One day a couple of years ago, I was hiking with my own dog and a camera, and crossed paths with a dog walker running a pack of dogs. They carried on, barely even stopping to sniff my own dog and say hey; but one of them, a little puggle, stopped in front of me on a rocky pedestal, sat, and looked up at me. I snapped a picture, looking straight down at her, and off she fled.
After downloading the image, I saw that it was one of those that could make a fun painting. The sun was shining in from the east, the blue-black of her nose was deep, and her expression bespoke a certain joie de vivre. I zoomed and cropped and I saw that I was reflected in her eyes, which is a perfect illustration of the dog as our mirror. Must paint!
I never knew anything about her except for what I could gather from the photo. Her tag read MOLLY and that’s all I had. The phone number wasn’t legible from the angle of the tag. It’s not that I want to make a sale; but I just thought that her human(s) may want to know that their dog is being painted and would be displayed on a website or hanging in a show somewhere. If it was my dog, I would be thrilled to know.
Because painting dogs enables (relies on, even?) a certain connection with the subject, I have found that my feelings toward that subject have a huge influence on the way they are portrayed. I once tried to paint a dog that I really didn’t like very much. It was positively horrible and I had to ditch the effort. How would not having any information at all influence the portrayal?
Oh, I put down the underpainting and started working on shading and some detail. Then it was put aside while I started a commission or was inspired by another subject. During Somerville Open Studios, I worked on it at my workstation to allow visitors to see a portrait being painted, in a non-intimidating manner (they didn’t feel they had to talk to me if I was busy at work!). Then it was cast aside, again. This dog that I know nothing about is only half-painted and leaning against a wall while I work on other paintings. Hmm.
This week, my dog and I were hiking along a trail in a more remote part of the Fells and who comes bounding along but little Molly! Different dog walker, but I stopped her to ask if the puggle was Molly. We ended up talking for a long time on a beautiful trail on a beautiful day, and I was happy to have at least let someone know that there is a portrait of her half-finished out there in the world!
And now I look forward to finishing that!