Friday, March 27, 2009

A Tempest in a Teacup

10" X 8" pen and ink

Kaly (short for Kalypso) has it all—fabulous hair, bedroom eyes, a Mona Lisa smile, and boundless energy! She makes the Energizer Bunny look like he’s standing stock still. That’s how she keeps her weight down to a svelte 2.8 lbs. Yep! Kaly is a Teacup (as in tiny) Yorkshire Terrier, and the absolute joy of her people’s lives. David says, "She’s the best thing that’s ever happened to Kim and me.” Kaly rarely goes outside, but she runs a half-dozen marathons indoors every day.

On your marks!

Get set!

You go girl!

This isn’t the first portrait I’ve drawn of Kaly. David says they're creating "a shrine" for their diminutive dynamo. I did this portrait four years ago (2005) when Kaly was a mere pup. I’m not sure that she’s grown into her ears yet!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Kinsey's Coiffure



Same dog!
Different do!

Now we're really ready for spring.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Work in Progress

One thing I admire and appreciate about Annie Bissett’s beautiful blog, Woodblock Dreams, is that Annie shows her work in progress as well as her finished prints. I don’t know why it has taken me so long to figure out that I could be doing the same thing. I suppose I worry that no one is really that interested in how I draw pet portraits. The drawing process is not nearly as dramatic as carving woodblocks and pulling multi-color prints. But, since I’m drawing pet portraits these days, lots of them—hamsters, cats, and dogs, dogs, dogs—I’ll show you how I do it. Courage Leslie!

Take Lola the Lab.

Perhaps the most important step in drawing a pet portrait is to choose the best photograph to use as a reference. We had six photos to choose from of Lola (who died a year ago). Most of them were too distant and too small to show enough detail. We narrowed the choices down to these two:

DeeDee liked the first one, because Lola was “smiling,” but she realized that the eyes were not that clear. I said that the smiling pose was doable, but asked DeeDee to take another look at the second one. “It's a much better photo,” I advised her, “which is important with pale dogs, because it's so hard to see contours on blonde fur. I love the way her face and feet form a triangle—a nice composition! It's also a real heart-wrencher with those big, dark, adoring eyes.” DeeDee agreed with me. “Let's go with the second one!” she responded. “That was a classic Lola pose. I sure do miss her. She would have been 10 on Monday.”

The next step is to sketch the dog in pencil. Here I have to make a confession. I use a light board to trace the general outlines of the animal and to place the eyes, nose, ears, legs, etc. correctly. So my portraits aren’t drawn strictly “free hand” as a little boy in the Brooksville Library once politely pointed out to me. But hey! The art critiques speculate that Vermeer used a camera obscura to help set up his masterpieces, so I’m in good company. I use the light board mainly to save time, as it takes anywhere from 6 to 26 hours to ink in my drawings after I’ve sketched them in pencil. Here’s what I came up with on the light board. (I realize now that I should have slapped this onto my scanner rather than photographing it. Sorry it's so pale.)

I spend twice as much time sketching “free hand” on the drawing board, filling in the details, the riffs and rills of fur cavorting over Lola’s tawny hide . I’m impatient with this step in the process, eager to get to the pen-and-ink work, but I find that the more thoroughly I sketch the dog in pencil, the better the finished portrait turns out.

Finally, I start to ink in the drawing. I always start with the eyes—the windows to the soul. I figure that if I don’t get the eyes right, I might as well trash that effort and start over.

Next, the nose.

Then the whole head--ears, muzzle, cheeks, jowls.

I’m always happy when I’m drawing. I relate to this passage from Ian McEwan’s novel Saturday, because it describes so aptly how I feel when I’m drawing. McEwan is describing a surgeon in the operating theater:

“For the past two hours he’s been in a dream of absorption that has dissolved all sense of time, and all awareness of the other parts of his life. Even his awareness of his own existence has vanished. He’s been delivered into a pure present, free of the weight of the past or of any anxieties about the future. In retrospect, though never at the time, it feels like profound happiness. . . . This state of mind brings a contentment he never finds with any passive form of entertainment. Books, cinema, even music can’t bring him to this . . . This benevolent dissociation seems to require difficultly, prolonged demands on concentration and skills, pressure, problems to be solved, even danger. He feels calm, and spacious, fully qualified to exist. It’s a feeling of clarified emptiness, of deep muted joy.”

Tom, my husband, is more practical. He worries that the house could burn down around me while I’m drawing; I’m that oblivious to my surroundings. I only know that I love the deep concentration that I fall into when I’m drawing a bead of light that rims a dark iris, a nose that glistens with moisture, fur that lightens and darkens as it waves and swirls and corkscrews, ears that flop or prick or curl. I know that I’m perfectly contented when I am pondering how best to translate a steadfast gaze, a creased brow, a tilted head into an expression of love or longing or loyalty.

Lola's body is pretty well done. Now for the background:

I like the way a dark background sets off a pale dog.

It may look like the drawing is done at this stage, but now I do what I call "tweaking." I look at the drawing from near and far, from top to bottom, from side to side, and add a line here, a squiggle there, a dimple, a shadow, a suggestion, until I’m sure it’s just right. Truth be told, I’m never actually “sure.” I have great difficultly knowing when to stop. Eventually I do. Here is the finished drawing:

The last step in the process is to make the greeting cards and the bookmarks, to mat the original drawing, and to enclose it in plastic. Here is the full PenPets package:

From start to finish, I estimate that this portrait took about eight hours to complete.

Friday, March 20, 2009

I hope you will all give my PenPets website another look. Thanks to a generous grant from the Downeast Business Alliance and the hard work of my Webmaster Demetri Orlando, it is all bright, shiny, and new! Cruise around, look at the galleries, read testimonials, learn how to commission your own PenPets portrait! I hope you like it! I'm absolutely thrilled with the new look!

Monday, March 16, 2009

Hammie the Hamster

Hammie the Hamster
5" X 7" pen and ink

Here's a first for PenPets -- a hamster portrait! Hammie's not just any hamster, however. She's a rare tortoise-shell hamster -- dark chocolate brown with orange splotches. Here she is in color.

Hammie also has quite the dramatic life story, full of the pathos of abandonment, the joy of adoption, the thrill of escape, and the comfort of friendship. Here is Hammi's story, as told by Lisa Meijer:

Hammie "Houdini" Meijer

Hammie came into my life in the most unusual way and she continues to make each day an experience. I was at the mall one Saturday afternoon, minding my business, eating at Chic-fil-a (I love their sweet tea), when I saw this man at the table across from me yelling at his son. I am a social worker so my first thought was, “Oh please, don't make me work on the weekends!” LOL. The child was about 7 and I am not sure why he was getting yelled at but, all of the sudden, the dad grabbed his son's half eaten pizza and yelled, "Let's go!" as he threw the food in the trash. They began to walk away and the boy turned around, pointed to the table, and said, "Daddy my bag!" To which the father responded, "Leave it! You don't deserve it!" and he stormed off.

I sat there for a minute feeling sorry for that little boy when the bag began to move. OMG, I freaked out! I waited about 20 minutes thinking that the father would come back for whatever was moving in that bag. When he did not return, I took the bag to the pet store and ask them to open it (I was sure it was a snake). When they opened the box, out popped little Hammie. I explained the story and told the pet store to resell the hamster but they wouldn't take her back: store policy. So I looked at the clerk, took one look at Hammie's cute little face, and that was all it took. She became part of the Meijer Clan.

I took Hammie home and, after testing several cages, we finally found her the perfect Hamster Mansion.

We originally thought she was a boy but just another surprise from this little critter. We quickly learned that Hammie had a mission...escape to China. We can never figure how she does it but she has escaped more times than we can count. Once she pushed her tiny water bottle out of her cage and squeezed through the hole. She has eaten through my internt cord and phone cord, and she has chewed a large hole in my carpet, padding, and wood floor. She eats my cat’s food right out of her bowl with the cat drinking water out of the other bowl.

My cat Penny is intrigued by Hammie and thinks she is a kitten. Hammie can run across Penny's stomach and Penny doesn’t move. She just watches in amazement. Hammie is the cutest little critter and she gives us something to laugh at daily!!


10" X 8" pen and ink


Not to be outdone by a hamster, who walks all over her, Penny has had her portrait done, too -- FIRST!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Reuben the Magnificent!

10" X 8" pen and ink

Reuben is a shepherd/labrador mix, a down-to-earth, happy fellow. I think he embodies a certain magnificence as well with those penetrating eyes, that patrician nose, and his graceful, over-the-shoulder glance. He divides his time between New York City and Downeast Maine.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Japanese Tankas

My Japanese Tanka group meets on the second Tuesday of every month to read and discuss the Tankas we've written. A Tanka poem has five lines divided into 31 syllables. The syllable count is 5/7/5/7/7. Here are my offerings for the month of March:

Lucky Stones

Scored by centuries
of tectonic love-making,
crushed by granite thighs,
tumbled by tidal tumult,
then ground by the smoothing sea.

Spring Thaw

Snowmelt drips off eaves,
branches spring from icy cuffs,
paths disintegrate
into rivulets of slush,
mud fills every pore with hope.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Ruby II

Ruby II
5" X 7" pen and ink

Ruby II, a Springer Spaniel/Border Collie/Labrador Retriever mix, was Moose's predecessor. She also was a rescue dog, from a shelter on Mount Desert Island in Maine, home of Acadia National Park. And, of course, Ruby II's predecessor was Ruby I, a pure-bred Springer Spaniel, and one of my very first pet portraits. I drew Ruby I for my friend Maggie 11 long years ago and that experience helped launch my PenPets business. I'm trying to decide if my style has changed over the years.

Ruby I
6" X 6" pen and ink

Maggie writes, "I'm already trying to pick out a spot to hang all three dog portraits together."