Dog-gone it

New dog?

New dog?

Guess what showed up on my deck again two days ago. You guessed it – another German shepherd.  Two years after our adventure with Alex, the long haired German shepherd puppy, another one showed up on the back deck.  She is very sweet and about a year old.  She has none of the dominance issues that Alex had and seems to have quite a nice, submissive temperament.  She seems quite intelligent and trainable at this point.  We are looking for her owners but maybe she will just be staying here.

I ended up taking off the last week or so.  After 3 home portraits in a row, on a quick schedule, I decided I needed a short break.  Back to work really soon.

Three dog night

Three vizslas

Three vizslas

I had a request from a family member to make a portrait of three of her friend’s Vizsla dogs. I happily agreed. I look at it as a chance to do a breed and color of dog that I have never done before, with no real pressure.  And like doing the black cats before I had the black dog commission, I see this as a way of practicing a portrait of multiple dogs in one piece before I need to do it.  Surely this will come up some time in the future and I’d rather have at least worked out some of the technicalities.

Already I found out the I’d better not have a side by side set up.  Because of the size of the drawing, it became too difficult  to look at the photo and then the sketch when I moved off of the end dog.  Fortunately, with a little bit of adjustment, the way I had laid the grid over the photo allowed me to move the pair  above the sketch without having to realign them.  Sometimes dumb luck is good luck.   Since the sketch is 15″ x 8″, it still is slightly inconvenient, but I can see what I am doing more readily.  In reality each of the dogs is no bigger than one at the regular 5″ x 7″ portrait size.

I think I will try to do most of the inking all at one time.  It will keep the continuity of the drawing part.  I am most concerned with keeping the flow going with the watercolors.  There will be a lot of time painting three dogs and I want to be able to have some uniformity of colors and brush stroke.  I haven’t decided if I want to work some on all three at once or on mostly one at a time.  Fortunately, they are slightly different colors because they are all different ages.  I’ll just have to take it as it comes and am looking forward to starting the inking .  It does need to rest a bit before I restart because there are so many details with three dogs.

Sweet Alex

Pen/pencil drawing

Pen/pencil drawing

I am oh so sad to report that, in the end, we were not able to keep Alex with us. Once he settled in and became comfortable in our home, it became apparent that he had a rather dominant German Shepherd personality. He remained submissive to people and was as smart as I could hope for, but very quickly he decided that we and our household were his responsibility.  Even at only 4.5 months, he felt he had to seriously defend me from other barking dogs and noises around the house.  I got into contact with a wonderful woman who runs a GSD rescue in Indianapolis and she was able to find him a more suitable home right before Christmas.  This family has had extensive experience with working GSDs and will be able to assure he develops into a very responsible member of society.  I am sad for me, but glad for him.  I know that we took good care of him for the five weeks he was here, but in the end, he was just too much dog for me and I really wanted him to be able to reach his full potential.



The night before Alex left, I took a dozen pictures of him and picked out one to paint. The first photo shows a bit of my methodology for the portraits.  While I don’t grid for the home portraits, I do for the animal ones.  I find it gives me just that edge to lay out the eyes and mouth correctly.  I have a piece of gridded acetate I place over the 4×6 photo and away I go.  After the pencil up and most of the inking is done with the nib pen, I erase all of the grid and miscellaneous pencil lines.  (Another reason why I like the sturdiness of the watercolor board.)  I let it sit for a day and then add the watercolors with what I hope is a fluid and loose brushstroke.  After another day of reflection I may add a bit more watercolor, but voila, normally it is done.  He is a handsome fellow, is he not?

The dog, all done

All dressed up

All dressed up

I worked mostly on the dog portrait this week. I fiddled around for a long time on the pencil up because the pictures were not the clearest, but I think it turned out well. Black portraiture is so hard for me. Too little of the black and the subject looks grey. Too much and it’s all shadows and little delineation. Consequently, I was hesitant to start with the watercoloring.  I am sure glad that I did those black cat portraits a few months ago.  Finally, I just dove in. Fortunately, the picture had the added interest of the scarf to lighten all of that black.  She said it was one of her favorite  pictures and I can see why. I do use a small grid for the pencil up accuracy and then do most of the inking with a loose, light touch.  When I am satisfied that there is enough delineation, I  remove the grid so I can see the photo better and I erase the pencil guidelines.  I rapidly add the watercolors, mostly daubing splotches here and there until I am satisfied that the essence of the animal is there.  I don’t want to over do it and suddenly make it into a photo like representation. I’m not good enough for that.  Light and loose seems to work the best for me in this case. Next up is the office building.  She finally got back with a few more photos and details and I am inking it up now.

Ooo whee, I’m busy

It’s been a heck of a week. Not only did we get Alex the dog, but I got commissions for a dog portrait and an architectural of an office building as well as selling 2 of my shore bird linocuts.  I can see myself coming and going lately.  I have the architectural mostly pencilled up but can’t really start the inking because some of the detail photos are too small and I can’t print them.  I’m waiting for  her to retake some of them.  I will start the pet portrait soon.  Those file are small too so I’m waiting to see if she has a larger version of one.

Three toys are better than one

Three toys are better than one

Alex is doing well.  He is almost housebroken, although I wouldn’t trust him quite yet.  He is sleeping mostly through the night in his crate and we are taking daily walks up and down the drive for exercise.  Two trips up and down are over a mile.  I do it twice daily, once for the paper and once for the mail. That, including some fetch with a ball and frisbee, seem to tire him out enough right now.  He is so funny at times.  He likes to carry his plush Winnie the Pooh and try to to pick up his ball at the same time.  Occasionally he can do it but usually he just ends up kicking the ball around and chasing it, still holding on to Winnie.

He and I had a day excursion today.  My friend and riding teacher invited Alex and me to go along for her lessons so he could get some socialization.  We live out in the country and don’t have the opportunity unless we make it.   I am happy to say he behaved quite well – far better than I had expected.  He played with a corgi who told him what for,  learned to behave a bit better with cats, and rode quietly in the vehicle.  All in all it’s been a good week.  I’ll post some of the commission work next time around.

Surprise, surprise, surprise

Chillin' with me in the studio

Chillin’ with me in the studio

On Monday, the day didn’t go quite as planned, but in a good way for a change. I started the day out dogless and ended up with a new member of the household.  When we came back from an appointment about noon, he was hiding around a trash can at the base of the driveway and by the end of the day he was in our house.

Supervising was hard work

Supervising art projects is hard work

He appears to be about 4 months old and is smart as a whip.  He knocked down the baby gate we are using to keep him occasionally enclosed in the laundry area once and after that he has respected it.  After one evening, he will willingly go into his crate when he is told to. He learned to fetch his ball and give it to me in less than 10 minutes, once he figured out I would throw it again for him.  One or two noes have been enough to keep him away from things I don’t want him in, although I don’t quite trust that in such a young dog.  He is going to be a big one – far larger than any dog I had thought to get, so he needs to be very well behaved.

We have asked around and no one has claimed him.  Here’s to hoping he can stay.  And I think another dog portrait may be in order.

Flowers and felines

A huge cone flower

A huge cone flower

My first cone flower started to bloom last week and it is in its full glory now. I originally had thoughts of picking it to put into a vase on the island countertop, but it just seemed to get bigger and bigger as the blossoming proceeded. It has turned out to be one of the largest cone flowers I have ever seen in the beds – and the shortest stemmed.  As you can see, it is at least 5″ across. Maybe I am just used to the smaller, drought sized ones from the last few years, but it just seems huge.  I have a few others coming on, but they will only top out at 4″ or so.  I decided I could not pick such a magnificent specimen and I certainly want it to go to seed.  They have been slowly spreading throughout the front beds and I love their magenta color.

The preferred world view - upside down

The preferred world view – upside down

And, I have had a little house guest for the last few days.  My “grandcat” is spending some vacation time here while his mom is traveling.  He likes to wile away the daytime hours, when she would normally be at work, sleeping under the loft sofa, but in the late afternoons, he comes down to visit with us and take possession of one of the comfy upholstered chairs. He is quite the talker when he wants to be and will carry on a conversation for some time when he is in the mood.  He yowls when he is mad over some perceived insult such as being put into his cat travel box. When let out, he walks away, loudly proclaiming his much injured status for several minutes. You’ll never have to guess what his mood is.  Fortunately, most of the time he is a happy little guy.


I am not one much for little dogs, but Gretchen was special.  A golden-red, smooth haired dachshund, she was a sturdy, unregistered purebred.  My mom wanted a small dog (and dad wanted none), so we ended up with her.  She was an active dog that loved going places in the car.  All you had to do was jingle the car keys and there she was right next to the front door, ready to go wherever.  Though I shudder to think about it now, her favorite place was up on the ledge under the rear windshield where she was out of the way and the view was good.  It seemed made just for her.

Where’s the toast

She adored buttered toast and no matter where she was when the toaster clicked up, she was in the kitchen in less than 5 seconds.  Mom always made one for herself and one for Gretchen.  Who could ignore those  begging eyes.  She could also flip a treat off of her nose into her mouth without skipping a beat and it was so funny to see her crossed eyes watching the little morsel until we said “okay”.

She had a blanket in her bed and when she wanted to sleep undisturbed, she burrowed in so completely that you would never even know she was there.  She used a quick flip of her long, pointed nose to shift the blanket up and over herself, slowly but surely burying her sausage body within its folds.  When she deigned to emerge she was as warm as the toast she loved.

And one weekend when I was alone in the house, she jumped off of my bed and ran down the stairs headed for the kitchen.  She stood in the dining room barking her head off towards the rear windows as I turned on lights and cautiously called her from the second floor hallway balcony, from which I could still see her.  I am convinced to this day that she stopped our home from being burglarized.

Of the four dog portraits I have done, I think I am the least satisfied with this one.  I don’t really like the head and eyes much.  The skull dome is not quite right and the eyes are a little off as a result.  I have been fooling around with it for the last hour or so and there has not been much improvement so I think I’ll just let it go.  Of all of them, I like Ding Dong Dog the best and then Brandy’s portrait.  They ring the truest both emotionally and artistically.  I think I will be back on the architecturals next.  I’ve finally gotten into the mood to work with the pastels again.

Ding dong dog

Dakota puppy

After wonder dog Brandy came the golden retriever Dakota, otherwise known as Ding Dong Dog. Where Brandy had sense and a calm disposition, Dakota had….well I don’t know what she had except that I’m not sure if she could have more than one thought at a time in her head. And preferably it was an EXCITING thought.  There wasn’t a mean bone in her body, but at 80 pounds in adulthood, her exuberance made her a bit of a handful.  I had rugs with the fringe chewed off and kitchen chairs where the lower rungs were scarred.  Just the right height for a resting puppy to occupy herself.  Rawhide chew toys that were supposed to last weeks were consumed in 2 days.  She definitely did not have the soft bird mouth that Brandy had.  I wish Cesar Milan had been around then as some of his advice would have been quite helpful.  She finally was able to be calmer when she was about 6 1/2.  We had 30-40 teenagers over for a 2000 New Year’s Eve party and all of that activity with so many people finally forced her into brain overload.  After that she was able to have a bit more self-control.

I don’t normally do portraits of people but this photo just seemed so cute.  And Dakota looks so innocent.  Once again I sketched out the picture in pencil and then inked with the  nib pen.  The only part I am unhappy with is the lower lip.  It should be a little bit rounder.  All in all however, since I haven’t done a person portrait in years I am not too displeased.  After the inking, I started in on the watercolor layers.  I took most of the afternoon alternating with the lower collie picture.  Once again I want to not overdo it.  In some ways now I may be too far in the other direction and not putting enough color in.  It is such a fine line.  I will look at these again tomorrow.

Collie portrait

This collie picture is based on a picture of the pet of a relative.  I love sable collies, having grown up reading books by Albert Payson Terhune.  I wanted a Lad of my own and did have a wonderful, gentle collie for a few years after college.  He, like Brandy, was wonderfully balanced and a joy to be around.  Sadly we lost him too soon.  I am pleased with the balance of colors on him although I may come back an add a little bit more definition to the head with the pen.

I’m not sure where I will go from here.  I have a zoo trip in the offing and perhaps another road trip visiting small southern Indiana main streets.  I do have a few more pet photos.  I haven’t decided whether or not to list these in my Etsy store.  Maybe I should set up some listings for breed pictures.  Doing portraiture on commission is a lot scarier than the home portraits.  Our eyes forgive a lot more in architecture than they do in living portraiture.

Dogs and Daisies


She was big and black – and the world’s best dog.  As I was perusing my photos, I came upon Brandy, the dog we had before the kids were born and the first dog that they remember.  Incredibly gentle with our babies and toddlers, she tended to intimidate strangers with her size and deep black color.  I have a picture of our 15 month old eye to eye with her and kissing her nose.  There is also one of the two of them relaxing on the lawn, our daughter resting between her legs.  At close to 80 pounds and sporting double dew claws, we think she was a lab/Great Pyrenees mix.  I have been thinking of doing some pet portraits lately, and thought she would make a great subject.  I used a nib pen to sketch out her basic form and then layered on the watercolors.  She was stone coal black except for one white paw and a white patch on her chest.   The sun would bleach her fur out a little, which accounts for the bits of rusty brown.  I am not sure I am done with her portrait at this point.  I may decide to darken her up a bit but I didn’t want to overdo it just yet.  I welcome your opinion.

Black Eyed Susans

On the flower front, my cone flowers and black eyed Susans have started to be affected by the heat and drought.  The petal arrays on both species are smaller than normal and on the cone flowers the purple color has been seriously bleached out.  You know it’s bad out there when these start to wilt as they are usually pretty hardy.  I picked a few Susans from a shaded area that still looked fairly good and brought them in to paint.

I kept this one simple too, once again outlining the flowers and leaves with the nib pen.  I layered on the yellow for the flowers, following up with yellow ocher, appropriately doctored to a golden orange.  I layered the leaves with skip’s green and then with sap green.  Then I added a little burnt sienna and my purple.  This one seems to have a more illustrative quality to it than most of things I have done but that was intentional for a change.

I think I like both of them.

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