30 November 2008

The Workshop

I had been asked to give a one day instructional workshop to members of the Brant Visual Artists' Guild to be held in St George. There would be between 15 and 20 intermediate level adult watercolour students in attendance, all of them strangers. Although challenged by the offer, as this would be my first workshop, I felt confident that I could do it since I have always liked to teach.

The topic would be pet portraiture. I broke down the steps taken to paint the Zephyr portrait (shown in the previous post) and would use this painting as my main teaching example. But a couple of days before the event, it occurred to me that some students might prefer to paint a cat instead of a dog. I quickly decided to add a kitten photo from a royalty free website. This was fortunate, since the kitten was the preferred choice of many. I have noticed that artists and cats (and avid readers) often go together.

I have heard that the definition of an expert is a person in the room that knows more about a subject than anyone else. Here I was showing others what I had learned, and being treated as an expert on the topic............ Who, me?!......... Perhaps I had more to offer on that topic than the others, but 'expert' is a relative concept. So often I hear teachers say that they learn so much from their students, and it is true. We all learn from each other, and there is still so much to learn. I was just showing what I had acquired up to this point on my artistic journey.

And it was a thrill.
Thanks Pam, and members of the BVAG.

20 November 2008

Oh Zephyr!

Our time raising Zephyr for the National Service Dogs was quickly coming to an end. (See the blog post of Aug 30 2007). We had trained and nurtured him for nearly a year and a half, and he thought of himself as part of the family. We nearly did as well, but we held on to the belief that his was a more noble future. Knowing that we would only have him for a few more weeks, I took him out for a photo shoot. As usual, he happily obliged, and this portrait is the result.

There had been the usual puppy mishaps, the inevitable slipper chewing, the house training accidents and the like. But as he grew, we discovered that he was becoming a very strong dog, and was generally more excitable than his peers. Great strength combined with over excitability are not traits sought after for service dogs, and we became concerned. Sure enough, only two weeks into his four month professional training, we were informed that Zephyr had been "released from the program". Did we want to keep him? We could cover the cost that he had incurred to the service organization, such as vet fees, and he would be ours. Or we could pass him along to another group, and with little hesitation, we agreed that he should be given another try. For the second time, we said our good-byes as he went off to school, this time the Lions Club Guide Dogs of Canada. We had hopes that with the chance of training for one of their four categories of service (seeing, hearing, physical, and seizure) he would soon find his place.
I always said that Zephyr was a 'boomerang' dog due to his great ability to retrieve, but I hadn't expected that to also mean that he would keep on bouncing back to us. We were informed that he did not have the right stuff for Guide Dogs either. Better, perhaps, but still short of the mark.

As I write this in March 2009, Zephyr is on his third try. His retrieving skills may be his salvation, since, based on his enthusiasm and tenacity in ball retrieval, he easily passed the qualification trials for yet another school. He is now training with the Canada Border Services Agency to become a 'sniffer' dog of contraband goods. I am optimistic about this match...we'll see.............................