Friday, December 31, 2010

Three pet portraits for holiday gifts

This is Mac, a fox red Labrador retriever. I had a wonderful photo of him peeking under a garage door, so I made some changes so the painting would tell a story. Now Mac is looking under a fence at his favorite toy–every Lab's favorite toy–a tennis ball.

One thing I learned from Mike Sibley's workshop this fall is that if you tell a simple story with your art, it will have much more appeal. Most of his work tells a nice story about living on a farm. So I think this painting is a good step in that direction

This one is Buster, an Australian mixed breed who resembles a sheltie. This painting was shipped all the way to Australia. One friend told me her eye looks funny- that is because she is a blue merle, and has white patches in her actual eye. A friend gave me photos from their vacation in Australia so I could see what the Australian outback looks like. Very red, hence the vivid background. 

Both of the above paintings were done in acrylic and colored pencil.

And this is Fiona, an Alaskan Malamute. For some reason I always like to paint Mals in pastel. The chalk nicely captures their fluffy coat. (I can hear Malamute breeders screeching "It's not fluffy!!!!)  This piece of art had a harrowing trip to Denver for Christmas. Because I had insured it, the post office demanded a signature at delivery. It bounced around in the back of a truck for a few days before it finally got to its new home, and I was terrified the chalk would be smeared or worse. Pastels are fairly fragile, and even with careful packaging, I was nervous. But if arrived safely, finally, and the giftee loves it.

I have two more commissions to do in January, so I will be busy in the New Year, doing what I love!
Bookmark and Share
© 2010 Terry Albert. All Rights Reserved.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Happy Holidays!

It is absolutely pouring outside, but the Christmas spirit is alive and well here in Poway. My poor ponies are soaked, but this is what they looked like last week:

Ari, Terry, Star and Sherlock
Star is at his photogenic best in these photos. He's a really flashy guy, except when it's raining! I had to move him out of his corral because it is under water:

It's safe to say he's still getting wet:

But here he is last week:

Much better, don't you think?

In California, we complain if it rains, we complain if it's hot, we complain about our lack of weather, or when we get anything resembling weather at all. So cuddle up indoors with your doggies and kitties, and have a Merry Christmas!
Bookmark and Share
© 2010 Terry Albert. All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

A day at the dog show

Blue merle collies wait to go in the ring. Gorgeous!

I went to a dog show yesterday to interview some Boxer folks about their breed for my next book. I hadn’t been to a show in awhile and I had a blast looking at all the gorgeous dogs and checking out the vendor booths.

I no longer do booths at shows for my artwork. It was just too much money and too much work. And no profit. Now with the economy in the trash, entries are way down and it was very quiet at the show site. Every class was much smaller than I am used to seeing. Just 6 Labs and 7 shelties; the only large class was Golden Retrievers. How sad.

This makes me want to rush home and groom my dogs
I did manage to avoid buying an $80 dog bed and a $200 grooming table. Those fantasies have to wait until after the vet bills are paid. I’m just like everyone else: on a budget.

The highlight of the day was meeting several devoted Boxer lovers who kindly spent a few hours educating me about the breed. When you are “in dogs,” you make instant friends with total strangers. I can research dogs all day long, but talking to the experts makes a world of difference. And I especially enjoyed sitting on the floor getting snuggled and snuffled by a sweet boxer girl.

As always, the collies are so beautiful they are breathtaking. And a row of wirehaired dachshunds always makes me smile. It was a perfect day. 

Bookmark and Share
© 2010 Terry Albert. All Rights Reserved.

Friday, December 3, 2010

My Aunt Charlotte

As my Aunt Charlotte's 91st birthday approaches, I think back to a couple of experiences we've had together over the years.

Aunt Charlotte was staying with me for a weekend. One morning I saw her down at the end of the hall, walking back and forth from the bathroom to the bedroom, mumbling, “What did I do with them? They were here a minute ago...” Having suffered through plenty of my own senior moments, I figured I better help her find whatever she had misplaced.

“My teeth,” she explained, “I JUST had them here on the nightstand. I’m sure of it!”
Aunt Charlotte enjoyed Beans and Tuffy, my dachshunds

As I turned to walk back into the bathroom to help her look, I spied my collie Emma, sitting in the living room chewing on something. Emma loved synthetics; no roll of duct tape was safe from her. Dog dishes and other plastics were fair game at my house, and any thing left carelessly near the edge of a countertop was gone in sixty seconds…or less.

There she was, happily munching on Aunt Charlotte’s teeth. I pried her mouth open and retrieved them, and luckily they weren’t destroyed, just gooey with dog slobber. I returned the dentures to their rightful owner, with the suggestion that she might want to wash them off before using them.

Another adventure with Aunt Charlotte

Aunt Charlotte accompanied me on a Sunday visit to Huntington Beach so we could go to my niece Kirra's birthday party. As we got off the freeway and headed through the concrete jungle to my brother’s home, I saw a guy jogging with his German Wirehaired Pointer. I used to see lots of hunting breeds in Seattle, but it was unusual to see any sporting dog other than a Lab or Golden retriever in the city.

“Wow, look Charlotte, it’s a German Wirehaired Pointer!”

“I was looking at the guy,’ she replied.

I need to get a life. 

Bookmark and Share
© 2010 Terry Albert. All Rights Reserved.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Poop bags save the planet

Imagine an archeologist in the year 2800 examining the Poway landfill. What will he make of the thousands of little blue bags filled with dog waste, carefully knotted and preserved for all time? He’ll probably decide that cultures from an earlier century worshipped dog feces, and therefore, he might conclude, those people must also have worshipped the dogs the dogs that created it. He would be right.

Picture this ritual from the dog’s point of view. As soon as he drops his “duty,” his devoted follower, the owner, falls to his knees and reverently scoops up the poop, carefully packages it in colorful wrapping and carries it home. The owner then deposits the package in a large urn that he always keeps near the house. Well, by gosh, Rover says to himself, that stuff is sacred!

Rather than lead our heirs astray, several companies have created biodegradable poop pickup bags, and I encountered my first sample at a pet sit this morning. Made with a cornstarch base, the green-colored bags will decompose and allow their contents to decompose too.

What a concept! In this day and age, when “eco-friendly,” “green,” “sustainable,” “recycling,” and all those buzzwords hold great sway with the public, now dog owners can do their part. No more must dog waste be preserved forever in our landfills.

So, I figured, here I am using plastic grocery and newspaper bags to clean up dog waste. That’s as bad as the blue baggies. I’m inadvertently contributing to the destruction of our planet. This is a no-brainer, an easy fix. We must do something about this situation.

The Cat contribution to the problem
But wait. What do all my pet sitting clients use to clean their litter boxes? Nowhere have I ever seen a biodegradable bag for disposing of litter box contents. Everyone uses wastebasket liners or grocery bags.

I think I’m on to something here. I’m going to invent a biodegradable litter bag. It’s time for cat owners to unite to save the world, and spare that poor archeologist of the future a lot of confusion.

Grocery bags
This entire train of thought made me look at the issue from the opposite direction. Why aren’t grocery bags biodegradable?  That would solve everything.

When I’m walking dogs, I think about these things… 

Bookmark and Share
© 2010 Terry Albert. All Rights Reserved.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Chewed art: The art of deconstruction, by Chris Ward

Of course this would have something to do with a Lab! Who else is a die-hard chewer? Chris Ward has created a wonderful ebook that is now going to be published as a hardcover coffee table book, if he can get enough orders by December 24.

This is a unique approach to publishing, and a great subject. You'll enjoy the video above, I promise!

Click the title under the video to go to the website. Sorry a bit of the video is cut off. You can see it correctly on the Kickstarter site.

Bookmark and Share
© 2010 Terry Albert. All Rights Reserved.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Poway mounted rangers featured on Poway Patch website

Patch is a new community-specific news and information platform dedicated to providing comprehensive local coverage for individual towns and communities. This means Poway has its own website featuring local news and events. Corrie Vaus, is an independent local reporter who contributes stories to Patch and several San Diego TV stations. She also owns a horse, Teddy, and we ride together on the Poway trails. So my friend and fellow ranger, Jackie Groveman, and I were happy to help with her story.

Me on Little Red, Poway Days Parade 2002
Poway has almost 100 miles of trails, and the mounted, bicycle and foot patrol reserve park rangers make regular patrols to check for maintenance and safety issues and provide assistance for people using the trails. The trail system is an important part of Poway, and I want to be sure it doesn't disappear due to development or misuse. Serving as a ranger is my way of helping insure the trails are here for many more years.

Me with Honey
I have written about Ari, my horse, and our work as rangers in previous posts. Ari, Honey and my previous horses, Little Red, Sage and Spice all were ranger horses.

Bookmark and Share
© 2010 Terry Albert. All Rights Reserved.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

How to torture your veterinarian

Have you ever done this? 
Dear friends: My vet can’t figure out what’s wrong with my dog (cat, horse, rabbit…). Here’s a picture. Can you give me any ideas of what’s wrong with him?
That is the shortened version, but it is exactly what I did, desperate to find a cure for my horse, Honey. My armchair vets, Monday morning quarterbacks, and home-grown experts came back with some great ideas. Unfortunately we had eliminated all of those possibilities, and we had to euthanize Honey last Tuesday.

I realize now that we must torture our poor vets. Mine patiently sat me down and gave me long explanations for every condition he had eliminated as a possibility. He went through all of the options for further testing and what it might show us, patiently repeating things he’d already told me when I wasn’t ready to listen. He (and an expert–a real one– he consulted) narrowed it down to three things: a tumor/mass in her chest, an internal abscess, or valley fever. Her chest cavity was full of fluid.

Her prognosis was lousy. She wasn’t eating or drinking, and the steroids he’d given her were the only thing keeping her upright. Reluctantly I made the decision, but fought it tooth and nail to the very end.

There was no alternative; I just wasn’t ready to lose her. We’d only had a few months together. I’d only ridden her a few times. I wanted to go for more walks with her, rides on her, let more wonderful kids ride her. Honey, we hardly knew ye.

Ari sniffed her halter for a long time
I think letting her go was the hardest decision I’d ever made for a pet. And my vet was endlessly supportive and patient with me. I apologized for asking all my friends what could be wrong with her, and he said, “Well, you’re not the first who’s ever done it.” These were desperate times.

But I made the right decision in the end. My other horses yelled and screamed for her for several hours. That was hard to listen to.

I think my vet is better than any doctor I’ve ever been to for my own health issues.

Rest easy, my Honey.
Bookmark and Share
© 2010 Terry Albert. All Rights Reserved.

Friday, October 8, 2010

A very sick horse

It’s hard to blog sometimes. Life gets in the way, as it did this week. My Icelandic horse, Honey, is very ill, and I don’t know what the outcome will be.

She’s only been with me for 7 months, and she is 20 years old (we think), so some of my decisions on her care are influenced by her age and the fact that she is not my main riding horse. She was adopted as a pasture pet, but I’ve been lucky. She is rideable, her gaits are very smooth, and I’ve had fun with her. She’s given pony rides to some great kids and everyone who meets her has fallen in love with her sweet disposition.

But now Dr. Martin (of Large Animal Veterinary Associates in El Cajon) is struggling to make a diagnosis without spending thousands of dollars. Every test we’ve done comes back normal. Her liver numbers are off, but her liver function is normal. He suspects a tumor. She is not eating or drinking.

An expensive hospitalization might, or might not, give us an answer. X-rays, more extensive ultrasounds (she’s had one)–the tests could go on and on. He pointed out we may not know what the problem is until a post-mortem autopsy. Ugh.

I wish all doctors would talk to their clients the way my vet does. He gives me credit for understanding a lot of what he says, and explains what I don’t. He doesn’t talk down to me, and he doesn’t try to sell me a lot of treatment. My own medical doctor isn’t as forthcoming.

My dog and cat vet (Dr. Singh of Animal Medical Hospital of Poway) is equally thorough with his explanations. He explains how he came to his diagnosis, explains what tests we could do next, and what they might tell us. If we aren’t going to find anything treatable, he is likely to be conservative in his recommendations. I appreciate that.

With a beloved pet, sometimes the decision comes down to money. The sky is not the limit here. I have to carefully analyze what I’m willing and able to spend, and whether the outcome will be worth it.

I really love Honey, even though she’s been part of my family such a short time. But I hope I will do what is best for her, and know when to keep trying treatments, and when to let her go. I will keep you posted.  

Bookmark and Share
© 2010 Terry Albert. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Artists and donating art

Every pet portrait artist I know gets hit up by rescue groups all over the United States, asking for donated art that will be auctioned to help fund the care of homeless animals. Back in the early years of my pet portrait career, I would donate a custom portrait in colored pencil, created from the donor’s photos.

I don’t have the time to do that anymore. But I have continued to donate art prints, notecards, ceramic tiles, and other products made from my art. I have also donated my book, Basset Hounds, Your Happy Healthy Pet, to Basset rescue groups.

I have had to cut way back on my donations for several reasons. First, the amount of requests, though worthy, is overwhelming. Second, I have to pay postage to send all these things, and it gets really pricey. Two years ago, I spent $500 in one year sending out donated artwork. Yes, it is usually tax deductible, but it is still out-of-pocket expense I can’t afford. Like most artists, I don’t make enough money to support myself from my art. Yes, we are starving. Maybe someone should donate to us!

And last, but not least by a long shot, I have never gotten one thing back from all these donations. Fundraising people always say “it is wonderful exposure for your art, like free advertising.” I never get new clients or commissions. A recent discussion on the Canine Art Guild group list revealed nobody else ever has either. So if we donate, we do it out of the goodness of our hearts, our love for animals, and our desire to help. And I am happy to do that. To a point…

What gets to me is the many donations where I have never gotten any acknowledgement back from the organization I donated to. No receipt, no thank you, no “this is how much we made.” If you can’t be bothered, neither can I.

I recently got a downright insulting request for a donation. The caller wanted me to donate a portrait. I said I don’t donate portraits, but I would donate a couple of prints. She replied, “Well, can’t you just do something small and simple, like with just five pencils or something that won’t take as long?” Right, but I’ll only draw with one finger…

Later she called about getting the prints delivered to her (obviously wasn’t going to the trouble of picking them up). She referred to them as “copies.” Like a xerox? My prints are signed and numbered limited edition lithographic prints with a certificate of authenticity. I donated the prints, and have as yet received no acknowledgement or thank you.

I won’t be donating to that organization again. 

Bookmark and Share
© 2010 Terry Albert pet portraits. All Rights Reserved.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Mike Sibley artist's workshop

I traveled out of town last weekend for five days to attend an artist’s workshop up in Solvang, CA. Mike Sibley works in graphite (pencil) and I have admired his work for years. This was his first trip to the western US from England, and I was thrilled to be able to attend. I booked it back in February!

You’d think that since I’ve done pencil art for years myself, particularly black and white, that I wouldn’t learn a whole lot. You would be wrong. He gave me an entirely new outlook towards how to use the pencils, and how to create backgrounds (the hardest thing!), fur, eyes (the most important part of any pet portrait), and especially composition. His work is so minutely detailed that he spends up to 250 hours on one piece of artwork.

I’ve never had that kind of patience, but there I was, spending 6 hours on a 4” x 5” section of a picture. I love detail and realism, and on the last day, he gave us a project where we could practice all the techniques we learned during the first two days. The art above is the work I did on the last day. He gave us all the same sketch and turned us loose to see what we could do with it. I’m itching to try it in color. 

It was very intense, and we were exhausted by the end of each day. I even had to go out and buy a stronger pair of reading glasses, because my eyes got tired after 6 hours a day drawing. 

But the time flew by, and I loved every minute of it.  Mike and his wife Jenny are funny, friendly and you can tell they genuinely enjoy their work. Mike took the time to give every artist plenty of attention, and his critiques were honest and helpful. I also enjoyed hearing his various adventures over the years with publishers, selling prints, copyright infringement, donating art, and all the other business challenges that come up every day when you are an artist.

If you have a chance to attend a workshop, I highly recommend it. You don’t have to be an animal artist to learn a lot. His book is fantastic, too (available on his web site).

Bookmark and Share
© 2010 Terry Albert. All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Bogey and Mr Cool find new homes

Bogey is a hard-headed little terrier-poodle mix, and needed to be an only dog. He was one of my pet sitting clients’ dogs. He found a new home and it appears, from this picture, that he has landed in his own personal heaven. I am so happy for him. He had a tough couple of weeks being bounced around from place to place, and this little rough cut diamond deserves the chance to shine.

Mr Cool

A few months ago I sent this story to all my horsey friends about a retired police horse:
Own a Piece of Santa Monica P.D. History
PLEASE Give Mr. Cool a great home
Mr. Cool needs a home. He is too old to chase bad guys on Venice Beach. Santa Monica P.D. is asking for a $2,000.00 donation for Mr. Cool. He needs to be replaced and the Mounted Unit is struggling to survive. He has some good trail rides left in his kind heart. Please call if you would like to have Mr. Cool. ¼ gelding, 24 years young. 15 2 hands
Mr. Cool has patrolled Venice Beach and the streets of Santa Monica for approximately 16 years.  Mr. Cool needs to be placed SOON, he just can’t chase people in the sand anymore. He deserves a good retirement Please help out! Santa Monica is one of the last Mounted Patrol units in California.
After some serious thought and some wheeling and dealing, my friend Kathi, who lives in Anza, adopted Mr. Cool, sight unseen. She about fainted when he got out of the trailer. He was bigger than 15-2, more like 16-3 hands tall. At first she wasn’t sure she would keep him, I think she was a little intimidated.

Then she rode him.

And then she fell in love with Mr Cool:
Mr. Cool is doing great, we've been out riding with other horses, my mare, and even come home alone, he's so kind and gentle.  His size is no longer an issue with me, I just needed to get over the shock!
I love happy endings! And the photos tell the story. Here's Cool with his new roommates, Misty the mare, and Dolly the sheep. 
Bookmark and Share
© 2010 Terry Albert. Photos copyright by each photographer. Photo of Mr Cool by Fabian Lewkowicz. All Rights Reserved.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

My neglected blog and a writing project

I have neglected my blog the past few weeks, but I have a good excuse. I am writing a book and it is due to the publisher on September 1st. Needless to say, that is my writing priority these days. It’s been an interesting experience.

This will be my second book. Animal Planet: Labrador Retrievers (TFH Publishing) is the title. Anyone who knows me knows my love for Labs, and this is a dream assignment. Although I don’t own a Labrador any more, I have lived with hundreds over the years: foster dogs, boarding dogs, and my own beloved Tank, who was with us for 13 ½ years. And Cody, an elderly rescue we adopted who only lived a year, but was also close to my heart.

My first book, in 2008, was Basset Hound: Your Happy Healthy Pet, and it was a second edition, so I had a manuscript to start with and an outline from the publisher (Howell books). This one is from scratch. Provided with a rough outline from my editor, all the words are mine. I found myself paralyzed with fear the first few weeks, so I did lots of research to get into the subject. There is nothing so scary as a blank piece of paper, for an artist or writer!

And now I have just two chapters to go, and three weeks to finish and edit my work. I put off the history of the breed, thinking it is always so boring. I am fascinated, and love looking through different sources and comparing stories and trying to craft an accurate one of my own. Because the Labrador’s history is somewhat murky, it is a challenge to get it right, or as near right as one can.

It reminded me of art history classes in college. I tried to avoid them, and then found myself entranced as I studied the remains of Pompeii and the cathedrals of Europe. Even contemporary art took me off in a new direction for my painting. I combined my art major with a minor in history, studying what went on in the world while all this fantastic art was being created. Ancient Greece and Rome became my favorite subjects.

The events in the world have a major effect on art, culture, and even dogs. The Sheep Protection Act of 1885 stopped breeding of the St John’s Dog in Newfoundland, and the Quarantine Act in England stopped importation of these dogs. The landed gentry in England then embarked on their own breeding program, refining the Labrador into what it is today.

Politics affects everyone, even dogs.

Want to know more? I do. 

Bookmark and Share
© 2010 Terry Albert. All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Honey the Icelandic horse

This is a story about a pony that loves children. Her name is Honey. She wear a pink halter and a pink saddle pad, and loves to take little girls for a ride. The little girls brush Honey's pretty white mane and tail and feed her carrots.

Honey's owner loves her and likes to share her with people who love ponies, because she didn't get to play with ponies when she was a little girl. And now she is all grown up, and she gets to play with her ponies all day long.

Bookmark and Share
© 2010 Terry Albert. All Rights Reserved.

Photos: Kalysta with Honey, and Kiyomi with Honey

Monday, July 19, 2010

"Last Dog on the Hill" by Steve Duno

I am deep into a new book by my friend from Seattle, Steve Duno. Last Dog on the Hill is the story of his dog Lou, a Shepherd-Rottweiler mix that he used to bring to work with him when we were both trainers at the Academy of Canine Behavior in Bothell, WA. We were both pretty green in those days, but my, how far we’ve come. I like to think Jack and Colleen McDaniel, the owners, would be proud of their alums. Many of us have gone on to lifelong careers in dogs.

Steve traveled down to Warwick’s Bookstore in La Jolla last week for a book-signing event, one of many stops on his book tour for the just-released book. We had dinner beforehand and caught up on each other’s lives and shared some fond memories of Lou and Tank, my Lab from way back then, and our days at the Academy.

Last Dog on the Hill is not Marley and Me, nor is it Lassie Come Home. Lou was a real dog, a scruffy mutt with a shady past who got lucky and landed in the right home. Some dog stories are really memoirs of the author’s life, and the dog is the vehicle to tell the story of a family (Marley and Me), or a life-changing event (Garth Stein’s The Art of Racing in the Rain). In contrast, Duno’s book is more about Lou and his adventures.

I asked Steve how he could remember all those details. He said that although he’s always been a writer, he didn’t really keep a journal of Lou’s exploits. They are still fresh in his mind, because Lou was such a memorable part of his life for 16 years. I can relate to that. Every writer, even one who has never written about dogs, finds himself compelled to eulogize his beloved canine. Steve started writing about six months after Lou’s death.

Steve has written 18 books, but he got that misty far-away look in his eyes when we talked about this one. This is “THE BOOK,” that once-in-a-lifetime story that has to get out; the book I may someday write about Tank, the one you may someday write about your once-in-a-lifetime dog. Kudos to Steve for getting it down on paper, and for crafting such a compelling story.


Bookmark and Share
© 2010 Terry Albert. All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Update on my pony family

With a houseful of ponies (okay, a back yard full), I thought I’d update you on the horsie family here at Heaven’s Half Acre.

Yesterday, I rode Honey on a ranger patrol around Lake Poway. She is the rescued Icelandic mare I brought home in early March. I didn’t know what I was getting when I took her, I just knew she was an older horse who needed a home. I am very lucky- she is rideable, no arthritis, and in good health.

She is also the sweetest little horse, very loving and loves attention. She now has a hot pink halter and saddle pad. She’s really the girly girl of the household. She recently hosted my friend Kiyomi for a pony ride and cuddle session (see photo).

I named her Honey because she was a rich golden palomino. Now she has shed out her winter coat and she is a dark chocolate color- with whipped cream on top!

Formerly named Rod Stewart, this Shetland pony arrived about 6 weeks ago. He was one of 18 neglected Shetlands, all stallions and pregnant mares, who were seized by Animal Control in LA County. He has fattened up nicely, is learning to be handled, and has been gelded and had his feet trimmed.

I take Sherlock for a walk several evenings a week, and he attracts lots of attention from the neighborhood kids. I have started clicker training him and he loves it. He looks forward to his nightly training sessions and is eager to play the game.

My friend Saskia and I have been working with Star to get him used to trailering and ponying. We kind of stalled when school got out, but he loads better now. His ground manners have always been good, but because he doesn’t go out at all, he is very spooky out in the world. He has always been willing but uncoordinated, since he had a back injury sometime in his past. His coordination has improved, and I hope to start getting him out in public more. I want to be able to handle him if I have to evacuate from fires again.

Ari and Star got their teeth floated, which means the vet filed down the sharp points on their teeth, making it easier for them to chew their food. It’s quite a process, and they have to be sedated for the procedure. Ari, my main riding horse, continues to be the perfect horse, and he looks like a Clydesdale next to the two new ones!

Little Red
Little Red has been at the J F Shea Center in San Juan Capistrano for two and a half years now, working as a therapeutic riding pony. They love him there and he is thriving. Recently a school class in Saddleback Valley sponsored his care for a year. I’m so proud of my pony!

Bookmark and Share
© 2010 Terry Albert. All Rights Reserved.