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 PaintersKeys.com 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.
blondie2718_blog

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.


The Defiant One
The Defiant One

The Defiant One

One day as I sat on the sofa and Blondie, in rare form, had just jumped up on the sofa with me to sniff my clean laundry, I must have made a noise that startled her or moved my big toe or something, for suddenly she somersaulted backwards off the sofa landing on all four paws. She turned her head to look at me, a surprised look in her eyes tinted with a bit of embarrassment. Humans also tend to look to see what caused our tripping. Usually just a bump in the sidewalk or a root in the ground, or even sometimes a cat. But the looking is a sign of one’s disbelief that one just tripped…Did I just do that?  And  also to see if anyone, God forbid, noticed our clumsiness.  Blondie was checking to see if I had seen what happened to her when she somersaulted off the sofa. Yes I saw you, Blondie. Her alert four-paw stance said she was ready to run if she sensed danger. At the same moment her look was one of bewilderment, as if she was thinking, What the hell just happened here anyway?

Blondie is an agile cat. She jumps as high as six feet to a high window ledge, she leaps five feet over a three-foot high sofa, while at the same time, squeezes her body into very tight spaces. But most of the time, she can jump up to a high shelf with decorative pots and small sculptures and wander the length of it without destroying one item. But then again most cats are nimble and careful enough to wind their way through a forest of precious objects, including expensive art objects.

When it gets tricky is when a cat is acting in defiance and knocking items off shelves on purpose, and I mean knowingly batting things off shelves with her paws. When the people are away the cats will play they say. When a substitute teacher comes to class, the students act-up. I remember doing everything our little brains could think of to make our substitute teacher’s day harder and more unpleasant, like chewing loudly on carrots in the back row, tapping our pencils against our desks, gossiping with friends and uncontrolled giggling. From my experience as a teacher for a college art class, I know how annoying that extraneous talking is. Blondie acts up when I am with her, doing things she never does with her owner. She knocks things off shelves, chews on artificial plants, breaks into the liquor cabinet, sharpens her claws on furniture she’s not supposed to scratch on. And I am reluctant to punish her for fear of alienating her for life.

Whenever I am there now she has taken to knocking off two tiny Bengal cat figurines from a shelf in the guest bath. The figurines, made of something similar to ceramic but more durable, hit the tile floor with a loud crash. They never break into tiny pieces, even their thin tiny tails and paws and ears do not crack or break. Blondie knows the guest bath is mine while I’m there. She knows I am the only one to use it. She knows I sleep in the guest bedroom right next to this bathroom. She knows the tiny cats make a loud noise when they hit the floor or when they land in the waste basket. Score one for Blondie, she meows. When I get up to see what happened she stares at me with innocent blue eyes. Her owner says she has never knocked those pieces off the shelf before, only when I’m there. That’s cat defiance. A cat challenge? A message that says this pretty cat rules!

What is the reason behind the creature’s behavior? I believe Blondie commits  strange repetitive activities to annoy me. She knows. She also does it when she wants something from me. To get my attention. My job is to figure out what she wants! Oddly, it is an act off communication. She knocks them off at 7 am in the morning to wake me, so she is telling me it’s time for breakfast, or having kibble-nibbled already, she is telling me she wants water. She knocks them off during the day at various times because she is thirsty and she prefers to drink water out of the faucet. When I hear the clatter on the floor, I peak around the corner to find her sitting calmly on the bathroom counter, looking towards the door as if nothing happened. What, she asks? I didn’t do it!

I pick up the figurines and put them back on the shelf. Like a well-trained dog, I turn the faucet on to a slow dribble and she drinks her fill of tap water. She never bothers to turn the tap off. And I always forget it is on, until an hour later she jumps up on the table where I am busy working on my computer. She exhibits some sort of excited, animated, possibly anxious behavior. I cannot work until I discover what is causing her anxiety. My job again is to figure out what she is trying to tell me. I think maybe she wants more water, but I discover the water is still running. I forgot to turn it off. As soon as I turn it off, she settles down, shuffles off to her bed and takes a nap…finally.

I wish she could talk in my language. That would make things between us so much easier!

She knows how to open doors with levered handles, so all exterior doors have to be dead-bolted all the time. I’m thinking if she knows how to use a levered door handle she will eventually figure out how to use the levered faucet handles. She could learn to turn the water on for herself, right? Her owner says she learned how to flush a toilet a few years back. Had so much fun watching the water swirl furiously down the pipe and waiting for the bowl to fill up again, she did it over and over. She was in big trouble! I have terror-filled visions of returning from running errands in town and finding the bathroom floor awash with water because she turned the faucet on and did not turn it off. Water, water every where! If only she could teach herself to shut the water off in the same way she learns to turn it on. This hasn’t happened yet, only in my nightmares!

She is one smart defiant devilish kitty!



Inspiration for the Painting: Green Logs
Green Logs - Painting of Heezer's Drive, Mendocino

Green Logs

Tuesday afternoon storm brewing on the horizon, a patch of buttermilk clouds thick and creamy overhead, surrounded by cold sunshine. A perfect day. The air was cool and clean, a mixture of pine and sea. Set off by a dark sky and the point across from town jutting out with cloud-shadowed emerald-green grass and black rocks, the glare on the ocean was white light, exquisite in its brilliance. Natural. The way it’s always been.

The town of Mendocino is empty, slow, quiet, a pleasant change from summer tourism except for a crowd of teenagers on the sidewalk in front of the coffee house making guttural sounds, collecting saliva as if getting ready to spit at me as I walk by. Camels! Spitting intimidation. Shopkeepers bored, leaning on their counters watching the clock. Nothing else to do but wait for the weekend.

In the slowness of the day I remember hearing in the distance the gray melancholy bellow of the two-tone foghorn. I remember when the town garbage was unceremoniously dumped just off Main Street over the bluff into the sea, and I dated the man hauling the garbage. I remember when the bank was a bank and the cookie shop was a gas station with a Greyhound bus stop. I remember stepping off the bus on Friday evenings when I came home from school in Santa Rosa, met by my father in his beige Ford station wagon. Our house only two blocks away, he didn’t have to meet me.

I return to the Woodyard beach where as teenage girls we used to sit on a weathered bench on top of the bluff in 1964, waiting, full of romantic hope and desire. It’s still there, the bench. I drive Heezer’s Drive searching for the flat rocks off the bluffs where they held my father’s memorial service. Al Need, painter of seascapes and poet. Ashes and roses thrown into the sea from his favorite spot the way he would have wanted it done. The rocks still there, the same, almost constant in time, collecting tide pools as waves rush up and over at high tide. He would have wanted it that way. He is one with his ocean.

To revisit those halcyon days, I follow Heezer’s Drive around the beautiful, rugged coastline. It is well trodden by people on foot, and by car. Teenagers go there, as well, after school and in the evenings. There is not much else young people can do.  From there, tourists visit the glory of the sea, standing on the edge, enticing the crashing waves, tempting fate.

I notice green logs lining one side of the drive. It says to me: No Free Spirit Autos Here, Please. Green Logs? I ask. Logs painted green to blend in with the natural greenery? Do you suppose? Green logs painted with toxic copper naphthenate wood preservative? Wait a minute, wood preservative in Mendocino?

Isn’t it odd that a community that grew out of its Neanderthal days of dumping garbage into the ocean and instead, developed a new pride for eco-friendly lifestyles – an artist community that enjoyed collecting and valuing old gray driftwood from the beaches, turning it into sculptures, mobiles, frames for paintings, and building homes with it – would paint its logs green rather than leave them natural? Doesn’t it seem odd that in trying to preserve the natural beauty of this rugged coastal landscape – a landscape of people concerned about living better and healthier – the roads are lined with painted, toxic green logs?




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