This morning I used my sketchbook to test out some colors for a new series I'm planning to start next week. Usually my ideas come to me as concepts first, and I don't have any idea what they'll look like until I start painting intuitively. I do have a few of those ideas brewing, but the next one I'm going to do actually started as a visual concept and came from something I painted in a sketchbook a year or two ago.
My paintings are very expressive and energetic, but sometimes I approach the canvas wanting them to be more calming. When that happens, it usually means I have a lot of energy I need to get out and so the total opposite happens. For this next series, inspired by the below painting from my sketchbook, I'm going to push myself to work in a slightly simpler, more analogous and monochromatic palette with a bit more neutrals (which is SO hard for me), so at first glance the painting appears a bit calmer- but retains expressive and energetic qualities in the details. I'm keeping an open mind about materials- I know some of these colors will be there, and some metallics, but am also considering pencil, charcoal, and collage elements.
The color palette for this upcoming series (title tbd), was actually inspired by my dogs, Drake and Kemba, and the colors that remind me of them.
Keep reading if you are interested in the backstory behind the upcoming series *trigger warning: pet illness & death*
You may have seen this instagram post in April where I talked about losing my "soul puppy", Kemba. He was a 12-year old cairn terrier, who I adopted when he was 4 weeks old. Just writing those words is enough to make me tear up, and it's been a few months since we made the difficult decision to euthanize him. I've pretty much avoided thinking about it since then so I know my grief is something I need to explore through painting.
Kemba, on his last trip to the beach
Drake, enjoying a doggie day out
Last December, I took Kemba to the vet to get his nails trimmed and checked out - he had been chewing at his paws a bit, and I thought he may need them cut or was having some kind of anxiety. His vet did an exam and ultimately discovered a splenic tumor - he had emergency surgery to remove the tumor, and a biopsy showed several different types of cancer cells. They weren't 100% sure of his prognosis based on the complex biopsy but could tell the cancer was aggressive and gave him 3-6 months worst case scenario, and 6-12 best case. He was a candidate for chemotherapy, but we ultimately decided it wasn't the best choice for him or our family, as the estimate was it wasn't going to get him more time, it would be time intensive and have side effects for him, and there was a risk of exposure to us with a young child at home. We wanted to focus on making him as comfortable as possible, and after the surgery in December 2022, he honestly seemed back to his normal self.
Then, in March 2023, it was time for Drake to head to the vet- he'd had some dental issues and I wanted him to get his physical and bloodwork in order to determine if he could be put under anesthesia to have a dental cleaning and extraction. If you can believe it, his vet discovered that he, too, had a splenic tumor. His was smaller, and he's a much bigger dog, so it wasn't an emergency as Kemba's had been. He had his tumor removed a week or two later, and a biopsy showed that it was benign. I couldn't believe it, because for a few weeks while waiting, I was certain that both of my dogs were going to die at the same time.
The timeline sort of blurs together after that, but after Drake's surgery, he had a tough few nights recovery, and I was sleeping on the couch to be near him in his bed. I ended up sleeping out there for a few weeks because of unrelated issues I've been having with a pinched nerve in my neck (story for another day but ouch). Kemba always slept where I was, so he was also on the couch with me.
I woke up in the middle of the night one night to Kemba getting sick. I honestly thought it was some fluke, that he ate something weird - but when I brought him to the vet the next morning, they could see that a new tumor had formed and was pressing up against his stomach. After that, he declined so quickly I almost can't believe it. Within a few days, he was barely moving, barely eating, crying, and hiding under furniture. At the same time, my son was home sick (I can't recall now with what - it may have been the 1000th bout of strep throat going around), and so while I had looked into the option of having a vet come to our house, we had to wait 2 days to see his vet in their office. I thought it would be hard to euthanize him - and it was hard to say goodbye - but I could see how much pain he was in, so it was the only option. I know that he was ready. I, on the other hand, wasn't prepared at all. I thought we'd have more time.
Self portrait inspired by Louise Elisabeth Vigee Le Brun's painting "Portrait of Mme D'Aguesseau"
Drake had his dental work a few weeks later, and had some teeth pulled. He's been seemingly depressed since, and stopped eating. He and Kemba preferred to share food bowls their whole lives and Kemba was the tiny but stubborn alpha dog, so the vet said sometimes after a loss like that they get a negative association with their food (and also, it may have been harder to chew with his dental work). He had lost 10 pounds in just a few weeks, but after working with his vet he is finally back at a healthy weight. He still seems depressed and it takes some effort and particular steps to get him to eat. (Not human food, he'd devour a hot dog or chicken nuggets at all times if we let him 😅)
My 4-year old often talks about Kemba as if he's coming home soon. He knows he went to the hospital, and that he died, but he's too young to understand fully what that means.
Even after that long ramble, I don't know fully exactly what this series will be saying, but I guess sometimes the process is the whole point.