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Best friends

Best Friends

Best friends, a bond of affection

Horses make good friends! They’re social animals and sociable once a pecking order is established to make them feel secure in their equine neighborhood. Studies show that leadership and dominance do play a role in horse interactions but they’re less important once order and safety are established between them and their familiar and best friends; then they’re more likely to rub and scratch each other’s backs, to parade the paddock together, and to watch out for one another. Those behaviors reveal a horse level of understanding and trust.

Sensory creatures

Like people, horses communicate with facial expressions using eyes, ears, and noses. It’s been said that the eyes are the windows of the soul and horses have the largest eyes among all the land mammals. Placed at the sides of their head, they can see more than 270° around without turning the head. Each ear has sixteen articulating muscles that rotate the ear through 180° and they typically point the ear toward whatever the eye on that side is seeing. So yes, the horse can see two different things at the very same time! They can twitch and move their skin separately from the muscles beneath. Horses also vocalize what they want to communicate with whinnies, neighs, roars and snorts, the meaning of which other horses know and that we too can learn. They are unique and interesting animals.

Do horses really befriend humans?

If you’ve cared for a horse, enjoyed each other’s company, built a history together, learned the nuances of emotion, you know that the horse is your friend just as you are his. Each of you is free to express your feelings honestly, to exchange trust, sympathy and love. It’s not that a horse cannot compare or judge you but that he’s found you worthy. Because a horse does judge and remembers, earning his affection is a personal honor and true compliment. In your shared friendship each of you can be happier. A horse may live many decades returning value for value with a fortunate human friend. They see us; we see them.

From the artist’s point of view:

This is Ed, a Morgan horse who was cherished by his human for more than thirty years. The commission came last winter—to paint a remembrance in honor of a wonderful horse and as a surprise for his owner and best friend to replace her grief with glad memory. The exact time and place is imagined but summarizes familiar woods and trees, a corral and the cattail marsh of home. To set the scene required four major paint sketches. From the beginning both husband and daughter contributed ideas in the framework of a good day between best friends landscaped against a summer sky with puffy clouds. It was a challenge gladly accepted and their help throughout was irreplaceable.

Challenges in painting Best Friends

Painting Ed was complicated by their wish to show his muscular, younger self in the prime of life, in the days when carrying his friend across the countryside was a mutual joy–in the absence of a photo that showed him that way. Painting her was challenging in a different way; we humans recognize everything about ourselves! The slightest nuance of glance or smile or posture had to be accurate or she wouldn’t recognize or accept it as herself. Several months into the process I even considered anonymously observing her, perhaps in her place of work—until that just seemed too entirely weird.

So I put her riding helmet on her head and even turned her sideways into the scene. The helmet covered her lovely hair which I’d decided long before to showcase with sunshine highlights. Turning her head toward Ed made painting a reasonable likeness more reliable (as we don’t commonly see ourselves from the side). But that dodged the point of the painting. So I persisted without helmet, face forward until she looked like the woman in two dozen family photos, until husband and daughter confirmed that indeed it did capture the woman they knew.

Passing the test! 20160918_133514

But the truest test came when the husband brought his wife to our home. On a Sunday drive through the country, he’d told her moments before that he wanted her to meet some people who lived down a long country lane in coulee country. We greeted him, “It’s good to see you again,” while she looked slightly bewildered; imagine her thinking, “Odd that he knows these strangers whom I don’t.” We all acknowledged the peculiarity of the moment and assured her that soon all would be explained.

I’d hung her portrait in our library and beyond were lemonade and cookies on the summer porch. Leading the way I turned toward her at the instant she saw herself and Ed. It was a life event for them and for us too, a never to be forgotten moment. We four spent time getting to know one another, answering questions, explaining how it all came to be. They are a remarkable couple in the ways they communicate, in his kindness and perceptions of what might please her, in her appreciation of him and thankfulness for the gift.

And she looks exactly like the beautiful woman in the painting!

Sam needs his Forever Home; donation portrait to the Dog Art for Old Friends benefit to be held October 16, 2015. at the Omni Nashville

Sam needs his Forever Home; donation portrait to the Dog Art for Old Friends benefit to be held October 16, 2015. at the Omni Nashville

Senior dog needs forever home

The shepherd painted here is Sam, worn out from life on the farm and enjoying a satisfying midday rest among the cornstalks. But he’ll rise to greet anyone who comes along with an enthusiastically wagging tail. Sam understands the value of the trade—he’ll give love and loyalty for a good retirement home and someone who appreciates him.

Old Friends Senior Dog Sanctuary

Old Friends Senior Dog Sanctuary is a Forever Foster home-based Sanctuary in beautiful Mount Juliet, Tennessee. An important part of their mission is to raise awareness of the joys and challenges of living with older dogs. Senior dogs, especially those with medical problems or disabilities, face a much greater chance of euthanasia at shelters than younger dogs because it’s difficult to find adopters for them due to their shorter additional life expectancy and unknown veterinary costs. Most of these wonderful senior dogs will be able to live happily with a good quality of life if given a chance. They make wonderful companions because they are mature, calm and loving.  

It can be more difficult for them to settle in, and once they do, it is difficult for them to move again. For this reason they strive to find them forever foster or adoptive homes where they can live out their retirement years as a loved family member. Currently OFSDS provides lifetime retirement homes for 47 senior dogs at the Sanctuary and many more in temporary and Forever Foster Homes. They are an all volunteer 501(c)(3), non-profit.  They say, “We do not concern ourselves with the quantity of time that they have left, rather the quality of the life that we can provide them for that time.” Learn more about their mission at the OFSDS home page and blog and then LIKE them at Facebook!

Dog Art for Old Friends Benefit auction

The Nashville community of arts and artists including many names you would recognize has become a key supporter of the Senior Dogs Sanctuary. This year Light Pixie Studio is pleased to contribute to such a worthy cause. The second annual Dog Art for Old Friends benefit auction will be held at the Omni Nashville on October 16th with 100% of proceeds to help Old Friends. Tickets are available online for the live event and silent auction previews and bidding underway from May 1 to October 16, 2015.

What DOES zone editing have to do with it?
Minus 21 Farenheit at the winter creek

This is creek water frozen solid while making a texture of large ice crystals. See the detail of shadows in the bank above and with a glint of snow diamonds here and there.
Canon 5Dm3: 100mm 2.8 L ISO:50, 1/60, IS USM with UV plus 8xND filter;
Panorama, then zone editing in CS6 with channel masking for luminosity layers, then curves first before other adjustments, final hi-pass sharpening

Snap-Crackle-Pop through the night

When you live in southwestern Wisconsin -21°F (that’s below) zero is February normal. We expect it; we plan for it. Life doesn’t stop because the temperature plunges. The house cracks like gunfire as it shrinks into midnight, snaps-crackles-pops all through the night, then explodes into morning with the sun. It wakes me for an early run, gets me thinking about images with plans to match what the eye sees to what the camera captures.

Ready, set, shoot!

When it’s bitter cold and you’re passionate about photography, being prepared means more than long underwear, triple layers, and chem-heat. The equipment demands preparation too for the brilliant-bright day. For instance, in a mostly white scene proper exposure benefits from a neutral density filter and knowing what camera settings are most likely to produce the shot. I’m wearing mittens so prepping the Canon means menu-ready with lens and filters in place and settings dialed in. Last week I set a task to learn even more about zone editing in order to get the most from white winter shots. When it’s this cold, I’m willing to sit and even lay in the snow, but adjusting a tripod doesn’t work so these shots are all handheld. My goal was to see details in the snow even when squinting into the brightness behind sunglasses. These accomplished what I wanted. To judge for yourself, click a photo to see the original in a new window.

Sitting in a snowbank at -21°

If you’re a photo nut like me, read in the bezel below each photo for the basics of what worked. For everyone else the pictures speak for themselves, an up-close look at what draws a photographer out of a warm house in the early morning of a frigid day, a string of many such days of this 2015 winter when the temperature never climbed above zero!

Cold Creek

Notice the frost flowers blooming 20 feet below where the spring flows out of warmer ground. A few feet further and there’s no open water.
Canon 5Dm3: 100mm 2.8 L ISO:50, 1/125, IS USM with 8xND filter;
Development from five AEB bracketed shots with Curves adjustments, then mostly hand masking and some clone stamping,

I’m actually laying in the creek for this and the next one. Five minutes later I rushed into the house for coffee and dry clothes. Did I mention that it’s MINUS 21° Farenheit (minus 30 Celsius)?

Click to see the original image in a new window.

Moving closer–and getting wetter as I lay in the creek. Focus on the snow flower bouquets on mossy stones.
Canon 5Dm3: 100mm 2.8 L ISO:50, 1/125, IS USM with 8xND filter;
Development with Lumenzia

Don’t be a little crazy like me . . . stay warm! But do give Lumenzia a try in your  own workflow!

Here’s my newest commission and another Best of Breed animal. Meet Northwynd Everlasting “Sprite” who was born a tiny 4.6 ounces but grew into a star. Last year Sprite took the highest honor a purebred Pembroke Welsh Corgi can achieve in winning the Pembroke Welsh Corgi Club National Speciality!  With a sparkling career of many awards she’s a credit to her pedigree and to her breed, the product of a noble line, sired by a champion and mother to a pup who is already winning highest honors.

This painting shows baby Sprite looking at her puppy self in life’s mirror. Looking back at her and at us is the adult Sprite with her National Speciality ribbon adorning the frame.

There are two recognized corgi breeds, the Pembrokes and the Cardigans. The royal Windsors prefer the Pembrokes and actively encourage the breed. To win the National Speciality is the ultimate Best of Breed recognition for the dog and moreover for the breeder, owner, and trainers. In this case one dedicated woman wears all these hats. When asked what best describes all the work and worry, the years of commitment leading to Sprite’s success, she answered with the words that now title this painting.

I’d never heard of the Rainbow Bridge until recently. In context of planning this painting it was abundantly clear what was meant. That a meadow full of beloved pets might exist where they wait patiently and playfully for their beloved owners is both comfort in grief and a wish for love and companionship. How touching to imagine it! The preciousness of life is what this touches so be sure to squeeze the good from today and everyday.

Keisha and Cubby: Waiting at the Rainbow Bridge

 Keisha at left was described to me as the couple’s favorite dog of all, a constant friend and companion, full of joy and eagerness, sweet of disposition, joining faithfully in morning walks and loyal always. At right is Cubby who, owned by a distracted neighbor, knew a very good thing in the happy company and care to be found next door. In their place now is Ruby, a solidly round little pup who fills today with her antics.

This painting was to be a surprise birthday gift for the man but his wife was too enthusiastic to wait a month to give it. That and a lucky circumstance allowed me to be present in the gallery to see his reaction for myself. That makes this painting especially meaningful to me as well. To translate someone’s loss into a special memory is my own little piece of paradise, a painted poem.

For anyone who has ever loved an animal friend, here then is the poetic prose entitled Rainbow Bridge written by an unknown author sometime in the last twenty to thirty years:

Just this side of heaven is a place called Rainbow Bridge.
When an animal dies that has been especially close to someone here, that pet goes to Rainbow Bridge. There are meadows and hills for all of our special friends so they can run and play together.
There is plenty of food, water and sunshine, and our friends are warm and comfortable.
All the animals who had been ill and old are restored to health and vigor; those who were hurt or maimed are made whole and strong again, just as we remember them in our dreams of days and times gone by. The animals are happy and content, except for one small thing; they each miss someone very special to them, who had to be left behind.
They all run and play together, but the day comes when one suddenly stops and looks into the distance. His bright eyes are intent; His eager body quivers. Suddenly he begins to run from the group, flying over the green grass, his legs carrying him faster and faster.
You have been spotted, and when you and your special friend finally meet, you cling together in joyous reunion, never to be parted again. The happy kisses rain upon your face; your hands again caress the beloved head, and you look once more into the trusting eyes of your pet, so long gone from your life but never absent from your heart.
Then you cross Rainbow Bridge together
.

“Freckles is my good friend. When we ride it feels like flying on wind. I wonder if Freckles feels me like a pair of new sprouted wings?”

This painting was commissioned by the young woman’s other friend to recognize an important achievement and to acknowledge a special place in the heart.

Friends