A Little Story About Brownie the Cat

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Brownie our cat recently fractured a bone in her paw, bringing our household casualty rate to 75 percent. Dan has a wicked cold and Mack our other cat has dermatitis on his belly.

Brownie on an unhappy visit to Dr. Megan.

Brownie and Mack are two of my favorite subjects to paint.

Mack, displeased at our late arrival home for dinner.

We adopted Brownie and her sister Gracie about 10 years ago. Dan wanted to name them Brown Cat and Gray Cat because of their coloring. I quickly intervened and suggested Brownie and Gracie.

As kittens they’d lived somewhere under a Wendy’s dumpster in suburban Washington, D.C. Gracie, who had a high kitty IQ, protected Brownie, who was always a little wild and – let’s be honest – a little stupid.

Brownie is a Kitler — a kitty with a Hitler moustache. It suits.

One Saturday morning Dan and I walked into our suburban D.C. living room to see them basking in the sunshine. I snapped a picture with my cell phone that inspired a gouache and watercolor painting of them – one of my favorites.

Brownie and Gracie. Watercolor and gouache on 140-lb. paper. 9″ by 12″. Private collection.

Gracie died at a young age. I wept at my desk. She had FIP, and Brownie was a carrier. If we wanted another cat, it had to be an older one. Otherwise Brownie would transmit the disease to a kitten.

Hence Mack, a staid older cat dubbed the Love Bug by the shelter volunteers. Mack is larger than some dogs, and he can be quite intimidating when he jumps in your lap to demand Love Time.

Mack demanding Love Time.

In winter, they sleep in our bed, which is why we call them the Thousand Degree Cats. One night the cats heated Dan so much he went to the downstairs bedroom to sleep. He woke up realizing there were still two creatures on the bed. No, wait, there were three – Brownie and Mack were playing with a mouse. Dan got dressed, scooped the mouse into a cardboard box and took him to the Stonington dump, where he could live a happy life.

That little adventure inspired a birthday card. I’m glad I got into the habit of making kitty-themed cards for Dan. It’s hard to find good greeting cards on a Maine island.

Brownie, despite her personality flaws, inspires some of my favorite paintings. Like this one.

Porch Kitty. Watercolor and gouache on 140-lb. paper. 12″ by 12″. Private collection.

And this one.

Moving Day. Watercolor on 140-lb. paper. 9″ by 12 “. Private collection.

And, for the record, her paw is healing nicely.

 

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Day Ten Brings a Clam Pie Run and Pickleball

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Dan comes by. He just dropped two cases of clam pie off at Tradewinds in Blue Hill. They have a Made in Maine section. We love them.

“Look at all the nice paintings on the wall,” Dan says.

“They suck,” I say.

“No, they’re nice,” he says.

Oscar looks up. “You say they suck, then people say they’re good. That’s the deal. That’s what we do.”

I see Katy Helman coming out of the post office. I wave and open the door. She comes in. “I’m going to ask Linda if she can take photos with her drone for my Haystack students next weekend,” she says. “Cool idea,” I say.

The painting that used to have a Pepto-Bismol sky

She looks at my Pepto-Bismol painting without the Pepto and slips into Teacher Mode, which I always find entertaining. “Much improved,” she says.

Oscar’s Church of the Morning After painting

“Who did this?” she says, pointing to Oscar’s painting of the Church of the Morning After. “Oscar, you should do white line woodcuts,” she says. “It would really lend itself to your work.”

We look up Kate Hanlon, Katy’s friend who does white line woodcuts. Hmmm. Good idea. Katy explains how it works. Maybe she’ll teach us.

30-Minute Cadillac Mountain painting

She looks at my 30-minute mountain painting. “Why didn’t you use a square format?” she said. “If you cropped it and moved the figure in it would be much more dynamic.”

“It’s a pain to mat and frame square formats,” I say. Matting and framing are the bane of artists who work with paper. It’s why some people turn to oil on canvas. It’s probably why I’ll turn to oil on canvas. Katy says you can get square frames at Target. The nearest Target is an hour and a half away.

I run to the Galley to get a sandwich. Oscar brought his lunch so he’s going to stay put, though he loves the Galley. Along with the Burnt Cove Market and V&S Variety, it’s the biggest worker cooperative in the state of Maine.

When I return Oscar is explaining to Katy it’s nearly impossible for him to remember names since his stroke (though I’m flattered he remembers mine). To learn a new technique, he has to see it repeated and repeated and repeated. Katy says, “So you adjust.”

Oscar and I walk to 44 North to get our half cup of coffee. The lights are on in Bruce Bulger’s studio in the old high school, so we go in. Bruce makes beautiful furniture. He is a woodworker and illustrator, and his studio is filled with marvelous machinery and woodcutting tools. Bruce’s son comes out and greets us.

He’s working on a drawer with 45-degree angled dovetails. “How many times do you measure before you cut?” I ask. “The more I measure, the less I have to cut,” he says.

I take a picture of the big wooden statue in the next room. “That’s Tam Tam,” he says. “From the Fiji Islands.” It’s going to the Blue Hill Library. His dad is making a pedestal for it. I try to take a picture of Rudy, his new puppy. Rudy is too quick for me and hides under a workbench.

Melissa Raftery is in at 44 North Coffee. She says they’re excited about moving to the old Fibula Gallery on Main Street. They’ll have nooks for the coffee shop on the first floor, she says, and they’ll have to hire a crane to move their roaster. I tell her they’ll do very, very well. I take a picture for the Stonington Farmers Market Facebook page. Too bad I can’t take a photo of her partner, Megan Wood, too. “She’s in Guatemala,” says Melissa. “I got to go to Australia last year.” On coffee business.

I paint horses, two of them, at Acadia. I try to draw very precisely and paint very loosely. I’m almost done at the end of the day. Oscar says it’s the best thing I’ve done. I’m not sure how I feel about it.

Acadian Horseback

Oscar wants to try pickleball tonight so I drop him off at the Island Community Center, go home, change, and return to pickleball. There are 11 new players and 12 old ones, like me. Pickleballs are flying all over the gym, coats and boots piled on the benches and buzzing conversations while people wait their turn to play. Or try to play. I tell a newbie I like to come to the gym in winter because it’s warm and light and friendly when it’s cold and dreary outside. “I need more of that in my life,” she says.

At the end of Day Ten.

 

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Porch Kitty

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Porch Kitty. Watercolor and gouache on 140-lb. paper. 12″ by 12″. Private collection.

This is the last painting I finished — just in time to send to my sister in Seattle as a Christmas gift. Usually I let my paintings sit around for a few days after they’re done. I wander into my studio from time to time and check them out to see if there’s some flaw I missed. In this case, I missed the splotch of gold in the lower right corner because I had to get it to the post office. So I guess I’ll have to fly out to Seattle with a paintbrush to fix it.

I’d wanted to paint this picture for a long time. When we moved into our house in Stonington, Maine, in September 2015, I took some photos to send to family and friends. This photo of our cat Brownie was one of them.

I loved the light and shadows, and envisioned a painting based on quinacridone gold. It’s one of my favorite colors. I bought a big tube of it once at Utrecht in Washington, D.C., and the clerk said I’d never go through it. She was wrong.

I thought long and hard, by the way, about making Brownie more identifiably cat-like — curled up in a ball so you could see her face and whiskers. But I decided against it. Part of the appeal of the image was that it conveyed a mood — complete abandon to the sunshine’s warmth.

I knew an artist who told me (haughtily) she never painted from photos. At the time she was in the process of taking her mother’s antiques to an auction house. Perhaps if she painted from photos she wouldn’t have needed to sell those antiques. Painting from life is limiting: You’re stuck doing still lives and stationary people and landscapes in good weather. Plein air snobs miss out on so much. And the creative achievement in art isn’t in the reproducing, it’s in the seeing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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