Stray Dog Arts

Chloe and Scout :: shine on, sweet love

12"x 16" :: Oil on Canvas

It's been such a great weekend...and one of the best parts was delivering two paintings of two very loved Rhodesian Ridgebacks, Scout and Chloe, to a very wonderful St. Paul couple, Julie and Tomkin. Gosh, where to begin?

Well, how about I begin by saying that I love Chloe. I're probably not even taking me seriously anymore when I say that, but it's true! Sometimes I wonder what I'm going to do with all this love. It feels heavy and expansive and there are moments, like now, that I feel like my heart might burst! Woe is me; life is tough when one of your biggest problems is an over-abundance of love. I think my heart gained a 1,000 pounds this week.

Chloe and I
photo credits: Tomkin Coleman

Chloe is the biggest, calmest, most beautiful sweetheart in the world. Not to mention, she's also a great communicator--without speaking a word. I think that's one of the things that I love most about her (along with her soulful eyes, gentle energy and gorgeous physique!). Chloe speaks with her eyes--an entire language-- expressed by the subtlest of movements, and often using her tail to accentuate varying levels of happiness. Just a slight movement in the end half of her tail, the tiniest lifting of an eyebrow--it's all it takes--movements that say everything. And the best part? Her parents, Julie and Tomkin, understand her as perfectly as she understands them. Their relationship with each other is a beautiful thing to behold.

I could have hung out in the peacefulness of their glowing home all day long. And when I say it glows, I mean it. Sure, it was an exceptionally sunny day, but something about their place seems to shine from the inside out. I believe that dogs, like people, are filled with such amazing potential. I love seeing how Julie and Tomkin help Chloe to shine so brightly--and I also loved witnessing how brightly Chloe makes Julie and Tomkin shine!

me (left) and Julie (right)
Happy (belated) Birthday, Julie!
photo credits: Tomkin Coleman

It felt so good to see Chloe again, especially after painting her portrait. I gently pet her head and neck as we all sat around chatting. Of course I fell in love with her even more as I watched her eyes get heavier and heavier until she nearly fell asleep. Bliss. I wished I could take her home with me...but this is one lucky dog that most certainly doesn't need a new home.

Chloe and Scout's portraits were commissioned as a 40th birthday present from Tomkin to Julie. Julie has a business called Before Your Wedding Day offering premarital counseling and education classes; her husband, Tomkin, is a minister. I only wish he could have officiated my husband and my wedding--but that was before we knew him! I've really grown to like both Julie and Tomkin in the process of working with them. They are so beautifully made for each other! It has been an absolute pleasure getting to know them. Not to mention, I love birthdays! I especially love getting to be a part of such a special gift. It just never loses its luster for me! Julie's actual birthday was way back in October, but they waited oh-so-patiently for the paintings of their babes to be completed.

Although it was great to finally get to see Chloe again, I never got the honor of meeting Scout. His portrait was done in memory. Julie and Tomkin chose the perfect photo for me to work from. Even though I never met Scout, through painting, I feel like I got to know him just as if I had met him in person. Scout makes me feel happy. With that smile and that crazy bright red fire chief hat, how could a person not feel happy in such a presence?! ha!

16"x 12" :: Oil on Canvas

While in my studio, every time I looked at his painting, I couldn't help but break into a great big smile--and his portrait had the same effect on my husband. Scout's smile is infectious and, although he might not be here in body, his spirit is alive and well.

I enjoyed every single second of painting both Chloe and Scout's portrait. After a hugely busy spring, summer, fall, holiday season and, well, past two years, I took a two week break after the holidays to regroup, refuel and take care of a few behind-the-scenes details that had been crying for my attention for months. Taking that break was exactly what I needed. In returning to my studio to work on Chloe and Scout's paintings, I felt myself return to myself. With the turn of 2010, I felt something inside of me shift. This year I've decided to take better care of myself--and, strangely, painting Scout and Chloe has been part of a much larger learning process.

In 2008, Stray Dog Arts took off with lightening speed and has only gained momentum since. I have loved every bit of it. And yet I am beginning to understand how important it is to pay attention to my own internal rhythms. I am, after all, only human. These days, no matter how busy things might be on the outside, I've decided to take it a bit slower and easier on the inside. It's a state of mind, really--but it requires some self-care to make it work. I practiced this new way of thinking and being as I painted Chloe and Scout's portraits--and this has been the most healing month I've had in a long, long, long time.

Sometimes it amazes me how the dogs I paint become so deeply ingrained into my own personal history. It amazes me how important each dog is and how much I'm changed in the course of painting their portrait. Chloe and Scout are two beautiful beings that have permanently altered the molecules in my brain and heart--and, for that, I am thankful. I needed a bit of a rearranging. ;)

My wish for Julie is that she will have the most incredible year she's ever experienced. I am wishing that for us all.

with peace and dog love,

Sadie, a life-size work of art.

This week I delivered a painting of a dog named Sadie, the loving companion of Christine. Sadie is also the Ambassador of Greetings and Queen of Shepherd Data Services in downtown Minneapolis--or, at least, I think she's deserving of such titles! Her portrait was commissioned as a gift from the employees of Shepherd Data for their boss, Christine.

My thought is this: either A) Christine is one incredible boss or B) Christine has some very incredible employees! I have a feeling, though, that it is an equal combination of both! Whatever the case, it is always a huge pleasure to play a part in such a meaningful gift.

Even though Sadie is a Minneapolis dog, I never actually got a chance to meet her before painting her portrait. Often, when a dog lives out of state or has passed on, I only get to know them through the act of painting. If you're local, more times than not, I jump at the opportunity to meet the four-legged babe I'm being commissioned to paint--but, for some reason, Sadie and I never got to meet in person beforehand.

It's pretty cool, actually. Through painting, I learned a long time ago that if you spend enough time looking at something, you will begin to understand it in nearly impossible ways. It takes me a long time to create a portrait. Unlike some artists, I'm not a quick painter.

The work I do comes from my heart and, in order for that to happen, patience is required. I'm also a bit obsessive when it comes to meeting my vision. I paint with a variety of brush sizes--some are large, but most are very small. No matter how long I walk this path of an artist, it never seems to get any easier. Sure, I've come to understand the paint, colors, light, shadows, and physique of animals in a much deeper way...but the stretch from one detail to the next has always been a hurdle that I find myself needing to jump over and over and over again. I think this is a big reason why, even after more than two years of painting dogs, I feel like I've only reached the tip of the inspiration iceberg. But I digress...

One thing that I really love about painting locally is getting the chance to deliver the finished piece in person. Delivering Sadie's portrait was especially incredible because I finally got to meet her in the flesh and fur!! It's kind of hard to describe how incredible it felt when she came walking out from her office to greet me. I'm not kidding: I nearly burst into tears!

Sadie is unique--through and through. But if only I could describe what it feels like to meet a being whom you feel like you already know! It's a pretty amazing feeling. No, it's a REALLY amazing feeling!

The entire staff circled around to watch the unveiling of the painting. Bubble wrap removed, everyone clapped and Sadie confidently added her chorus-like opinion. ha! Talk about feeling honored! As you might imagine, Sadie's howling ovations were an extra great perk!

Sadie is an incredible dog. And Shepherd Data is an incredible group of individuals working for an incredible woman. Meeting Sadie after painting her portrait felt pretty dang amazing. She is as beautiful as I imagined. Her eyes are as stunning as I attempted to capture with paint.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: I feel exceptionally blessed to be doing the work I do. Every dog comes with such a unique personality and spirit.

And Sadie is definitely no exception!

Good Dog!
Sadie, life-size portrait of the world's coolest office dog
36"x 18"
Oil on Canvas

Upon waking...

The result of last night's magic-in-the-making.

from the studio to the house at night...

Nearly 1 am and I've just finished a painting. Tight shoulders, heavy eyes, a mug full of "Tranquil Dream" tea sitting to my left. I kinda like working late at night, although my body does not agree. Upon leaving the studio, the first thing I do is look for coyotes standing in the shadows. I've yet to meet one eye to eye, but they are alive and well, living in the woods just beyond our house. I hear them often, but not so much since the deep snows came. Tonight, rather than coyotes, I was surprised by a thick mist that filled the air above me, like a plume. It came from out of nowhere and, immidiately clung thickly to the branches and pine needles of the trees. In the two minutes that it takes me to walk from my studio to the house, it happened. Instantaneous.

I do not doubt that this strange night magic is the result of so much snow, another warm day and then a quick drop in temperature. Even so, explanations never seem to detract from the unexpected phenomenon of the night.

Lately, it seems that being outside at night is when my exterior environment feels most unexplored. In the process, my interior environment takes on a much desired newness. I feel a deep need to travel, but without the time to do so, I'm beginning to feel a bit cagey. At night though, everything feels different. It feels adventurous, a delicious sense of imagined danger in the winter air and dark shadows. The crystalline edges of things, like the space around the stars, feels sharper. The crunch of snow is more audible, as though one can hear the breaking of each tiny crystal. Being outside in the cold stillness of night draws out another side of things--revealing unexpected beauties, little mysteries--the invisible is made visible. Air turns to ice. In the walk between studio and home, I feel my thoughts sneak out of my skull for just a moment... and it is refreshing.

I'm greeted at the door of the house by sleepy dogs, warmth and a hungry cat. In two minutes, worlds apart.


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