During my “break” from art, I didn’t keep my skills sharp.  So when I finally found the time and the inspiration to pick up my pencils again, I felt like I was starting from the beginning.   My confidence in what I was able to create was gone now, and honestly I forgot where I even left off.   But my desire to keep trying and keep learning was still in me, so I picked up my pencil anyway and just started to draw what I saw.  With each page of my sketchbook, it slowly started coming back to me.  

It was a slow process.  Although I found some time here and there, it still wasn’t consistent.   As I got back into the swing of things, I would get distracted with other priorities and leave it behind for months at a time.  Each time I picked my pencil back up, I started from the beginning, again.   I decided I needed to mix things up to get my creative juices flowing again.  A new start should freshen things up!    

I was always interested in charcoals but never worked with them.  I love the softness paired with drama that it delivers.   So off I went to the art supply store and committed to learning how to use them.   There was no better subject than my very own dog, who just so happens to be black and white all over!  This was the beginning of dog portraits… 

With each dog, I got better and better. As I got more comfortable, I wanted to start adding a little color. So I dug out my old pastels in the garage, and incorporated those into my drawings as well. I love using this medium! It’s so much easier to manipulate on the page. Using my fingers to blend and mix colors is easier to me than navigating a paint brush! Being a new medium for me, I had (have) a lot to explore with it. I was afraid if I took too long of a break again in between subjects, I would lose all my progress! So I kept finding dogs to draw to keep this fresh.

One day while my sister was over for a visit, she found out that one of her friends at work had lost their dog. My sister would dogsit her whenever they were out of town, so the loss was close to her too. She showed me pictures of the charismatic pup and described all the quirky expressions that made her so lovable. I suggested she let me draw the dog for her friend as a memorial.

She was a challenge for me. Although I had drawn several dogs by this pont, this was my first boxer. The rolled skin, bulging eyes and slouchy mouth were difficult to get right. Even the texture of her fur was different than the other dogs I had drawn. What I learned with this one, was that it’s best sometimes to stop and start over. I really wanted to get it right, and capture her expression. It’s a tough thing to “throw away” work, but if I learned anything by this point it was that doing more of the same only made me better. So I trusted the process and by the third rendering, I finally figured her out. My sister loved it and couldn’t wait to present it to her friend!

I was nervous. What if they didn’t like it? What if they don’t think it looks like their precious Kona?

But the reaction I received was more than I expected. My sister sent me their message and it brought me to tears. “Your gift has truly brought a special touch to our home… She captured Kona’s spirit and energy… We love being able to see Kona. Everything about the piece is incredible…she truly captured Kona in a way that always brings a smile when I look at the portrait.” They sent a photo of it hanging on the wall, above the bed where their other dog sleeps. My heart was so full of emotion. I couldn’t have been happier to do this for them.

Kona Girl (2018)

In that moment, I knew –
This is why we have art.
To touch someone’s heart.
To memorialize a spirit. 
To capture the most joyous memories.

As I write this, I’m reminded of another dog drawing I did during my early self-teaching years. As I drew portraits of my co-workers children, one friend at work asked me to draw her dog. Five or more years had passed since I last saw her, but when I ran into her at the grocery store we still recognized each other and hugged hello. She immediately brought up the drawing of her dog. She told me how the dog had passed away recently and they hung her drawing on the mantel alongside her ashes, as a memorial. She loved the drawing back when I first made it, but now it was even more special to her. With tears in her eyes, she thanked me again for the portrait that became so important to her family.

A photocopy of my first dog drawing (1999)

How I didn’t acknowledge the importance of art back then, I don’t know. But another clear example of how meaningful art can be to someone else. I’m deeply gratified to be able to create a treasure for someone that will bring them joy for years.


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