For the Love of a Dog

A study in gouache.

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On March 17, St. Patrick's Day happens to be a day that I love, I had to say goodbye to my pup. Buddy Arrow Steward or Buddimus, as he was affectionately called, came into our life when a cyclist friend rescued him and posted a photo on Facebook saying this sweet dog was sure to be somebody's "buddy." Since I was the one that went to pick him up and bring him into our home, he became my shadow. Always wanting to be as close to me as possible. So when he got really sick really quickly and we had to go as a family to euthanize him, it was heartbreaking. Hands down the hardest thing we've done together as a family.

In the days following, we found it healing to create a shared Google photo album and contribute all of our personal photos with Buddy to it. So many memories from the past 7 years came flooding back.

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Not long after I started studio time with Reian Williams. I need this regularly scheduled time to help me take the leap to start working on gouache painting, a goal I had for myself in 2019. As I was trying to decide what project to work on first, Buddy came to mind, and so I picked a favorite photo from our shared album and sketched him out to take with me to the first studio time.

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I took a couple Maira Kalman books with me to studio time. She is my favorite gouache artist, and I wanted to show her work to Reian so he could help me understand what I love about her, and how I can attempt similar techniques in my painting. I find have samples of art like this is a HUGE help when seeking out advice from a more seasoned artist. I have a LONG way to go, but the couple hours a week for 5 weeks I got with Reian opened my eyes to my use of colour and my need to loosen up my brush strokes. Coming from a drawing background and being a detailed person, I am trying to learn how to be loose when it comes to paint. One big takeaway was switching to a substantially bigger brush.

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I decided to do Buddy's portrait with a similar look to Maira Kalman's cover of the Strunk and White Elements of Style book (pictured to the far left above.) This is my result. I framed it and added it to a display of art by my daughter Zoe that is in our living room.

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This process of painting him wasn't emotional for me, but it was very healing. It is an honoring of what he meant to me in a way that doesn't need words or discussion or tears or explanation. Just time. Precious time. And strokes of powerful colour one section at a time. Studying his values (lights and darks) and hues (colours) felt like putting together a puzzle and was a very healthy way of truly seeing and sitting with this creature that I love.

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I believe my willingness to learn and grow and risk failure and accept that vulnerable feeling of being new at something and facing a blank canvas (by the way, this is what art always is) - to take that on is, in and of itself, an active expression of how much I love someone and something.

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I also feel that my time with Buddy while he was alive showed my love for him, day in and day out, and so in the end I didn't have more to add to that. This painting was just a summing up and a celebration of all that we had already experienced together in this life.

4 thoughts on “For the Love of a Dog”

  1. Wow Mandy, this gouache portrait is really impressive. I especially love the use of some red on his ears and above his eyes to tie in with the scarf (Santa hat?) around his neck.

    1. Thank you. It feels like paying attention to colour is whole different set of skills entirely from just rendering the subject as I see it. A lot was going on here. I’m just glad something I love came through to the other side!

    1. Amazing how the broad strokes apply to how I live as well as how I paint. It’s growth and courage all across the board.

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