“No Children No Pets”

just joking

That was the name of one of my favorite childhood books. I can still see the pale pastel colors on the cover, and it’s probably why I moved to the South 55 years ago.

The story was cute. The family moved to a funky apartment building on a beach in south Florida, back in the day when there were such things. And the rules were “no children no pets” so complications ensued. I don’t remember much more of the story than that, except that it turned out alright in the end. But I remember the idea of only putting shoes on for school. Racing kites along the beach. The hot sand between my toes — because I read that book so many times, I felt like I was there.

When I first started painting, people would ask me to paint portraits, of their children or their pets. And that was my answer. “No children no pets.”

I eventually ended up painting a lot of wild animals, but I still turned down pet portraits. I know how people are about their animals, and I figured I’d not be about to live up to their expectations. (Commissions in general are always tricky.)

As for people, I’ve just never been very good at them. There are artists who paint portraits who are phenomenal. You see all the sparkle of the child’s personality, perfect skin colors, expert fine lines of hair and lashes. That was not me. My paintings were always more abstract that realistic, even if the subject matter was identifiable.

And there are people who paint animals the same way. I worked with a young woman one day at the gallery in Beaufort who painted dogs so beautifully, I was in awe. She was in high school and “shadowing” a professional for a day. I wasn’t sure who was teaching who, but this was the real kicker: she started with the nose.

She taped the dog photo on the top of the canvas and started painting the nose leather in the middle of the blank canvas. It was the darndest thing I’d ever seen, but she “built” the dog around the nose, and got the proportions just right!

I have since painted a number of dogs in different paintings, usually in silhouette from behind, with or without a human companion (also in silhouette.) They were very popular. Something about someone sitting on a dock next to their dog, looking off into the distance, is comforting, I think.

I haven’t painted much since I retired in late 2019. During the first year of the medical tyranny, I started painting dinosaurs for my grandson. It became therapy for me and a way to transition from “what I’d always done,” to what I could do. After all, if I wasn’t doing shows and creating cities and wildlife fantasies, so I was more open to new things.

So, I painted a hopeful sunrise for my husband’s oldest daughter and her family a year ago Christmas. And this year I did the iconic river shack hidden in the swamp moss that is my husband’s fantasy hideout. In doing that and talking about it with the neighbors on whose boat he spotted it — I found out they felt the same way about it. We love the idea of being away from it all, accessible only by boat. I think it’s a Lowcountry thing that it doesn’t have to be a fancy tropical island; a swampy shack is just as good!

With dinosaurs and other fantasies under my belt, when my husband brought a couple young men around to the front porch to talk to me about painting their dogs, I wasn’t nearly as reluctant as I would have been years ago. The fact that he’d already told them I didn’t do people, helped too.

These guys are working in our area and storing some equipment on our property and they’ve had some far-ranging conversations with John every now and again. They both have dogs they love, and it was the week before Christmas. One young man was eager to get it for his “old lady,” for Christmas. I knew that would be impossible, but we talked and I had a smallish canvas I could start on, so he texted me photos of his pride and joy, a Boykin, the state dog.

The other young man really wanted his daughter in it, I could tell. His dog is an award-winning American Bully, and after showing me a couple photos of him with his ribbons, he showed me his favorite: the little girl kneeling down with her face against the dog and her arm over his back. It was charming, so I had to try.

That was how it started, and this is what happened.

I finished the Boykin the week after Christmas and it was a hit. I struggled a bit with the “bully” and the adorable little girl, but eventually found what I felt was an expression of her, as much as anything. He liked it, too. I think he was surprised.

But here’s what surprised me: painting those dogs and that charming little girl made me smile every day. I couldn’t wait to get to work on them, because every time I studied the photos, I just smiled and even chuckled out loud. They made my day, every day.

So, now, I can no longer say “no children no pets” — because children and pets bring their own rewards. Even just painting them.

It turns out I wasn’t the only person to cherish the book, “No Children No Pets” LINK The reviews on Amazon sound like my own. And some of the used versions are almost $100!

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