos of the two of them (Jackie is next) on my design walls in the studio and at home so I could channel them. Don't laugh, but I swear the animals themselves guide my hand.
Diane commissioned Rocky for her husband's birthday and they were happy with the results. "It's perfect," she said. "I loved every choice you made. I didn't want him to be a cartoon."
Most days my own sweet goddess mutt Emily works alongside me in the studio. I invite pet parents to bring their animals on leash to come visit me and discuss artwork they might be considering. There's absolutely no obligation. I also assure clients that I won't ask them to purchase an art quilt they don't like. I am blessed the issue hasn't come up.
Meanwhile, please phone me in advance so I can be sure to be there when you want to visit. The number is 330-472-0161.