You may remember the portrait of Yorkies Zoey and Prince from January. Well, they were actually the second portrait of dogs I was commissioned to do over the holidays. The first was top secret…until yesterday. So after quite a long time with no portrait commissions I had two requests in December within days of each other, and both were of dogs. But Copper was a dog I knew.
Copper was the best friend of our friend Chris, and they lived in the Green Mountains of Vermont. When I met Copper in the early years all I could think of was the red dog from the movie “Funny Farm” with Chevy Chase. If you’ve never seen it, a writer moves to a small town in Vermont with his wife to write a book, and to complete their stereotypical rural existence they acquire a dog with long red hair and floppy ears (sorry, not a dog expert), and they drive home triumphantly in their convertible, open the door, the dog bounds out of the car, runs to a stream, chases some ducks, runs around, and then runs…and runs…and runs…away. It never gets a name beyond, “Dog! Wait, dog!!”
That was what it was like visiting with Chris as Copper ran and ran and ran in the beautiful Vermont countryside–never stopped, but he did eventually return.
Chris stopped by last year during the pandemic and we stood outside, masked, and caught up the best we could. He said Copper, at thirteen, was not well and he was wrestling with what to do. Eventually I received an email from Chris’s dad. Copper had been put to sleep and he wondered if I would be willing to accept a portrait commission as a surprise for Chris.
Copper’s bold coloring required the most intense pigments, and in my current mood of experimentation, I decided on what I will call a rainbow portrait. I use Conte pastel pencils in the colors of the rainbow plus black and white in this order:
I had tried this twice before with Margot and Danny Boy and James, but, of course, I had never tried it on a dog, so I got out my 8 pencils and a piece of burgundy paper and gave it a whirl. I don’t have photos of the process, but take my word for it that it looks really weird in the process and my family probably gets silently concerned about my abilities, but I thoroughly enjoyed it, including the final detail of white drool:
Copper made it to Chris’s family, made it to the framer, but due to the pandemic, has been sitting, waiting for its owner. Last night Chris and his best friend were reunited, in a way.
Today Chris filled me in on Copper’s life. He said Copper became the unofficial therapy dog for a young boy with Down’s syndrome. When he was having a rough time his mother would bring him over and Copper’s presence would gently calm the boy. He told me a story of leaving Copper in his truck while he went into the hardware store. When he came out a small elderly woman was standing in front of the open truck window and Copper had both his paws on her shoulders. A man behind Chris, said, “That’s my mother,” and explained that she had Alzheimer’s, and when she was a child she had a Golden retriever. She thought Copper was her dog. After that, the man would bring his mother to visit Copper, and every time she thought she was reunited with her own dog.
Recently I told Iain that my goal with my portraits was not to make them look like a photo. I wanted them to look…alive. If I can breathe some life into a best friend, a husband, or a child for someone who is grieving then I am satisfied.