Saturday, July 30, 2016

Starting a Daily Artist Journal

Hi World,
After reading a great article in the Artist’s magazine, I have decided to start an art journal which documents my observations, reactions to new techniques tried, and successes or failures of my daily attempts at art.   At first I thought I would write it all privately, but I remembered this blog site that I rarely have the time for.   This would be good for me to organize my thoughts and for other artists out there to perhaps derive motivation from me and even learn from my mistakes.
"Starry Night" by Vincent Van Gogh
So, today is the day that Vincent Van Gogh died in 1890. He has always been one of my favorite artists, especially since reading the letters he wrote to his brother  in the book “Dear Theo,” and since I saw my first real Van Gogh up close and personal in Amsterdam.
That is one of the reasons why I began painting Starry Night.  I never want to do an exact duplication. My canvas is slightly taller than the original.  (I actually started on this a week ago. First I painted the entire canvas ultramarine blue. Then I loosely painted in the stars and the cypress). With other things to work on during the week, I finally got back to this piece today. I really enjoyed painting the movement of the clouds, the trees, the stars with short  dabs of pure color. Using so much paint is a new to me. I had a difficult time getting enough onto the canvas. Maybe I need a thickening agent. I decided to build it up slowly by adding more each day I paint. The color and the movement is absolutely intoxicating. I know now that I want all my work to have this quality. One of my bad habits I need to break is working with brushes that are full of various colors of paint. The purity of the color of the paint is ruined by all the muddy stuff on my brush. I need to wipe my brushes off more often, stop and clean the brush, or just grab a new one out of the box. It’s definitely worth it to get such vivid bright colors on the canvas.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Get Involved!

At a recent fundraiser for one of my favorite animal rescue shelters, I was warmed by the number of volunteers and donors who sacrificed time and money to make their community a little better. Just at that fundraiser alone, there were people who organized the event, volunteers who registered guests and sold raffle tickets, businesses and individuals who donated auction items and raffle gifts,  artists who designed and created flyers and posters, and so much more. The funds raised that day help the shelter to keep the lights on, buy necessary medication, transportation costs, etc. That's not even the whole story.  Regular volunteers feed, socialize the animals and clean up after them at the shelter every day. Because room is limited at the shelter, some people open up their home to foster animals while they are waiting for their permanent homes.

I'm sure I have missed more than half of the people that keep rescue shelters and charitable organizations running smoothly. But, why do people spend their free time working so hard rather than relaxing on a beach or taking in a movie? It turns out there are wonderful rewards to helping others and doing good.  From an article in U.S. News, Philip Moeller wrote, "whatever the motive, volunteering improves the health, happiness, and in some cases, the longevity of volunteers. Children who volunteer are more likely to grow up to be adults who volunteer. Even unwilling children who are forced to volunteer fare better than kids who don't volunteer. And in a virtuous circle, communities with lots of volunteers are more stable and better places to live, which in turn further boosts volunteerism."

In that same article, five reasons were given for why people volunteer.
1. They have an interest in learning more about an issue.
2. They feel better about themselves.
3. They learn new skills and abilities.
4. They feel like they are helping their community
5. They are serving for religious or moral convictions.

From past studies, the more people volunteer, the happier they feel, the better they feel about themselves,  the more connected they will feel to others and they will feel much healthier!  So the moral to the blog is to get out there and volunteer. Get your kids plugged into volunteering. It will be the best thing you have ever done for yourself!

Watch the video we created at a recent fundraiser for the Fieldhaven Feline Center:

To read more:

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Photo Tips: Aperture

Aperture at f2.8 creates selective focus
     This week's video blog discusses one of the ways your camera handles light. Aperture is a device in the lens of the camera that opens and closes to allow light in. The more light your lens allows in, the smaller the area of your image will be in focus.  The area of focus in your image is known as the depth of field.  The focal length of your lens, a wider angle lens or a telephoto lens, will change the aperture's depth of field.
Aperture at f16 with a wide depth of field
     Experiment with different lenses at different aperture to get a sense of how it can change the feel of your image. Also experiment with the distance between the camera and the subject.
     How you adjust the aperture depends on what type of camera you are using. Digital SLRs vary but commonly have an adjustment wheel on the front of the camera. Film cameras and some DSLRs have a ring on the lens that turns. Point-and-shoot cameras may have a wheel at the top of the camera with simple icons that depict landscape or portrait. If your point-and-shoot camera has an aperture priority setting, you should be able to adjust the aperture in the menu.

     Watch this short video:

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

First in a Series of Photo Tips: Lighting 101

     Lighting is to photography what carbon is to living things. Put in another way, there would be no photography without light. I don't believe there is any perfect way to light a subject. You can use natural light, you can reflect the light, you can turn on the lights in a room, or you can attach a flash to your camera. How you use that light to make your subject visible to the camera, is what makes a photo great or a disaster.
     In this video blog below, I am discussing the use of a reflector. It is easy to make your own. A white poster board works very well. Paste strips of aluminum foil on your poster board and your reflector has super reflecting ability. Be aware that reflecting a bright light like the sun into your subject's face may be uncomfortable.
Using sunlight in the early morning
or the late afternoon can be easier on your subject's eyes as well as it can create a more beautiful portrait.

As the sun goes down in the evening, experiment with the softness of the light. A cloudy or foggy day also creates soft shadows that make very nice portraits. Different lighting conditions create a different feeling to the photograph. The color of the light changes at different times of the day which also changes the mood.

Check back for more photo tips on lighting, composition, exposure and more.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Is Your Pet Making You Healthy?

     What pet owner hasn't experienced the genuine unconditional love of a dog or the comfort from a cat's purr? We know how our furry friends cheer us up, but can they actually improve our health?

     According to the American Pet Products Association, over 72 million households have a pet in America. That is 62% of the population! No wonder tests are being done around the world on the the effects of animals on humans. Of course, not everyone is affected the same way, but research gives a good indicator of how the majority of people are affected.

     Studies show that pet owners visit the doctor less than non-pet owners. Perhaps this is because of the stress reduction that pets provide their owners. Blair Justice, PhD, a psychology professor at the University of Texas School of Public Health, found that spending time with a furry animal elevates levels of serotonin and dopamine which give people a feeling of pleasure. Healthier hearts, lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol levels and stronger immune systems are just a few of the health benefits researchers have discovered with pet owners. The University of Minnesota's Stroke Institute monitored almost 4,500 participants over 10 years, and found that the cat owners had 30% less risk of dying from a heart attack. Over 20 years, that statistic rose to 40%!

     Personally, I don't need a study to tell me that those living alone will feel less lonesome with a companion animal around the house. A study reported in the Journal of Social Psychology did prove that single women who owned a dog had lower rates of depression.  Dogs, in particular, have been shown to increase social engagement with other people. Walking a dog in a public place and spending time at dog parks get owner's out of the house where they meet other dog owners. In nursing homes, residents with pets or visiting pets also socialize more with other residents.  New York psychologist Penny B. Donnenfeld, adds, "Having a pet helps the senior focus on something other than physical problems and negative preoccupations about loss or aging."

     Many studies show that children with pets have an improvement in self-esteem, empathy, allergies, and even asthma. Children with ADD are found to be able to focus better with a pet around. Positive results are being compiled in studies on the interaction of autistic children with dogs, horses and guinea pigs. The animals usually calm the children as they learn about sensory stimulation. One mother speaks of her son's special service dog, "I have watched irritability and transition problems melt away as my son and other children pet him, sit next to him, and lie on him."

     On a side note, most problems with animals and children involves lack of supervision. When looking for a canine companion for your children, dog breed is less of a factor than training both dog and children to play well together. Some cats and dogs are more permissible than others in being picked up and hugged. Be sure to pick a cat that tolerates little children's love pats rather than just picking out a pretty cat.

     So, the animals themselves have a healthy effect on us. What about a photo or a video of an animal?  A study by Loma Linda University discovered that cortisol levels decline, which means we feel less stressed, while watching funny animal videos. A recent study in Japan found that looking at cute animal faces helps people to slow down, focus and perform difficult tasks more accurately. That sounds like a great reason hang animal posters around your workplace.  I urge you to do your own study. Look through a gallery of animal photos and notice how you feel. Calm. Yep, me too!

For more information, read a few of the pages from which I derived my research:

Thursday, March 26, 2015

A Birthday Party for your Pet?

     Sure, it may seem a little over the top to some, but why not? After all, it's another reason to party! Of course, dogs will appreciate a party more than most cats or bunnies, but with the right combination of guests, the party will be a fun adventure for everyone.

     First, create a guest list and send out your invitations. Your friends from the dog park and those who go out for doggie play dates should be first on the list. It is important to only invite dogs that play nicely and get along well with your dog. Constantly trying to quiet barking dogs or separate dog fights will kill the fun party atmosphere. Invite pets that you know are vaccinated and are healthy. If you aren't sure, you could write at the bottom of your invitation to make sure all animals are vaccinated. Only invite people who are comfortable and enjoy being around dogs. Small children should always be in the company of an adult to monitor their play.

     Next, create decorations, gift bags and a menu. Check out Pinterest or your local party store for decoration ideas. Think of paper plates, cups, party hats and napkins with bone or paw prints. Balloons are fun for both children and dogs. Design gift bags and party favors, such as a cleverly decorated bag or mason jar filled with doggie treats to give out to each guest. I've seen adorable dog collar charms tied to the gifts bags. Kids love to help out with creating invitations, decorating and playing party games.
Make sure to hear their ideas and get them involved in the fun. Don't forget to order a doggie birthday cake or research creating your own. The ingredients should be safe for dogs which means no chocolate. I found a good recipe website that I will post at the end of this blog. Also check out Pups 'n Cups to order cakes and treats.

     Prepare for you party by setting out a plastic swimming pool in the yard for the pets to cool off. Set up a wire enclosure if your backyard is not fenced in. Place tables for people food high enough so that dogs are not able to reach. Specially mark dog treats or put them into dog bowls so there is no question which treats are for human consumption and which are just for dogs. Keep extra paper towels, poop bags and cleaning products on hand for spills and pet clean-up.

     Plan out games to play that are fun for dogs as well as your human guests. I have created a list of just a few:
1) Dunking for Hot Dogs - Fill a tub with 4 or 5 inches of water at the bottom. Place cut up hot dogs in the water. One-at-a-time, give each dog 10 seconds at the tub. Count how many hot dog pieces each dog eats. The most eaten wins a prize.
2) Snoopy Says - Have guests line up with your dogs. When everyone is ready, tell them "Snoopy Says Sit." Guests will then command their dog to sit. The dogs that don't sit are out of the game. This play continues with various commands such as roll over, bark, shake, etc. Guests can only command their dogs if you say "Snoopy Says" first. If not, and the guest commands the dog, they are out of the game. Last dog and guest completing all commands correctly wins a prize.
3) Have a best of show contest, best costume contest, silliest dog trick contest, etc with prizes for each.
4) Doggie treasure hunt - Hide dog bones or toys in the back yard and let guests help their pets find the treasure.

     Hire a pet photographer to take some candid and professional photos during your event. I do not charge a session or sitting fee if there are at least 4 dog-owning guests at your party. Images can be viewed and photo packages ordered at the party and mailed to the guest's home. Purchasing a print of each dog at the party for your guests creates a terrific memory for your friends to frame at home.

     Parties for other types of animals can also be a lot of fun.  Unless your cat is a kitten or a very social cat, I wouldn't try inviting cats to a cat birthday party. But a fun cat-themed party for your cat loving friends is a great idea. Research food items that are healthy for your pet. Create decorations and party games that adults and children can both enjoy.

Dog Cake recipes:
To order Dog Cakes:
To hire a Pet Photographer:

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

About the Paw

     I recently saw a video, ( which is on Netflix) that opened my eyes to a procedure that many people don't think much about. In America, many cats are declawed routinely to protect themselves and their children from cat scratches, as well as keeping their furniture intact. Some veterinarians include declaw in their kitten wellness packages. The documentary states that 22 million cats in America are declawed.

     I have never actually declawed any of my cats, but I am aware of pet lovers who have had this procedure done. I am pretty sure they love their cats and they would not have intentionally caused their cat pain. But unfortunately, the declaw surgery often causes crippling pain. Since I became aware of this, I noticed some of my client's cats walk very tentative on their feet. I touched the pads on these cat's feet and they were definitely hurting. I hadn't noticed it before or thought it was just arthritis.

     Declawing a cat requires not only removing the claw, but also the bone from which the claw grows. This is done by cutting the bone at the first joint, similar to cutting off your finger at the first joint from your nail. Some vets use a clipper that cuts into the bone with a sharp edge. Other vets use a laser which essentially does the same thing. The bone of the joint doesn't cut perfectly so pieces of bone are left. These pieces are enough to hurt like walking on a pebble in your shoe. Even worse,  from the remaining bone fragment, a claw may start to grow under the skin.

     Why would veterinarians do this is if they know the surgery could cause so much pain? Many say they attempt to dissuade their client from having the procedure done, but they are afraid that the client may abandon the animal if they don't perform the procedure. I would think if the client is that unattached to the cat, it would be better to suggest finding the pet a new home. Some vets and vet techs who have witnessed the pain and blood associated with the procedure, have stopped offering it.

     In England, the Animal Welfare Act of 2006 prohibits procedures that interfere with sensitive tissues and bone structure of any animal. Declawing was never routinely done in the UK because it was considered animal cruelty.  There are at least 37 countries that have made the procedure illegal.  In California, nine cities have banned declawing on the grounds that it is animal cruelty: West Hollywood, San Francisco, Santa Monica, Los Angeles, Beverly Hills, Berkeley, Burbank, and Culver City.  California Gov.  Jerry Brown signed SB 1229 into law in 2012 which prohibits landlords from requiring tenants to declaw their cats or devocalize their dogs.  New York Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal is currently working on a bill to ban cat declawing across the state of New York.

     Claws are actually an important part of a cat's life. Claws are used for running, jumping, balancing, gripping, climbing and communicating.  Sure, a cat will adjust to any handicap, just like a human learns other skills to deal with the loss of a limb, but is that a good enough reason to cause permanent damage to the animals paws? When walking, cats place their weight on their toes, so if they have pain there, they will shift their weight to the back, or the wrists of their paws. This can produce arthritis or other issues by creating an abnormal body posture. The American Veterinary Medical Association admits in their journal that a Cornell Feline Health Center Study found 33% of cats that were declawed develop at least one behavioral change, such as biting or urinating outside the litter box. Since the claws are the cat's main form of defense, by losing them, the cat would obviously resort to defend itself by biting.  Too many declawed cats demonstrating these unwanted behaviors are surrendered to shelters where they are euthanized.

     There are so many good alternatives to keep your cat from destroying the house. Training your cat to use a scratching post is my favorite method. Some people say that it's not possible to train a cat, but I have easily trained all 5 of my current and previous cats.  Scratching posts that are at least 3 feet tall and are wrapped with sisal, a rope-like material, work the best. Secure the post so that is does not easily tip over. When my cat scratches the rug or the furniture, I will give the cat a firm "no," pick the cat up quickly and set it in front of the scratching post. Then, changing my voice to soft and loving, I praise the cat as I drag its paws down the post. Whenever the cat uses the scratching post on its own, I praise the cat with love and treats. It doesn't take long if you are consistent in your training.

     If training isn't your strong suit, routinely clipping the cat's claws will help.  I recommend  a product called Soft Paws, invented by a British veterinarian.  The nail caps go over the actual claw and come in a dazzling array of colors. I must admit, I just don't have the time to constantly groom my cat's claws, nor do I enjoy the fight. If you are like me, find a vet or vet tech who can apply them for you.

     For those who are being scratched by their cat, learn the proper way to play and pick up your cat. Some cats are not as fond of cuddling as other cats. Respect your cat's boundaries. Young children need supervision so that they too learn the right way to interact with their pet. Never engage in aggressive play that teaches your cat that scratching and biting are acceptable.

     If you have declawed a cat in the past, my intent is not to shame you or make you feel bad. The important thing is to learn and improve the lives of our dear pets. Watch the documentory, "The Paw Project" and let's educate our fellow pet lovers about this cruel procedure.

     All photos are copyright protected 2015 Progressive Portraits.