Recently I was commissioned to draw a portrait of an American Water Spaniel for the 25th Anniversary of the American Water Spaniel Club Inc. The breed’s specialty show will take place next August in New London, Wisconsin, where the American Water Spaniel originated. This is a “Made in America” dog! My drawing, which I finished last week, will be auctioned off to the highest bidder at the dog show and the image will festoon t-shirts and sweat-shirts sold during the event.
It’s been a fun project.
I had to go beyond my initial impressions of these dogs. At first glance, they are gorgeous—chocolate brown with coppery eyes, their faces framed by soft spaniel ears, crimped and curled like a Botticelli angel’s hair, and lit with coppery highlights that match their eyes. On second glance, there’s lots more to learn about the physiognomy of a champion. The American Kennel Club, arbiter of all purebred canines, stipulates the following points: "Skull rather broad and full, stop moderately defined, but not too pronounced. Muzzle moderate in length, square with good depth. No inclination to snippiness, The lips clean and tight without excess skin or flews. Nose dark in color, black or dark brown. The nose sufficiently wide and with well-developed nostrils to insure good scenting power. Bite either scissor or level."
Added to the challenge of translating these guidelines—flews? snippiness? scissor bites?—into a perfect portrait of the breed, I had to create a fantasy dog as well. The AWSC Committee in charge of the Specialty wanted the drawing to be as generic as possible, not identifiable as one particular dog. Consequently I was encouraged to produce an American Water Spaniel collage out of the slew of photographs I received from proud AWSC members. This was a tough one for me, as one of my trademarks is creating recognizable portraits of individual dogs. Undaunted, I chose an elegantly posed dog for starters, added another dog’s skull—“broad and full,” sketched in a third dog’s coppery eyes, darkened its nose and gave it the “good scenting power” of a fourth dog, buckled on a fifth dog’s collar, decorated it with a sixth dog’s tags, and wreathed the whole pastiche in Botticelli curls. Rest assured, I avoided snippiness at all costs.
So where is this fabled drawing? I CAN’T SHOW IT TO YOU! It’s top secret until August. But here’s one Specialty Committee member’s reaction to the portrait, just to pique your curiosity:
It is so beautiful it takes my breath away! I have a hunch that this is going to cost me big bucks if I am going to win the bidding war! The dog has such expression. Such intensity shows from the eyes, yet there is an expression of warmth or perhaps tenderness as well. I do love it! Thank you for such a wonderful drawing of our breed.