Confessions of a Florentine Pet Sitter

The Defiant One teaches me about courage
The Defiant One (aka. NASCAR Blondie)

The Defiant One (aka. NASCAR Blondie) #1

I found this quote on the morning after I had made changes to my painting The Defiant One for all the wrong reasons. It seems all too appropriate for a discussion I was having the day before with a friend about the importance or lack of importance concerning perfect drafting skills. I said I didn’t care about drawing correctly, that I thought the character of the drawing was more important. I don’t look for drawing errors when I look at art.  I look at the whole composition and how it works together. And I believe character is key. It is that which expresses the unique feeling whether one draws the cat correctly or not, and that expression of feeling is most important. It is character that turns it into a painting and not a photograph.
On Painter’s Keys the next morning:

​Limitations are an access point for focus, discipline, resourcefulness and the development of voice.

They’re clues to uniqueness and form-style and point of view — requirements of all works of art to communicate and connect. “In abandoning the vagueness of the sketch,” wrote Eugene Delacroix, “the artist shows more of his personality by revealing the range but also the limitations of his talent.” We fear our limitations will define us, yet they’re the hurdles necessary for refinement and courage. They’re the builders of character, and paintings need character. “The greatest progress in life,” said Yogi Bhajan, “is when you know your limitations, and then you have the courage to drop them.” ​

The night before, Blondie’s ears haunted me. I couldn’t sleep. I had already made many small corrections to this painting, but suddenly when I was looking at its enlarged version on my laptop, I saw that the ears were way too large for her head. I had drawn them incorrectly. They were too tall and too pointy. They looked like bobcat ears. Perhaps the devil’s ears. BUT they contributed to the character of her stance. She was excited, riled up, the hair on her rump standing up in anticipation. Blondie waited for her mom to do something, perhaps something Blondie didn’t want to do, and her fierce alert and defiant pose said so.  Okay Mom, take the darn picture, let’s get this over with, okay! I’ve got mice to play with.
Shamefully,  last night I decided to redraw and repaint Blondie’s large pointy ears that gave this painting so much unique character. Truth be told, I was afraid of failure. I’ve never been able to draw with ease. Always a struggle. And I didn’t want anyone pointing out that I was bad at drawing! I lacked the courage to believe in my work. This lack of courage rears its ugly head a lot with me.
Oh woe is me…what’s a gal to do?
I learned a valuable lesson last night, two lessons.
  • One, I am a hypocrite, I say one thing and do another. BAD. I don’t care about the drawing, yet I feel a deep need to make mine look right. What?
  • Two, I learned from the above quote that it is okay make mistakes because the errors work with the whole picture to create character and emotion and draw people in to experience something powerful —whether you as artist recognize it or not—an experience of connection and a wonderment. Oh look how those ears stand up so tall and pointy and don’t they add to the mood of that cat’s stance!
If courage and wisdom had not escaped me, I would have left the ears alone.
Here’s the altered ears. Smaller, shaped better, and more proportionate to her head.

The Defiant One with new ears #2 CORRECTED

They added very little to the total emotion of her stance. So I made the new ears appear more pointy by limning the edges and tips of the ears with white light. Now some of the pointy character is back, but they are not as big. Not as fierce!

​Next time I hope I will be able to control my urges to make it perfect. I claim to not care, but I lack the courage to live with my failures if I cannot do it. I’ve got to let go of that. I’ve got to let go of the idea that my bad drawing means failure—not only in my painting of cats, but also in my landscapes and papiér maché cats. It is, rather, about character and emotion.

Rocky Road
Bag Lady

I put a few groceries in the fridge, then turned back to the Fred Meyer bags to retrieve more, and was startled to see only one eye peering out from the dark bag. Bessie had hunkered down in the bag and was waiting to pounce on me. At that moment she captured my heart.

Condo Ecstasy

Bessie loves bags, boxes and both of her cat condos. Many times, thinking she was lost, I finally found her draped over the edge of her tiny a-framed sheepskin-lined condo in front of the atrium window, soaking up the heat of the rare Oregon sun, her head hanging loosely as if detached connected only by a thread of sinew. More often than not I found her sprawled lazily in her outdoor condo, a mesh construction that hung on the wall in her catio and had six levels for the cats to explore. Once inside the condo, she caressed the edge of the round openings with her head and body, leaving her scent. She morphed into a sexpot, a roiling ecstasy of cat love, a melt-down into pliable putty.

Bessie & Fuzzy, Photo by S Canavarro

In my care, her other catnip was the “fuzzy” I placed on the bed. She raced down the hall, leapt on the bed, rolled and twirled in circles, working herself to a frenzy until she had the fuzzy bunched into a clump held with all four paws; a clump with ridges and canyons and twists and turns like a human brain that she kicked with her hind legs in cat-like fury. She had been declawed by her previous owners, so I had no worries she was going to tear my fuzzies to shreds. I wouldn’t have cared; it was way too much fun watching her play.

Roiling Frenzy, Photo by S Canavarro

As I stretched out lazily like a cat on the tan leather sofa watching television one evening, enjoying my ice-cream, suddenly I heard the thunderous beat of paws on the tile floor. Bessie was tearing down the hall from the bedroom. She jumped up on the table at the end of the sofa behind my head, then to the armrest and from there she leapfrogged right over my head on to my chest where I was holding a big bowl of Rocky Road ice-cream. Splat! One hind foot landed in my bowl splattering chocolate all over my gold fuzzy.

Bessie continued running with lightning speed, shaking her paws free of chocolate and marshmallow as she flew from one surface to another. As for me, I was startled, then amused, and then worried about the stains on the white carpet and leather sofa, but not enough to stop eating my ice-cream. I continued eating from the bowl Bessie had stepped in, and she continued her lightning speed get-away on the rocky road through the house. She never touched the ground. She never looked back.

It is possible Bessie had just been using her litter box before she raced down the hall and jumped into my bowl, but I confess, I kept on eating. That’s how badly I wanted that bowl of Rocky Road. It was the last serving and I did not want to waste one bit of it! If Bessie had just come from her box, then so be it! 

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