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For three days in November 2012 I dog sat for my friend Nan. At the end of this post you’ll find a video flip through of the journal I completed in those three days. Before you watch the video, however, I wanted to share some background and some information about supplies I was using.
First I have to say that I have some really great friends who trust me to take care of their dogs. I’ve dog-sat for Nan before, in 2004 for 10 days, when she had 3 dogs. You can see my 2004 Kinni journal here.
Nan’s an AKC tracking judge and we’ve spent a lot of time sitting in cars with wet dogs, while tracks aged, following each other through the woods, and of course chatting—especially after tests. She’s known both of my dogs. I’ve known most of her dogs. Nan’s friendship has been one of the most important of my life. When I decided to do the dog portrait project I knew I would ask to sketch her dogs, I’m just glad she was going away so I could have them all to myself for a few days.
Rush, the older dog I was sitting with this time, was one of the dogs I sat for in 2004. Back then her littermate sister and her mother were also alive. (I met Rush when she was 3 days old and I got to go to doggie kindergarten with her). I had one heck of a time in 2004 sketching Rush’s “merle” coat. Even on toned paper with the liberal application of white gouache I frequently put the brushes down in frustration. Of course that was also one of the hottest summers on record so I didn’t have a lot of patience with my sketching. I spent a lot of time (when not walking the dogs) writing, and calling a couple of friends over and over to update them on the serial killer situation in the Wisconsin countryside (it’s a Woody Allen thing).
Returning to sketch in November I knew I would again be faced with that “merle” coat. I decided to use sheets of Stonehenge Kraft (brown) paper. I don’t like to make journals out of this paper because it cracks when you fold it with the grain, but I LOVE painting on it in gouache and simply sketching on it.
Of course I tested some other toned papers before going, but I knew I was going to use NeoColor II watersoluble wax pastels and other dry media and the Stonehenge Kraft just suited my goals.
Since I was traveling by car “weight” limitations didn’t apply to me. I decided to take whatever I felt I might need (because where I was there would be no art supply stores and I wouldn’t be running home for supplies).
This decision generated a lot of ridicule from my friend Bill—who took me to task for telling people to travel light, but then not doing so myself.
I bring it up here to point out that “consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds” (Ralph Waldo Emerson pointed that out), but more importantly to point out that this wasn’t a typical trip. This was a pre-painting trip. I was going with a particular goal in mind—to generate as large a volume of observed detail as possible in the short time I had. That detail would then later be used to paint portraits. While in Wisconsin I wanted to have any media I might want, if something wasn’t working, so that I could keep on going seamlessly. I did have a pretty firm sense in my mind that I would only be using the NeoColor IIs and some other pencils, but just in case I had my travel palette of gouache (and of course paper that would take that gouache was the foundation of the trip).
If I’d been going somewhere as a tourist my “travel light approach” would of course have been followed—I have no desire to carry a ton of supplies around with me as I weave my way through tourist sites.
(Something else that was in the box—lots of DVDs. I brought all the recent Miss Marple episodes and a whole bunch of “Monk” to watch as “background while I sketched, because I was going where there wasn’t cable TV, i.e., the wilderness.)
Left: Brush carrier containing the brushes I thought I might need as a fall back if my original plan didn’t work out. (I didn’t use a brush the entire weekend. These are mostly synthetic brushes. They are all brushes I use with gouache, and also with watersoluble stick-type media like the wax pastels.
Since I was going with a “back up” plan I packed a bunch of brushes. I am showing you the photo today of what I packed because then we can all enjoy a good laugh with Bill.
However, when collapsed, they really only take up about 6 x 9 inches of relatively flat space. By far the bulk of what I took was paper—in case I decided I wanted to use different types of paper instead of just one paper. (And it’s a good thing I did that because I ran out of my 9 x 12 inch sheets and was glad to have extra smaller squares of the same paper with which to finish the trip.)
Left: The tools I actually used (well mostly as you’ll see): A—Faber-Castell Pitt Artist’s Big Brush Pen filled with WHITE India Ink (it’s nice and opaque—I did NOT use this, but hey, I had it on hand); B— Faber-Castell Pitt Artist’s Calligraphy Pen (I used this the final day for most of my sketches); C and D— NeoColor II from Caran d’Ache (I didn’t use group C at all; group D I used all of); E— Stabilo Woody (formerly StabiloTone) white, used quite a lot; F— Derwent Drawing Pencils (Chocolate and Ivory Black are shown, I had two others with me that were more reddish); G— Koh-I-Nor Tricolor pencil (this is the only one I really enjoy using and is the only one I brought); H— Stabilo Alls (I brought an orange, white, black, red, and graphite). Click on the product name links in the caption to read a past post about them.
Note: I have a ton of posts on Stabilo Tones which I love using, even though they are defunct (there are so few colors in the Woody line that it isn’t worth pursuing). If you use the blog’s search engine to search for Stabilo Tone you’ll find a bunch that I hope you’ll enjoy. But to get you started, here’s a link to a post about two toucan sketches I did using them. I discuss how I like to work with them.
My rationale for using the Stabilo Alls was that they would dissolve if I used water with them. I ended up not using any water all weekend long, but it was still nice to have the possibility. (I arrived with plans to set up my painting station on Nan’s dining room table, and I brought a sheet of plastic to cover it. However, as soon as I was in the house I realized that I would be spending all my sketching time sitting on the stairs looking at the dogs on the main level of the house, or sitting in the living room watching them sleep on the floor or furniture. The table didn’t get used at all. And I didn’t want to spill paint water in someone’s house, so the brushes stayed in the box.)
Immediately upon arrival I took the dogs out for a bit of a romp. We quickly settled into a schedule: walks, feeding, sketching, walks, sketching, walks, sketching, walks, feeding, walks, sketching, pee break, and bed. Nan trains her dogs well so they are easy to care for. They have great personalities so they are fun to be with. And pretty much any dog I’ve ever known eventually will sit still for modeling if you walk him enough. So the weekend went great.
The weather on the weekend was a little odd, and I feel I should mention it just as a point of record. Friday and Saturday were coolish. Maybe in the 40s and 50s. (I didn’t have my computer to check the temperature.) Saturday was foggy and raining all day, but pretty warm, in the 50s. I never put on my heavy coat. Sunday started out foggy and a bit chilly and then jumped to 70 degrees and humid (of course) by noon.
Since it wasn’t raining on Sunday and I had a bicycling quota to attend to, I got my bike out of the car and hit the hilly country roads of Wisconsin in TIGHTS, because that’s what I’d brought—I never dreamed it would be warm enough to wear shorts after the weather we’d been having. Let’s just say it was an interesting ride. Ten minutes into the ride when a German Shepherd Dog charged out of his yard towards me and stopped dead in his tracks in the ditch I thought, “OH Shit, that’s why I never ride my bike in the country.” I flashed on bike rides with my college roommate in the hills of central Missouri—where we were frequently chased by very territorial dogs.
The German Shepherd Dog halted so abruptly that I’m convinced the angels of invisible fencing were on patrol. WIth a devil-may-care-attitude that I don’t typically sport when it means putting my legs at risk to large teeth I peddled on. Soon it became apparent that farmers were keeping their dogs inside on this day. (I could hear barking as I peddled past farm houses.) Miles down the road I actually saw a couple standing in their yard, keeping their dog (another large German Shepherd Dog) close at their side.
Something odd was going on. Or everyone got the memo that this city girl was coming to ride this Sunday.
Half way home I heard the first gun shots. I can be so dense. Nan had told me that a neighbor was going to come to her property and set up a hunting blind down by the river and that hunting season was starting. We (the dogs and I) were wearing reflective vests on every walk, just out of habit.
The farmers were obviously keeping their dogs close to home so they wouldn’t be shot. I am one lucky you know what.
I won’t be going out riding in the country anytime soon. I enjoy the pleasures of the bike trails and paths in the Cities. But I will say that the hills near the Kinnickinnick River are steep and wild and with a bit of peddling and a 30 mph wind at your back (didn’t I mention that part? Coming home was a lot easier!) you can reach some monster speeds even on the steep uphill climbs.
The dogs and I had a couple more walks and some more sketching after my midday ride. By the time Nan got home around 9:40 p.m. it was cold and it had started to snow. We talked about her trip for a little bit and then I took off for home. There wasn’t much accumulation of snow, but it was blowing directly at me as I drove, hindering visibility, creating the impression of what it must be line when you hit warp speed on the Enterprise bridge. I saw one deer at the edge of a field (who decided not to leap). I arrived home around midnight without incident.
That’s what I have to say about the trip. You can watch the video flip through of my sketching journal below. If “Three Days in Wisconsin” doesn’t play embedded you can watch it here on YouTube. I hope all your trips are fun, productive, and filled only with friendly dogs!
Note: The video shows the case I made to contain my loose pages. You can see instructions for making this envelope type case with “boxy” sides here. I know I mention the link in the video, but I thought it might be easier for you to just click on it here when you’re ready.