Four Footed Friends

I popped downstairs last night to grab another cup of tea and when I came back to my work space I found I had a visitor. Our outdoor cat, Captain Charlie Awesome, had come to check out my new work space.

Charlie takes a seat
Charlie takes a seat

Our home is divided into distinct pet friendly zones which limits the access of our 2 yellow labs to the main floor of the house. The one and only time one of them made it upstairs was in the puppy years. An empty house and an unlocked crate allowed for what must have been a glorious stretch of hours in which newspapers and toilet paper were spread from one end of the house to another and several “special gifts” were left on each and every bed as well as on the floor beside the bed in the master bedroom. Without a doubt it was my fault. That isn’t the reason though that we confine the dogs to the main floor. It has more to do with providing a space for our cats free of friendly but extremely slobbery canine attention when desired or required. The cats also rule the basement as we try to limit our dogs’ intake of kitty litter crunchies. The main floor is where we spend most of our time so it doesn’t weigh too heavily on the boys.

Our dogs are brothers from the same litter. The larger, John A. Macdonald, better known as Mac, dominates by size but his stockier brother Lester B. (short for Lester B. Pearson) gets by just fine on cunning and charm. I’m an advocate of pets for life. You take them-you keep them so I wouldn’t change anything now. That being said if I knew then what I know now I would have thought twice about taking in two puppies at once. Admittedly it’s twice the cuteness, sweetness and love but it’s also twice the mayhem, murder and mess. Maybe you’re the next Caesar Milan and that sort of situation doesn’t faze you but if someone asked me I’d say from our experience that two dogs are great but train one and then get another. Cats of course are a different matter…they are basically who they’re going to be right from the beginning. The newest member of our furry pack (Princess) Lola Mae (Piwacket) likes to play fetch with her ball and sits in one of the dogs’ crates when they eat their dinner so she can have a little snack too. She’s our first stab at an indoor cat and despite coming from a farm she’s taken to the house quite well with the exception of when her dog brothers head out to play without her. She cries, LOUDLY, the entire time they’re gone. Our outdoor cat, Charlie, is usually a bit of a lone wolf but he has his moments.

Why do we have an indoor cat and an outdoor cat?  We have an outdoor cat because we live in a rural area and he works to keep the rodent and rabbit population down in our yard. Several years ago someone decided to let domestic rabbits loose in our hamlet. They of course breed prodigiously (like rabbits, ha-ha, except it’s not really funny). They are quite destructive to lawns and gardens and they attract larger predators like coyotes. Technically Lola Mae was to have the same job as Charlie but she’s ridiculously cute and an absolute torment to Charlie so we have decided to keep her in the house for the time being.

So as I said, last night Charlie was in my new work space checking things out. It is just as new for the pets as it is for me. My space on the main floor was connected to the house by a door off the dining room that used to be an exterior door. Visits from the dogs weren’t unusual. Though quite different in personality both Lester B and Mac would employ the same technique. One or both would lie outside the door and wait for me to acknowledge their existence. If that didn’t happen in a timely fashion, there would be a heartfelt sigh, and then another, and then another if the desired invitation to visit wasn’t extended. Once inside the enclosed porch a dog that placed a head on my lap could expect a proper scratching with maybe a belly rub to follow. Unfortunately sibling rivalry often surfaced  requiring banishment for both- you just can’t have  that kind of shoving in a small space and my lap is not big enough for 65 plus 75 pounds of dog respectively. Cats don’t require any kind of invitation to drop in. The distraction they provide is purely of their nature. There are attempts to drink the water used to clean paint brushes or half-finished cups of cold tea, games of bat the pencil or a head-butt while you’re trying to draw just to name a few. And of course there’s the hair…not the greatest mix with applied finishes.

Now I’m on the second floor and there won’t be any visits from Lester B or Mac and probably not too many from Lola Mae who thinks she’s one of the dogs. It is winter now so Charlie is in the house more but come summer I’ll probably be seeing less of him as well.  I suppose I’ll get more work done with fewer distractions and not having to check every surface I’m varnishing before and after for cat or dog hair. That being said I always feel like a space is a little more alive with a friendly furry presence about.

Last night’s play list standout in honour of Charlie’s visit is Ry Cooder’s entire CD “My Name is Buddy” which Wikipedia lists as a social political concept album. You can look at it as political piece or just enjoy the music about the travels of Buddy the cat and his friends.  

Tonight I have Blackie and The Rodeo Kings playing in the background…Stoned and a cover of Folsom Prison Blues are the standouts there for me.

Lola Mae, Mac and Lester B.
Lola Mae, Mac and Lester B.

A Change of Space…Sort Of

I recently made a decision to move my work space.

Dining Room Table Mess
No available winter work space would often mean a mess in the dining room.

For the past 8 or so years I’ve attended to the visual arts component of my creative activities in an enclosed porch located on the southeast side of my house. The space is far from ideal as it is small and it isn’t insulated. In late summer, the room is an oven, even early in the day. In spring and fall the room is damp and cold. In winter you might as well be outside. The porch is heavily shaded but the exterior walls are mostly made of windows (old single panes set with putty) so the light is fair to passing. Every year as the outside temperature drops I move my paint and supplies into the main house and struggle to find a work space that doesn’t wreak havoc on the house schedule or fixtures. A commission piece last year took out our dining room table for a couple of weeks. I wasn’t worried about the paint that ended up on the area rug underneath as the family pets have already added their special decorative touch to it but I did constantly worry about the hard wood floors underneath.

In the fall I started a series that included a large 5 foot by 3 foot canvas. I had a stretcher that I’d salvaged from a painting damaged due to a leak in the porch roof. The only place to stretch a canvas that large ended up being the dining room table (again!). Painting the canvas in the porch space presented a whole new set of problems. There wasn’t enough room to easily access my paint or brushes. If I wanted to stand back and view the piece from a distance I had to take it out of the enclosed porch and put it up in the living room…wet paint and all. I don’t live alone and this kind of repeated activity (and, I must admit, my frustrated response to having to do it) can wear a little on everyone.

In a perfect world I would have a separate work space available with all the bells and whistles (well some bells and one or two whistles would be nice). As a matter of fact I have spent the past 5 years trying to work towards that end. Life being what it is, things like a new septic tank and tiling bed, mortgage payments, car repairs and all that grown up stuff  come first. So I moved, not out of my house but one floor up and in a sort of northwest direction to the back bedroom. We haven’t used the room for a number of years. Though small it’s bigger than the closed in porch and offers a relatively moderate temperature year round. I have to say relatively as we live in an older house with no duct work reaching the second floor. There are large grates in the ceilings of the first floor rooms that allow heat to rise and cold air travels down the front and back stairs (gravity heating). The house is well insulated which works to keep heat in during the winter and if we keep the blinds down in the summer it can be for the most part comfortable.

Natural light is an issue in this particular room as there’s only one window. The room had been wallpapered with a very dark pattern. It wasn’t our choice, just what was here when we moved in….no surprise there as dark wallpaper is often the best choice when covering up old lathe and plaster. It took us a couple of days to get the paper off and a good week or so to fill the cracks and what dents we could before we painted the walls an off-white. It helps tremendously with reflecting what natural light does come in.

So now I’m in my new space. It seems a little strange but I think most new things do. I still have the large canvas to complete in my series but the move, obligations to several community groups I belong to (theater and choir), and the Christmas break have set me off that pace a little so I’m just concentrating on small projects for now…mostly drawing. If you want to see what stuff I’m working on you can stop by my art blog . I try to update whenever I have something new to share. I haven’t given up on the plan for a dedicated work and retail studio space but I am looking forward to seeing how this new space works out.

I always listen to music when I’m in my work space. The best song on my playlist today…Ray Charles’s version of Come Rain or Come Shine