14 September 2016

Hair of the Dog

Before I continue the story of the woodcut I'm making for my dog Ty, I want to clear up one thing. Something I wrote in the first post led several people to believe that I'm doing a series of prints about Ty. No. Just one. I'm making one print that will be part of a portfolio with Zea Mays Printmaking.

In my last post I showed you some Photoshop sketches I made playing with the idea of doing a paint-by-number portrait of Ty. I landed on the idea of doing a winter scene with small figures representing me and Ty walking into the distance and I sat with that image for quite a while. Finally, though, I let it go. It felt too cliché. Something I learned as a commercial artist is to push beyond the cliché. People recognize and identify with clichés, but a visual cliché also allows a viewer to glance at the image, think to themselves "oh, right, I know that," and move on. I think the best images use cliché for connection but then add a twist to make a viewer look again.

More importantly to me, though, the iconic mid-century paint-by-number look just felt too silly and ironic. It didn't match my feelings about losing Ty. So I began again, trying to locate an image that would better match the whole "felt sense" of my relationship with Ty and how it feels to not have him with me any more (see note* below for more about felt sense). I looked through my photos of him, and this one jumped out at me:

This is a photo of my favorite part of Ty's body. It's above his left front leg, I guess you'd call it his shoulder, where the fur of his "mane" became the more regular fur of his hind quarters, and I loved the way it swirled right there. My eyes often landed on this part of his body when we were at rest together.

This is the image of Ty that clicked inside me as "right"— as being true to my feelings about him. It expresses the intimacy of the relationship, the physicality of it. I'm a very mental and visual person, and I learned so much from Ty about being physical. He demanded that I inhabit my body fully. He wanted me to run and hike and throw balls and play and he wanted us to always be touching some part of each other when we rested. It's that physicality, the athleticism of him, and the warm comfort of touch that I miss so much. My fingers miss the beautiful softness of his fur and the strength of the muscles under the fur. So this is my starting point for the print.

* Felt Sense*
This is a term from a psychotherapeutic technique called Focusing. A felt sense is a body sensation that is meaningful and that points to and somehow matches a vague, elusive and usually pre-verbal inner experience. I think that locating the felt sense of any particular experience or situation is useful for artists and is in fact often used by artists intuitively — that moment of aha, when an image just feels right.


Sherrie York said...

Ooh... thanks for defining "felt sense." People often ask me (or tell me) about composition principles which, for me, go in one ear and out the other. I don't think about any of that stuff, I just move things around until it all feels right.

Meditative carving wonderland you have there.

Annie B said...

"Meditative carving wonderland you have there."

You know it! :)

Sharri said...

What a lovely image for a commemorative work. Can't wait to see how you deal with this!!

Olga Norris said...

Illuminating as ever, thanks. It's good to see another working a way through cliché on a journey to clarification - towards 'aha'. Thank you also for the clarification of 'felt sense'.

Annie B said...

Thanks Sharri and Olga.

Unknown said...

I love your description of all of this - of how Ty taught you to inhabit your body more fully, about the sense of touch. I recently started a new linocut after a few months of only drawing and painting, and immediately felt a rush of relief, of "oh this feels like home". I think there really is something special about the tactility of carving and printing that draws some of us to that process. Look forward to seeing the print!

Annie B said...

Thanks Sophia.