Like any good Ridgeback, Oscar is a sneak and a clown and a stubborn mule when he wants to be, but due to many years of training, he also has excellent manners. One of his most endearing qualities is his refusal to climb aboard furniture until he has been invited to do so by a human (he can be overt to the point of hilarity about his interest in being up where the people are, but he won't so much as lift a paw onto upholstery without express permission). For his first 6 or so years, he wasn't ever given a chance to leave his place on the floor - it's only been somewhat recently, really, that life shifted for both of us, and I decided to amend our long-standing house rules...
I wrote about the circumstances leading up to this event - and leading Oscar onto the bed - in an autumn issue of the Somerville, MA-based arts publication, Inkseed, and while the full text is too long to post here, the accompanying illustration (above) and following excerpt should nicely sum up what has become a heartfelt topic for both Oscar and I.
"And then it happened. At the end of a particularly long, anxious day, with all traces of order seemingly evaporated, I looked at him, looking at me… the evening hour paused… and I asked Oscar up onto the bed.
If there is such a thing as a doggie double take, that was Oscar’s response. Incredulous, wary of being fooled into a trap, and listening to all his years of training to the contrary, he resisted (which mere months ago would have earned him a cookie on the spot). But I had made up my mind, and repetitious reassurances finally got him to leap up.
He likely spent that backwards night just waiting for the jig to be up; a dog that typically snores through even rugged nudges, his great head would pop up nervously every time I shifted. But I - like a lonely puppy in it’s first night crated solo will snuggle into the beating heart of a blanketed alarm clock - I wrapped an arm over him and let the steady metronome of Oscar’s breathing focus my own. I had broken a rule six years faithfully upheld, but in the midst of a great, grueling sea change, leaving the predictable in the past seemed imperative to moving forward.
...Over time, a new nighttime pattern took shape. There were kinks to work out, of course: invisible boundaries were determined to contain “sleeping dog sprawl”; a bed cover was appropriated to keep gritty paws off beloved quilts; and adherence to a new rule - dogs OFF the bed when the human rises in the morning - was required practice. But this novel routine was all ours, it belonged exclusively to Oscar and I, and tucking myself in beside velvet ears and the occasional groan of a beast settling into sleep became a beacon of comfort at the end of each day. Likewise, when anxiety gripped my chest tightly enough to startle me from sleep way ahead of my alarm each morning, I had a grounding wire to reach for beside me. My restless fidgets were met with sleepy brown eyes, and a yawn full of teeth who’s only concern was the hour of breakfast."
Change can be so good for the soul... All that being said - Oscar is not permitted to share the covers with me every night - nor does he want to! Amusingly, he has been known to refuse an invitation, in favor of his own (quite lavish) sleeping arrangement. I suppose, if dogs really do take after their owners, the battle of two bed hogs wears on the both of us sometimes...
Well, friends, it's happened... we've reached the end of our Wicked Wonderful Autumn-Inspired week of posts (brought to you by the letter "W"!)... It's been a JOY to work on this series (and reminisce about some of our favorite parts of the season), and we couldn't think of a more appropriate way to close out this project than to hunker down in front of one of Oscar's favorite things in the ENTIRE WORLD and settle into a good, well-deserved snooze. There's just no denying it - as a November drizzle starts to fall outside (and it actually is doing that, right this minute... ugh) the Warmth of a Woodstove is damn hard to beat.
Till next time, dear readers - we wish you bright days ahead and hope you find plenty of ways to appreciate your own highlights of the season, anytime, anywhere, and any season in which you see them.
It's not hard to deduce that my heart belongs to one dog, and one (big, red, lazy) dog only, but when it comes to drawing, I'm far from exclusive. If I've got a sketchbook in hand, you can bet the awkward bob of a passing poodle, or the smushed-in mug of a pug will appear somewhere on a page; mixed breed or pure, plucky puppy or geriatric, I'll bliss out at the chance to draw them all. In addition to good practice, impromptu portraits of furry friends and strangers can become useful reference and inspiration for future projects as well. Case in point - meet Charlie and Henry!
Charlie and Henry, both rescues, belong to some good friends down south. I only met them in person a few weeks ago (during which time I sketched the sleeping beasts at the top of this post), but this past spring, working from photos, I incorporated Charlie's shaggy face into a commission for a pet magazine based in the UK (good reference photos for me are always key to great finished work, but good reference photos of animals in my personal orbit provide an added narrative bonus, and make the end result that much more personal).
The fully illustrated article, titled "The more the merrier?", appeared in the summer issue of My VIP magazine and explores the effort involved in managing multi-species households. My artwork graces both a title page and a double-page spread. Charlie (who isn't, in reality, a social butterfly himself) seemed like an appropriate ambassador for a paragraph on how to carefully introduce two dogs in order to ensure a successful first impression, and perhaps more importantly - to avoid fisticuffs (let's just say, Oscar and I have a little experience in this department...).
Notice that handsome Dane on the title page? He's inspired by a few local friends as well! The beautiful brother and sister pair, King & Storm, were the subjects of a 13 Project post from a few winters back... when it came time to anchor my title page composition with something solid and sculptural, how could I resist the urge to use a likeness of these steely grey muses?
*Since this is a dog blog, I won't go into detail about a certain feline acquaintance who also earned a cameo in this set of illos, but for the record (D&K, take note), sweet old Monty... he's in there. So you see, you just never know where inspiration sits twitching it's ears...
If there's one thing Oscar dog knows how to do, it's stretch himself out long and flat on a plush patch of grass and RELAX. Today, June 21, 2014 marks the summer solstice, and we're celebrating this magnificent longest day of the year by luxuriating in all the glory that is sunshine, birdsong, and barefeet...
Dear Summer: PLEASE STAY.
Weekends in the summer at Mayor Danehy Park equal gametime. It's generally an across the board affair, with little kippers swinging at tee-balls in one corner, swaggering men's softball leagues in another corner, and the occassional highly entertaining cricket match in between. Oscar and I usually weave in-between the team sports on our way to the tall grasses and marshy bits (where all the park rabbits leave delicious trails to follow), but this Sunday morning we were invited into a hallowed dugout to cheer on our very own - team Fringe Union was a proud participant in the Gentle Giant Moving Co.'s 2012 chairity softball event (to benefit Groundwork Somerville), and sweet Budweiser before 11am, they played to WIN. Seriously. They killed it, defeating FOUR teams before retiring to the BBQ tent to nurse their abraded shins and watch the final rounds form the sideline. JOB. WELL. DONE.
Oscar took his job as impromptu team mascot very seriously, boosting player morale with nuzzles and giant, not-great-smelling dog kisses. He was, no doubt, overjoyed at being in the b-ball field's special chainlink nook when there were real live rounds of food being offered up (sweet, sweeeet local doughnuts) since this favorite spot is typically only littered with wrappers and empty paper plates by the time we cruise through in the evenings... *lots of divine smells, but only random scores of discarded food itself.
To the Beast's discontent, the pastries were not shared... and without deep-fat-fried sustinence, there was little left for this dog to do but sack out in the grass and hope a foul ball didn't sail in his direction.
No one in this house likes getting up early, but the rewards are generally worth it. Case in point: jumping in the car at 6:30am in order to avoid hours of typical summer stop-and-go traffic on the one road that leads to the Cape. Bringing us allllll the way out to Truro (just 20 min or so from Provincetown - the very tippy-tip end of the penninsula) was the chance to meet and learn from the brilliant Bay Area photographer, Jesse Freidin. I first learned about Jesse via his trend-sploding Doggie Gagga Project in 2010. I've been keeping tabs on his fine work since then, and I couldn't pass up the opportunity when I saw he was teaching a workshop so (relatively) close to home, at the Truro Center for the Arts at Castle Hill (we only audited one day of his 5-day course).
Jesse's workshop was on basic photography and canine portraiture. I'm no stranger to taking nice pics of dogs, but learning from pros is ALWAYS an inspiring experience, and Jesse didn't dissappoint. My only regret - not meeting the dapper Pancake! Next time...
After our day of test shots and aperature experimentation, Oscar and I did what most people do when they visit the Cape - we hit the beach (and because "we" were a human and a dog, we did so with some amount of difficulty - the Cape Cod seashore is NOT terribly friendly to canines - especially during the peak summer season, and most beaches will only allow on-leash access before 8 or 9am, and after 5 or 6pm... harumph). By 5pm, Oscar was POOPED. The poor kid stayed standing for a bit, but between the exhaustion of driving all morning, modeling all afternoon, and then finding himself on a patch of warm, soft, sea-scented sand, squinty-eyes turned into a full-on nap in no time.
All in all, a very long, but very beautiful day with my boy. Beach-going difficulty aside, I'm already scheming about how and when to zip back to the land of salt marshes and killer-good seafood (Wellfleet - your Littlenecks are AMAZING)... And if you're planning a trip to the Cape with your dog, here are some additional links with useful information (and the all-important list of "NOs", to keep you from racking up $50 fines): CapeCodPets.com (lots of good, general Cape canine info), InsideCapeCod.com, OnCape.com (listing of hours & fees by town) & Ptown.org (we only did a drive-by, but from the sounds of it, Provincetown leads the way in dog-friendly logistics).
Hey now - this Friday, the 22nd of June, is the 13th annual Take Your Dog to Work Day! To be perfectly honest, I'm of the mind that it takes a very special combination of the right kind of dog, the best kind of owner/handler, and an appropriate work environment in order for such a day to be a success (and I have seen even the most seemingly smooth scenarios deteriorate into barking frenzies in the ears of clients and urine stains on expensive conference room furniture...) - BUT, as a dog owner and principal of my own one-woman studio (where all species are welcome), I wouldn't go a day without O-Town on the clock with me, and if I've got 24 hours to officially celebrate how much he brings to my work-life, I'll TAKE IT.
I work out of a pretty darn amazing studio full of creative entrepreneurs in Somerville, MA called Fringe. Each member operates his/her/their own individual business, but the group environment is a treasure of inspiration, motivation, and shared knowledge. I count myself exceptionally fortunate to be a part of this unique community, and I'm not the only one who recognizes how special it is. Last winter, Fringe was featured in an article in the Improper Bostonian, all about collaborative working spaces... Naturally, when the magazine sent over a photographer, Oscar-dog stole the spotlight. The image above is by talented Improper photographer, Heather McGrath, and it ran in a Feb 2012 issue (you can read the article online). *Check out Oscar's ears... if you enjoy reading body language, you can see that even with that intense forward gaze - as he's put himself between mum and the stranger with the flashbulb - he is simultaneously keeping tabs on me, listening for a cue, out of that left ear. Such a good boy...
It should be noted, Oscar is also such a LAZY boy. How lazy? You be the judge - below is a selection of drawings illustrating a typical day's work for the Great Lazy Lump. This week's swealtering temps didn't help, but seriously, this dog could give a sloth a nap for it's money. (More sweetly sleeping Oscar drawings can be found here.)
If you're planning to take your pupper to the office for the first time this fine friday, you might want to read this handy list of tips from our pals over at the Bark, to make the experience a good one for all parties involved. And if you're like me, among the fortunate few who get to spend every day listening to a snoring 4-legged companion at their feet - perhaps an extra afternoon walk is in order... I guarantee it'll make the dog's day - and probably yours as well.