Sometimes, I sit down to paint, overwhelmed by the urge to paint, but nothing comes to mind. I end up listlessly browsing the 'watercolor' and 'gouache' tags on Tumblr and Google image search... most of what turns up is idyllic flower portraits or gardens or puppies or something else cute and wholesome.
I have a natural aversion to that kind of kitschy cuteness. The more I browsed for "inspiration", the more I furrowed my brows and frowned.
"Man, this stuff is boring."
And then it hits me that I still have some skinned coyote feet in the freezer and bam, inspiration hits me like a truck.
(You'll get the story of why I have coyote feet in my freezer... later.)
It was to be my first really serious gouache piece in a while. The last full-on painting I did was in my oil painting class a year ago, and because oils are made of condensed demon's blood and are hellbent on making your life miserable, the idea of doing another painting (until now) kind of rubbed me the wrong way. And by 'rubbed me the wrong way' I mean 'plagued me with fever dreams of the Reflective Objects and Elaborate Geometric Patterns Still Life.'
But, today, gouache was calling my name. And my blank pieces of aquabord were feeling lonely. One thing led to another.
Adding color to the underpainting was thrilling and frightening. As an artist, paint thrills you, and no one else gets why washes of ochre and burnt sienna get your heart racing.
The final product: Wholesome, endearing, warm-fuzzy feelings. Wook at the widdle paaawws!
Being an animal-person before I am a person-person, I always notice animal bus patrons when I board. Sometimes it’s a homeless-looking person pushing an altered baby carriage full of scruffy Yorkshire terrier/Chihuahua/miniature pinscher mixes. Sometimes it’s just an apathetic-looking lab or medium-sized mutt sitting at their owner’s feet. The people who bring dogs on the bus are secretly my friends, because they probably can’t afford a car, but they make time for their dog/s. I always think the dog people are pretty cool, not only for having socialized dogs, but for having the guts to not feel reserved or hesitant for bringing a dog on a bus. “Why shouldn’t I bring my friend on the bus?” They strike me as reasonable people.
Except for this one guy.
He had a mop of blondish reddish hair stuffed under a black beanie hat and a two-sizes-too-large black raincoat. His dog was about a twelve-pound poodle mix, black and quiet. The man sat quietly, though somewhat coldly, in his seat. I passed him and took a seat towards the middle on the parallel window seats, as opposed to the perpendicular seats the dog man was sitting in. He was only about a row of seats away from the other set of parallel seating, reserved for elderly and wheelchair folks. This is important—bear with me.
Everything’s going well on this bus ride. I ate breakfast that day, so I was content, listening to my iPod and people watching. I like to see who comes on the bus, because let’s be honest, they’re the most interesting people at any given moment. The same was even more true that day, because a man heavy with coats came in, hobbling, hunched over and scruffy. But he had a nice face, the face of someone sound in mind and expressive in opinion. That’s just the feeling I got from him. His hunch, I realized as he turned around to plunk into one of the parallel seats in front, was smooth and black and panther-like. It was a black cat, yellow eyes, clinging to his shoulders and backpack. Looking like that was a perfectly reasonable place for a cat to be.
I smiled, and smiled, and smiled. I secretly hoped he’d see me smiling so he’d know I approve of his shoulder-cat ways. But I was kind of far down the bus, so he didn’t see me. He hesitated before sitting, and the cat caught on to his signal. It leapt down expertly onto the bus window ledge. I noticed then that the cat was attached to the guy’s jacket with a thin red leash. A woman in the row in front of dog man gave a small surprised, “Oh!” when the cat hit the windowsill. The man acted as if nothing had happened, sat down, and retrieved his cat from the windowsill and set it onto his lap.
A few bus stops passed. The dog man was leaned forward and had the cat man’s attention. I couldn’t see the dog man’s face, but the cat man’s face was becoming more and more furrowed. The conversation wasn’t pleasant—it was clearly not about the cat’s name, how long they had been a shoulder-cat, or anything of the ilk.
And honestly, there are gaps in my memory. But to my credit, it all happened so fast.
A black man with bad teeth stood up and moved between the cat man and dog man, he was intervening. At some point, their conversation had turned foul. The intervener had wide, challenging eyes and a commanding posture.
I paused my music.
“No, man, shut the fuck up. Shut the fuck up! I don’t care what you have to say!” The intervener’s words powered over the rumble of the bus.
The thinner voice of the dog man replied in similar speech. Thoughtless cursing, empty threats. At least I hoped they were empty. I and many other bus patrons watched with quaking eyes. So far, the cat man and the dog man were still seated, the intervener was the only one standing.
My guess so far was that the dog man said some rude things to the cat man, who had every right to have his pet on the bus as the dog man, and the cat man hadn’t taken it well. Words exchanged, intervener didn’t like where it was going, and got involved.
But it didn’t simmer down. The intervener’s fire fueled them.
The cat man was sending his comebacks like ammunition, the dog man now escalating to gestures and threats. Threats like, “Mess you up so bad,” were tossed around. At this point, still empty. I prayed that they stayed empty. My heart felt like it was in my throat beating overtime. The dog man called the intervener something that I didn’t catch, but it sure caught him.
“I’m a what? I’m a what?!” He repeated, staring at the dog man, daring him. It had become personal. The dog man stuck a nerve. The N-word, maybe? Something else? It wouldn’t surprise me if that was the case…
The dog man stood up and jerked in what looked like a punch, but it was false—no impact. I thought about the little dog snug under his other arm. At this point, the cat man had the police on the phone. His even voice lit up the bus, “Yeah I’d like to make a complaint please. About a guy on—on the 150 bus route, yeah. He’s disturbing everyone and getting violent—yes. Reddish hair. Black poodle dog. He’s—yes. Yes. He’s getting off now. He’s at the stop by… [Street name.] Yeah.”
The cat man stood up, collected his cat, and bustled around as if his anger urged him to fight. He held the phone away from his face and held his other arm close to him, as close as he could get to crossed arms, looking victimized. The cat just hung on as usual.
A little bit before the dog man left, a crisp-looking businessman had sat across from me and glanced at the situation and said with an eye-roll, “Drama.”
Throughout the whole event, the cat and dog remained composed and quiet. Even when their owners stood up, threw fake punches, or had a stranger yelling over them. They were more socialized than their owners, and they weren’t even the same species.
And people ask me why I’m more of an animal-person than person-person.
"Very Quietly in a Large Empty Room" Painter X, 8"x10"
Because everyone loves snarly wolves! Snarly, yawning, and creepily grinning wolves.
My new year's resolution was to get better at drawing. Grand schemes of attending live model drawings and doing gestures every day slowly faded to, "I'll look on Deviant Art for photos of cool wolves." Hey, man. It's a starting point. I'm working up to it. Your hands and artistic brain are muscles. You have to get back into shape before you can run a marathon. And by 'run a marathon' I mean 'do really kick-ass fantasy paintings like you dream about'. Same difference.
Just two works I've done recently.
Top: A monotype print depicting what my first day of a new university felt like. Interpret as you will! (And no, it did not involve massive, writhing piles of angry wolf-parts. That part is metaphorical. Or is it...?!)
Bottom: A ball python... puppy. I took a bunch of reference photos of ball pythons lately and figured I'd use them for something. They have the cutest little faces. Or horrifying, depending on your view of snakes. I think they have puppy faces, but I also think that jumping spiders do, too. So there's that.
Anyway, the drawing-bug has bitten me again, so maybe some new drawings will head this way. Maybe they'll be something not dog-related.
Funny joke, Maranda, haha...
A finless-variety 'Pembroke welsh pearlscale' goldfish dog.
Goldfish Dogs-- Genetic Abomination, or 'The Next Big Thing' in Exotic Animal Husbandry?
by Maranda Cromwell
Since humans emerged as an evolutionary powerhouse, harnessing agriculture and claiming ownership over the lands, they have also taken control of animals. I'm talking about domestication.
With the power we hold over the animals, we can control their fates. From wolves, we have made chihuahuas and maltese. From small wild cats in Africa we have created the common house cat. Fancy goldfish are no exception-- from the sleek and noble koi's ancestors to the 'fancy' goldfish: round and wiggly fish kept by aquarium enthusiasts all around the world.
But humans did not stop at wolves and koi.
In a frenzied quest to create the perfect companion, breeders and geneticists working together have made a breakthrough in the field of domesticated companion animals. The rationalization is clear: combine the loyalty and adaptability of dogs with the simple-mindedness and somehow cute appearance of fancy goldfish. At the time, perhaps that seemed like a good idea. Like the fabled story of the Two Headed Cat, scientists quickly discovered their folly as the first goldfish dog was created.
With all the enthusiasm of a puppy and the relative brainlessness of a goldfish, the goldfish dogs proved to be many things, none of which was the scientists and breeders's idea of a good companion. Scatterbrained, moronic, clumsy on land and water, the goldfish dogs had one thing going for them: they were cute in the same way a two-legged-dog is cute. Pathetic, but well-wishing. In training classes and standard obedience courses, they only barely passed: just for trying their best.
Most fancy goldfish owners will tell you that goldfish do not have a 3-second memory, and that their memory is closer to 3 months instead. And as we all know, dogs are among the smartest animals on the planet, the smartest of which can remember vocabularies up to 2,000 individual words and are the only animals to understand the concept of pointing-- looking at the object being pointed at instead of the hand. Sadly, goldfish dogs did not receive the long end of the stick. They remain famous for being "the most unintelligent animal ever to be created by man." And that includes chickens and guinea fowl, which are rated 2nd and 3rd on the same chart.
But despite their lack of redeeming qualities in the mental faculty department, they somehow remain popular as household pets. The scientists and breeders are not sure how their popularity came about-- the operation was supposed to be top secret, yet somehow strains of several breeds were loosed upon the exotic pet trading networks. The smooth-coat shubunkin terriers, the Pembroke welsh pearlscales, and the black moor chow chows are among the most popular, though mutts are gaining quite a following as well. Thankfully, the goldfish dogs are considered too simple to experience advanced emotions such as fear or aggression, and generally have easygoing and aloof personalities.
As of yet, there are no ongoing attempts to reclaim the "top secret" goldfish dog population, because as the head developer claimed, "We really just don't care anymore."
"My goldfish dog is the best animal I've ever had the pleasure of keeping," one owner told us excitedly. I interviewed her at the 2nd annual Goldfish Dog Fanciers Association Meeting, which consisted of a grand total of 13 individuals, all claiming ownership of one or even several of the strange creatures. "When she borks at me at the door when I come home from work, my heart just melts. I love Bella so much," the owner went on to say. As I came to understand, "borking" is the sound the goldfish dog make: a garbled version of a dog's bark.
The Goldfish Dog Fanciers Associations meeting consisted of various competitions, including 'Best Bork', 'Cutest Face', 'Buggiest Eyes', and 'Most Endearing Gait'. As opposed to the dog shows put on by the AKC, these meetings tend to be more casual, and 'breed standard' is more like 'breed suggestion'. Goldfish dog judging is more based on personal preference than a set-in-stone set of rules. Even the finless varieties of goldfish dogs, considered 'improper', have been known to win ribbons in a few categories.
"The good thing about goldfish dogs, or gofogs as we call them, they're just so cool with everything! Marshmallow lets me put little shoes and sweaters on him, and he doesn't care! They don't bite, they don't scratch, and they only wet the carpet sometimes. I mean, compared to an actual dog, I'd much rather have a gofog," another fan said.
The public seems to have other ideas regarding the 'gofogs', however. A random passerby, when asked what her opinions of the animals were, simply said, "Those things? They're gross." When I pressed further, she explained, "They're horrible, like, inbred things. I mean, either have a goldfish or a dog, don't put them together in some science lab!"
Other opinions varied from outraged, to somewhat amused, to downright apathetic. It may be a few more years until the Goldfish Dog Fanciers Association picks up more members.
But what does this mean for the well-meaning goldfish dog? "We have a very extensive breeding regiment," the president of the GDFA said, "we have a very small gene pool to work with, but thanks to one of our members who also breeds pomeranians, we have a genetic expert on our side. In a few generations, we should have a healthy breeding stock so that more people can obtain the gofogs and see what amazing, loving, adorable pets they make."
Who knows what the future holds for the goldfish dogs? But somehow, many people doubt that 'gofogs' will ever reach the popularity of dogs or cats, or even goldfish. But time will tell. In the next few years, don't be surprised to see someone walking a celestial calico shepherd down the street, or see a red ranchu pug peeking out of a woman's purse on the subway.
So I've started drinking coffee again. No this has nothing to do with this painting I don't know what you're talking about cough cough.
So anyway this is a painting I did for my dad for his birthday. He loves humming birds and I think that's precious. I think the humming birds like him, too, because of all the sugar water. "Yes, the human we have trained to feed us is back again! Everyone, sit around and look cute."
I guess this is sort of an implied play on words... hummingbirds 'buzz', and he's 'buzzed' on coffee... or something. My paintings usually lose focus about 1/4 the way in. 'Concept A' turns into 'Concept F' by some means of artistic witchcraft. For example, right now I'm having that surreal moment of, "Wow, that must be a tiny cup." Or a really fat bird, either-or. Man, I dunno. Art.
Admit it, the genre "weird wolf art" is pretty freakin' vast
. Search 'wolf' on DeviantArt and prepare to never leave your computer ever again, the end. Like a roiling sea of pink-striped, half-dragon-half-border-collie-half-wolf monstrosities, all vying for originality and sometimes starring in a Really Bad Wolf Comic (you know of what I speak). I grew up with this subculture of popular art. I had a 'fursona', liberally sprinkled with early 2000's faux-punk. I'm talking safety-pins-in-the-ears, wrist bands, apathetic I-hate-the-world stares from big red anime eyes. Many middle-school art classes were spent trying to explain to my classmates what the hey a 'fursona' even was.
I still haven't quite grown out of drawing wolves and wolf-like-things as a default. I can't help it man, they're just neat and easy to pin down. And snarly. But you guys know about my weakness
for canines. Doggies!
Here's the latest addition to my Army of Woofies*. Another Wolferpillar
, but with less legs because to heck with drawing that many legs again, golly
. It started as a normal, snarling maned wolf, but somewhere along the way I decided NAW and threw on stick-legs and snake-body. Welcome to my brain.
* No relation to Army of Darkness
Usually, Halloween for adults means one of a few things. You either bum around a disappointing party in a half-assed costume, answer the door for trick-or-treaters while watching TV, or seek refuge from the Halloweenies at your friend's house in the middle of nowhere.
But, as I'm quickly finding out, that's just not the case for me or my friends. Boring is out of the question.
So here's what went down.
I got off work after my new manager bought me a frappuchino for no reason. Nice. Then my fiance, Stark, and I shopped for ingredients for a recipe for leeks*. While picking out mushrooms, our friend Jessie ambushed us. I turned around and found that she had Day of the Dead skull makeup on. Nice. So we agreed to go back to our place so Jessie could drop off the eggnog and rum in the fridge. Nice. Then we were going to her place so she could pick out things to make a costume to match mine. My costume can be summed up as... well, just take a look.
I call it, "Nightmare-Spawn Skully Demon".
She happened to have a boar skull that would work nicely, and a big awesome cloak to wear, too. It was fate.
After that we headed to the dollar store, where glowsticks and Christmas candy were obtained. Handing Christmas candy out at Halloween? Nice.
Once we got home, the guys were there watching Adventure Time and drinking cider. Jessie and I immediately set to cooking, but not before a healthy dose of 'nog. It's never too early for 'noggin' it up. She said we should cook more often, and I agreed. Who else would get liquored up to cook a frittatta on Halloween night? I pick my friends well, ladies and gentlemen.
We shoved the frittatta in the oven and set a timer for 30 minutes-- just enough time to go to the store and get more alcohol. Nice. Wednesday night at the Maranda-Stark Household, everybody.
We got home, quite literally, in the nick of time. I ran into the house and pulled the glorious frittatta out of the oven. Spoilers: it was delicious.
More cartoons were had and then Jessie and I decided it was costume time. Long story short, we scared a little kid dressed as a football player, but our shenanigans were cut short when Jessie tripped because her skull was obscuring her vision. (I have a feeling normal people don't have that problem, usually.)
Back at home base, we ate some more and gave candy to a group of kids. Then Jessie decided it was far too tame a night and proposed we go trick-or-treating instead. Us, a group of four, ages 21-26, no proper costumes, well-past tipsy.
I was hesitant at first, but then when someone suggested I take Zaphod the ferret, I was all for that. I got his homemade spider costume and put together a very hasty costume for myself. Derrick went as "drunk guy with a deer skull on his head", Stark was a Mysterious Hood, and Jessie went as a homeless werewolf.
One year, when I went trick-or-treating at 16 years old, I had someone outright refuse to give me candy on the basis that we were too old. That was my old neighborhood. My new one... completely different.
We made friends with trick-or-treaters and folks giving candy, most of which were very surprised and mostly delighted to see a ferret come to their door. At one point, a van pulled up to us, and a woman asked if we had seen her son walking around. He was apparently dressed up as Steve from Minecraft. Nice. Then she saw Zaphod and exclaimed, "Oh, we have sugar gliders at home! Boys, look!" And her two little sons were very excited to see Zaphod, who accepted their petting. And what's even better, the two sons actually gave us candy out of their own candy stashes.
As we continued, we came across a house with cool decorations, which included a fish tank half-full of water with a plastic snake and rat floating in it, with a sign that read, "Beware of the killer snake". I got one of those feelings that told me I already liked these people. The door opened to reveal a big fluffy Bernese mountain dog, very interested in my ferret and Jessie's bone accessory. We got to talking to the couple that lived there about skulls and animals and the couple let us in their well-decorated home. We learned that their son and daughter are both in the arts, they had exotic types of parakeets, and they collected fossils. I thought, "Where have these neighbors been all my life?!"
(Tessy, the dog, was very good at shaking hands. "Shake my paw. Oh my god just shake it. You're holding an animal and I don't know what to do with myself SHAKE MY PAW.")
We left the cool neighbors on the note of, "You guys should come by sometime!" Warm-fuzzies were had by all.
We headed home, leaving our trick-or-treating escapade on a good note. Later, more cartoons were watched, candy and Taco Bell was feasted upon, and we all had the surreal moment of, "We haven't been trick-or-treating in 10+ years. No one refused us candy and everything went way better than expected."
* I'm the only person I know who impulse-buys leeks. "But look at how big they are! And only for a dollar?! I can't afford not to buy these!"
Resisting... urge... to murder cute fuzzy animals...
Seen above is a 6"x6" gouache painting on clayboard. It features a demonic golden fox with a long tongue and six legs. Or, well, it did, until one of our foster ferrets had her way with it. She got onto the table, turned over a glass of water, waded around in the puddle, then decided my art needed a little more... chaos.
You can imagine how mad I was to find my painting I was actually happy with was reduced to a smeary mess. The detail on the face, the delicate background, all shot to hell. The painting then endured a vicious toss into the garbage bin, accompanied with a tapestry of swears.
Eventually I calmed down, pulled it out of the trash, and reconsidered it. I had the technology to fix it. And by technology I mean very tiny brushes and a dark purply-black-colored paint.
Here's what it looks like now.
Still pretty chaotic, but I think it's better. And thankfully, the ferret decided to scratch and smudge the area near the paws, so it kind of looks intentional. Or that's what my friends think, anyway. They're all like, "Wow, I love it! Wouldn't have been able to tell it wasn't intentional if you hadn't said anything!"
Damn, maybe I should let wet animals walk over my paintings more often. And why stop at ferrets? I can dabble in snakes and dogs, and maybe even chickens... The possibilities are endless. Revolutionizing the art world, brb.