Now that the marathon is over my training has become more track oriented. One might think I have some extra time on my hands now that the distances I’m training for aren’t as long but that isn’t the case at all. The workouts are slightly shorter but slightly more intense. I’m also adding in more strength work, and loads more stretching. The recovery and nap time are still vital, along with physio work. So, it can sometimes be tricky to take on my other passion of painting while my training is at full force. Being an artist has always been a major part of who I am so I have never turned down a project, I always make time and get it done one way or another. I just finished up a baby gift for my good friend and UMass teammate, Christy Mae. Before that I did some work on a logo for the New Balance British Miler Project. Feel free to contact me at any time if there’s anything you’d like to commission me for. I’m always excited to take on new projects.
I was asked by a close friend to produce a painting of her parents’ dog that passed away. As a dog owner, former farm girl, and just all around animal lover, I knew this was an important project. It would also, surprisingly, be my first commissioned work in the fury friends category. I’ve done plenty of animal studies throughout my career but never a commissioned work with full focus being the animal.
Since it was a portrait of a family member I needed to choose my medium wisely. I feel the depth that you can achieve with oil can be very powerful which ended up being the deciding factor. Oil has its cons of being messy, often smelly, and typically expensive. But I think it’s pros far outweigh the cons once seeing the final product.
As I worked I would often look at our own dog, Paavo, for tips on capturing certain canine mannerisms and general body form. While I do work from photos I always use real life aides to get a truer reference to light, movement, texture, and to really make it my own painting.
I found myself getting a little emotional while I worked, thinking of what this animal meant to its owners and how they were dealing with such a loss. Our Paavo is nearing his 8th birthday and we cringe at the thought of losing him. Just the other day we jokingly talked about trying to clone him! Speaking of holding on to our pets, I recently stumbled upon a reality show on Animal Planet called American Stuffers. It’s about a taxidermy business that specializes in stuffing peoples pets. Yikes! While I find it very interesting I personally wouldn’t go that far. The fact that people actually pay money to have this done gives you an idea of how much peoples pets mean to them, or they’re just a little crazy. I think a well done painting or drawing is the less extreme option.
The most challenging portion of the painting was capturing the expression in the dog’s face, typically the focal point of a portrait. So much of the life and personality of the subject comes through the eyes. But, if you don’t have the placement or proportions down in the other features then it’s true personality won’t shine through. It’s a lot like training, you can run all the miles but if you neglect the other components, such as maintenance work, problems can and usually do arise.
I had numerous do overs, thank goodness for turpentine, but eventually the pup came through and came to life. This is no exaggeration, but as the painting developed, I caught Paavo staring at it and at times it seemed like he was even jealous that I was spending time with another dog! Anyone who knows Paavo knows that he’s one interesting dog. So, I knew if our dog was thinking my painting was real, then I had achieved what I wanted. I was pleased with the end result and had a good feeling about it.
The next step was to let it dry, have it framed, and then present it to its new owners. Presenting can be tough. I’m usually nervous to see the reaction and a touch sad to say goodbye to something I’ve poured my heart into. Actually, I had a similar feeling after the marathon trials. I wasn’t there for the presentation of the painting but I was fortunate enough to see it on video. It was an emotional moment as the owners/parents let it sink in that their beloved family member was once again gazing up at them. I have to admit that my eyes watered up a little as I watched the video. Knowing that something I produced touched someone’s life like that is so satisfying and is what I always strive for.
I’ll just end with one of my all-time favorite quotes that seems to best describe the athlete, artist connection.
“The athlete and the artist lived in the same world and did the same thing: they both asserted the spirit in order to thrust the individual beyond time and achieve something permanent.”
-A. Bartlett Giamatti