Why Draw Dogs?

December 14, 2010

The full post contains some of my thoughts about why drawing dogs is important.

Above: recent sketch of a Chihuahua mix, on Arches Text Wove, now Velin Arches, in the current 6 x 8 inch journal, partial page. With Staedtler Pigment Liner.

Recently a reader wrote in and commented about my Daily Dots. She mentioned her own dog was dying (hence my opening statement in my response below). My comment back to her made me think about why it is so important to me to draw dogs and I wanted to share it outside the comments section. The following note with some clarified punctuation and subject identification, along with a little bold red type for emphasis, explains why I find drawing dogs so important—whether it's your cherished companion of many years, or the happy-go-lucky neighborhood tourist who sees you as an easy mark for a biscuit.

I believe firmly that drawing brings you into your life and surroundings and gives you insights and observations that enable you participate more fully in the world. No drawing does this better than the drawing of dogs. Those early cave dwelling artists in Lascaux, France—yep, all dog owners! I'm convinced.

Carol, I'm truly sorry that you've had such dreadful news. I hope you can spend many moments sitting, sketching, and breathing with your pup.

One thing I know about sketching a dying dog is that you realize (in the most positive of ways) that we all are dying.

The Daily Dots, which began when [my dog Dottie] was healthy—and which I was motivated to start in part because of a heavy dose of melancholic nostalgia brought on by the death of her aunt—were my effort to focus on and capture Dottie; a guard, so to speak, against more loss of the type I'd just experienced. But such a guard is impossible in life.

By the end of the process [the end of the Daily Dots, which ended with Dottie's death] I realized, as I said, that what I'd been drawing all along was a dying dog, because we are all dying, we are all changing, sometimes infinitesimally.

The noticing of those changes over time made me aware of several things—the health of my dog at any given moment, and the great, good gift dogs bring—living in the present moment.

The practice also freed me from any excessive or compulsive concern for her, any fretting. And ultimately, when it was time to let Dottie go, it was possible for me to cope with the inevitability as simply a transition, with no regrets.

I think that often we live our lives too fast, too quickly, too jammed with stuff, with events. Even though I spent 4 hours or more a day with Dottie (and Emma when she was alive) on dog-focused activities such as tracking and walking and other training, it was easy to let the rest of life take me away from the pack. We do have to make a living; we do have to interact with the humans in the pack; and intense focus on one part of the pack isn't healthy for any part of it.

Drawing always brought me back to the core of the moment, the breath which feeds our life. I hope you have a long time yet to tap into that with your pup, because it does one more powerful thing, it releases us from fear, regret, and ultimately from grief.

Draw away.

    • debbiejl
    • December 14, 2010

    I havent been drawing lately and need to get back to it. BUT, I LOVE drawing my dog!! We rescued him two years ago (so he’s about three yrs now). I love this dog something crazy and just find drawing him to be great. Thanks for this post giving me permission to fill up a whole journal on him! 😀

    Happy Holidays to you Roz!

  1. Reply

    Debbiejl: you have my permission, my encouragement, indeed my insistent request, that you not only fill out one volume but many with this dog you love so much. Just draw him at every moment that you can. Even when you are tired and don’t think you can, even if you have a cold, etc. Your love of him and your love of drawing him is the best thing you can do for your drawing habit. You’ll find yourself drawing other things as well and you’ll keep coming back to drawing him. It’s the best way to kickstart a drawing habit.

    Have a fantastic new year filled with sketches of your pup!

  2. Reply

    Holly, I remember a note from you about this Holly, and I’m glad that the Daily Dots helped spur you on. I’m glad that you could focus intense bits of attention on Baxter before he died. Words are great, but sometimes there aren’t any words. I really believe a few lines on the paper can start healing our hearts.

    • Carolyn
    • December 14, 2010

    I heartily agree! My dog died 5 months ago, and this post inspired me to pull out and scan a handful of sketches I’d done of her over the years. She would accompany me on walks in which I’d stop to sketch the scenery. Eventually she’d settle down and wait patiently nearby, and I couldn’t resist sketching her, too. These sketches take me back to those moments with her.

    I did long term hospice volunteering for a woman with Alzheimer’s and would sketch her when she’d fall asleep in her chair. Occasionally I’d find myself in a room of seniors sleeping in their chairs, and they all made delightful sketching models, their faces so uniquely lined (and they could really hold a pose!). In this part of the nursing home most of the patients were non-verbal, but they became familiar to me and I to them. Having sketches of these people who are now gone is heart warming, and the process of sketching helped me to become comfortable with the nursing home setting. I recommend it.

  3. Reply

    Wow, Roz!!! I had not seen your response to me until my friend Betty Wilkins told me to check out your blog (something I do almost daily but hadn’t done before work today). Thank you so much for your well thought out response. It is exactly what we’ve been thinking about Mia—that we’ll enjoy her every day that we have her. Currently she is having a real return to her Mia-ness thanks to prednisone. We don’t know how long it will last, but it’s there today. And we will enjoy it and, if she slows down, sketch her, too!

    Thank you so much—Carol C.

  4. Reply

    Carolyn, I’m so sorry for your recent loss. I’m glad you had such a great relationship with your dog. I loved hearing about your hospice experience. Do you know the work of Cindy Woods? You can see some of her portraits made at the home she resided in.

  5. Reply

    Carol, well I’m glad Betty gave you a heads up. I thought comments were supposed to go to the person commenting as well as posting at the end of the piece, but I have no real idea about any of that, so I’m glad it reached you finally.

    And I’m glad you’re having some time with Mia. It teaches us to savor every second of everything.

    • Carolyn
    • December 17, 2010

    Cindy Woods! I came across her work a couple of years ago and love her work. Thanks for the reminder and the link Roz. Looks like her blog is being carried on:
    CW flickr to explore:

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