Animals we love

“We can judge the heart of a man by his treatment of animals.” Immanuel Kant

This lovely ginger cat is called George. My son picked him out of a litter after his first cat died. I was a little worried how the dogs would react to such a tiny kitten. I was worried that we’d lose him in our huge house. It turns out I didn’t need to be worried about any of it. The dogs immediately ran over to him and licked him all over. Our female dog followed him everywhere. We always knew where the kitty was because she followed him. If she was looking under the sofa, we knew George was under the sofa. If she went downstairs slowly, then George was going down the stairs slowly. We’ve had him for 6 years and he’s the only cat who allows the dogs near him. He’s fat and happy and we adore him.

This cat is called Bridget. We got her and her brother after my youngest son broke his leg and was stuck on the sofa. My sister and I saw a sign posted at the 7-11 that there were free kitties to give away. So we called and went out to see them. The mother of the kitties was taken in by two kind men who had seen her thrown from a car. They rescued her and took her to the vet who had to amputate her tail because it was badly broken. They think she was thrown away because she was pregnant. She had three of the cutest little babies I’ve ever seen. We took two of them home. She is the only survivor. Her older brother, Dragon, had to be put down because of kidney problems. He’s buried in a grave at my Mum’s house. But Bridget’s still running around. My son’s friends call her Kinja because they say she’s a kitty-ninja. She can jump from the ground to the top of our 7 foot entertainment stand. Our other kitties watched her with jealousy so much that we had to build a ladder for them to climb up so they could enjoy it too. 

This is Cleopatra but we call her Cleo. We got her to be company for our older dog who destroyed the house every time we left. He was lonely and she was good company for him. They were close friends for 8 years until he had to be put down only last year. Now she follows us around, lost. We try to take her places in the car but she still gets so excited. She won’t sit still. You’d think an arthritic 10 year old labrador retriever would sit down as much as possible but she’s still as energetic as when we got her years ago, small enough to fit in a handbag.

This is Stripe. This was his last photo. We got him in Portland, Oregon. My older son picked him out of the litter and he’s our longest lived pet of 16 years. We got two kitties when we got him but the other one, a white one, called Yeti, ran away. He came back only one time and we were so excited to see him but in the morning he was gone. We never saw him again. Stripe came to Alberta with us so he’s an international traveler. He was an indoor/outdoor cat for a long time but when he started to get cataracts a couple of years ago, we kept him inside. He became a permanent fixture on my bed which has a heated blanket I turned on to keep him warm. We knew he didn’t have much time left when he started losing weight. And he would meow loudly as if he were lost. I think he was getting Alzheimer’s and just didn’t know where he was. And on the last day, my older son and I both knew he didn’t have much time left. He couldn’t walk anymore. We took him to the emergency vet to be put down. My brother came to my rescue so I could hold him. I didn’t want his last trip to be in an animal carrier. We took him and told him what a good cat he was and let him go. We’ll take him to my Mum’s house to put him in the ground with Dragon.

Animals break our hearts. They creep in through the hard exteriors that grow around us. They love us no matter what we do. I shut Stripe in a closet once and he was there for 3 days. I was thinking he ran away but my younger son heard him meowing at night and let him out of the closet I had shut him in. And he still loved me. They love us even when we don’t deserve to be loved. They love us even when we don’t want to be loved. And we keep looking for that acceptance that we rarely get from humans. We look for love. We put ourselves in a position to be hurt and we get hurt. And still we look for that connection. Just like when we look for love in humans. Only animals are better than humans. And when we take them for their last journey, we can’t explain what we’re doing. They don’t understand what’s going on. We can’t say good bye in words they will understand. And we see in them our own humanity, our own end, our own final journey. Will we see them again? Is there a life beyond this one? These animals of ours will know the answers to these questions before we do. We love them even though we’ll never be good enough to deserve their love. We love them and that’s enough.

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Athabasca Wedding

“To be an artist is to believe in life.” Henry Moore

I never had a proper wedding. But years ago, I attended a ceremony that I wish was my own. I didn’t know many of the people there. My husband was a high school friend of the groom but I didn’t really know anyone. I was shy and three months pregnant so I spent most of the wedding watching from the side lines while other people drank alcohol. I sipped on water wishing I could look as classy as the bride in her simple dress. We stuffed ourselves with homemade Ukrainian food but not the cabbage rolls. I still can’t eat cabbage rolls

My husband and I couldn’t afford a wedding gift. He was still a student and I had just graduated from art college which qualified me to do absolutely nothing. But I always said I’d make a painting for them. That was the plan at least. Between raising 2 kids and moving to another country and starting a career in nursing, I forgot about it. Years later, I was reviewing all my old sketches and I found the series I made that special night. Looking at those old sketches, I began making compositions in my head. They were all based on the church and drawings of people at the reception. Even though the image is based on the wedding, I took a great deal of license with the painting. I wanted the surface of the painting to be divided up with shapes of flower petals and it oddly made the church look as if it were made of stone. But really, it was a wooden structure, like most prairie churches. I had fun adding embellishments that weren’t really there, lines and shapes that offered nothing but the joy of playing with different colors next to one another. I allowed myself the pleasure of applying color, not just recording the images, but painting the emotions. There are many different incarnations of this drawing. One sketch has the bride and groom holding hands and flying through the sky like a Marc Chagall painting. But this was my favorite composition.

I brought the the painting to the couple 25 years after it was due. They’re still together and very much in love. The groom teared up when he saw it, obviously still smitten with his bride. I spent an evening with them drinking wine. They told me the story of how they met. Who can resist a romantic story when a man sees the love of his life and does whatever he can to be with her? It’s the plot of almost every romantic comedy. But it’s rarely seen in life.

On the bottom of the canvas I painted the words, “The sky was aflame with roses on the day she said I do.” They have the kind of love everyone wants but not many people get. This painting was for them and for everyone who can find a warm hand to hold at the end of the day and a soft voice to whisper “I love you,” into the shadows of our own loneliness.

This drawing can be downloaded at dalegreenearts.bigcartel.com

Sunset

“Painting is easy when you don’t know how, but very difficult when you do.” Edgar Degas

Alberta is such a beautiful place. I’ve said this to many people and I’ve often been corrected. “You haven’t seen Paris,” they say. And they shake their heads, maybe roll their eyes, firmly believing in my lack of sophistication. But I feel sorry for them. They’ll probably never visit the cities they recommend to me. And they’ll spend their lives hoping to find happiness somewhere else when I can find it right in front of me.

I see beauty everywhere. I see color, and light, and composition. No matter where I am, I can see it. What a sad situation most people are in because they don’t realize they can see it too. Seeing the world in this way is the reason I started painting. My goal is to remind people of the beauty that surrounds us every day. If they see what I see, maybe they’ll remember it too.

The prairie sky is infinitely charming. From my childhood until today, I’ve developed a habit of watching the sky which is the most magnificent canvas. Morning and evening the horizon is draped with color, like a gift, colorfully wrapped around the edge of the world. Look away and when you look back it’s already changed. Escape is only as far away as casting your eyes upward.

This farm, near Elk Island Park, was a string of ancient buildings, weather worn and broken in places like people. I’m pretty sure they weren’t being used any longer. And chances are, with Edmonton close in proximity, this farm may no longer exist, building gone, holes filled in waiting to become a golf course or hotel. But the painting still hangs on my wall, bringing me back to that moment when I sat quietly watching the sky change on a warm June day in the country.

Find this sketch and the subsequent painting available for download at dalegreenearts.bigcartel.com.

Elk Island Farm

“I dream my painting. And then I paint my dream.” Vincent Van Gogh

Elk Island National Park has always been a part of my life. From the time I was a young child until just a few months ago when I went kayaking on Astotin Lake. 

As an inner city kid living in poverty, my life was anchored in the noise and close quarters of low income housing. But I always had the park with the green smells of the algae, the sounds of the loons calling, the feel of fresh air moving over my skin. Buffalo and elk can be seen close enough to smell their matted fur. Herons and swans gather in flocks. We used to sit on the edges of Astotin Lake and feel the warmth of the sun, the coolness of the water, the grittiness of the sand.

The park is very close to Edmonton but takes on the cloak of a very different world. As a child, and as an adult, I would feel the stressors of life fall away as I leave the city. During one of these trips, I saw this little farm, ducks swimming in the water, every building a different shape, trees losing their leaves, sky as blue as a robin’s egg. So this sketch captured that lovely afternoon and eventually it became a painting. 

This painting has my favorite tree I’ve ever drawn. It’s perky and happy and energetic, and I’ve used it in three other paintings, like I’ve plagiarized myself.

I don’t think it’s an accident that I’m a Laura Ingalls Wilder fan and that I love farms and that the world of country living was something I craved. Such a different life than I had, clinging to the fringes of society, feeling picked on, pointed at, teased, barely tolerated. The poor kid. The welfare kid. 

It was no wonder I saw a farm as paradise. I could be someone else. I could make a new identity. I could be valued for who I was instead of being trapped in the role of leach on society. I used to fantasize about living on a farm. A strange fantasy maybe but even now, decades later, I think about how ideal my life would be living near the earth and animals. And I wish we could live life over again so we could use our hard won wisdom to be better the next time around.

You can find this sketch and the subsequent painting for download at dalegreenearts.bigcartel.com

Milk River Farm

“Art is never finished, only abandoned.” Leonardo da Vinci

I began sketching years ago, long before I realized which direction my life would take. A couple of years ago I began looking at all my old sketches and realized how complex they really are, like I had never given them the credit they deserve. But more importantly, what I found was a visual diary of my life, a record of the places on this earth where my feet have walked. And I saw the footsteps of someone interesting.

Most of the drawings were made on napkins or poorly cared for coil back notebooks that were disintegrating. I had to rescue them. If I had waited a few years more, I might have lost them. So I began a project to pull them out of the realm of the forgotten and bring them back to life. I started a youtube channel to document the revival of the drawings. And I’d like to share them with everyone. I’m not done yet. I should have a couple hundred videos when I’m finished. 

This drawing, the Milk River Farm was drawn, as the name suggests, just outside of Milk River Alberta. I drew it during a camping trip I took with my younger sister. Most often I drew from the car, carefully positioning it so I could see the most beautiful composition. My sister sat in the front seat with me. She had unending patience when it came to my art.

I love going on trips with my little sister. We always look for out of the way places that are devoid of tourists. We usually stop at Fish Lake Provincial Park outside of Drumheller and we’re often the only people there. Such a lonely place. It feels like the end of the world. A place where the sun rises in the morning as a long lost friend. We always bring specialty coffees and every morning we light the propane stove to make a sweet cup of paradise to sit in the company of the air and earth. 

This sketch was drawn during one of these trips. We had awakened and gone to Drumheller for breakfast. We were eating bacon out of styrofoam containers. The world sparkled, droplets of water from the rainfall the night before, cows mooing in the background waiting to become Alberta beef. My sister and I sat in the car munching on sticks of salty bacon while I sketched.

This drawing can be seen on video below. It can also be downloaded as a coloring page at dalegreenearts.bigcartel.com.

Houses in the Country

“People discuss my art and pretend to understand as if it were necessary to understand, when it’s simply necessary to love.” Claude Monet

I used to walk.

I put my son in a backpack and walked. When I was lonely or bored or sad, I walked. An the walking took me outside of myself.

We lived on John D’or prairie Indian Reserve and I had the strange experience of not knowing one single person other than my husband and my infant son. My husband was a teacher on the reserve and the teachers were a tight knit group. But I wasn’t one of them. The natives were a tight knit group but I wasn’t one of them either. So I was lonely and I walked. I saw all kinds of homes, some only shacks, some larger all in various stages of repair, some abandoned. I saw few people. But I always had a feeling of being watched. 

I saw these two houses standing together in a sea of long grass that turned and waved in the wind. My son sat in his pack looking at everything in silence. He was the quietest, most studious child. I watched his eyes looking around in awe and I thought how special it is to see something for the first time. And then I realized, it was my first time seeing them too.

It was only after many years that I realized the painting was really a portrait of my husband and I. The pink house in the foreground is my husband, more open, more interesting. and more vibrant. And the yellow house was me, standing in his shadow, drabber, more closed off, plainer.

But much like houses, people’s interiors can’t be seen from the outside. My husband’s effervescent exterior masked his sadness, and my reserved nature covered over a rich imagination and strength that he didn’t have. It took me many years to understand this fact And now that he’s gone, I think back to those times and I wish I could live them again so I could be the kind of wife he needed and we would have been happier.

Find this drawing and the subsequent painting at dalegreenearts.bigcartel.com available for download. 

West Edmonton Church

“Without art, the crudeness of reality would make the world unbearable.” Edgar Allan Poe

For years I took the bus past this church. I worked at a daycare center and I had to transfer buses to get to work. People don’t believe me when I tell them I really liked taking the bus. I used to sketch people’s faces while I sat on my bumpy ride home. I had to be sneaky so they didn’t know I was drawing the graceful curve of their jaw, their tired expressions, eyes that drooped after a long day. Every one’s face is beautiful in its own way. We wear our worries on our faces between our furrowed brows, under the love starved hollows of our cheeks, on the downward curve of the corners of our mouths. Every day I would see some of the same faces and some new. All unique. All lovely.

When I transferred buses I waited for the number 12 right in front of this beautiful church in West Edmonton. I saw the building every day and grew quite fond of it. I’ve always given buildings human qualities in the same way people anthropomorphize teddy bears. I actually feel like they can love me back. Every day I sat across the street from this lovely church. Finally, I took the time to sketch it, missing one of my buses in the process. 

And the church is still there, of course, but the neighborhood has changed somewhat. Condos have gone up around it, towering over it. But the church still opens its doors and parishioners show up in ever dwindling numbers.

The church contacted me a few years ago about using my painting as a fundraiser and of course I agreed. I could have charged them copyright fees but I didn’t. I’m not a religious person but I have warm feelings about churches whose purpose is usually community and companionship and solace. The last time I was inside a church was for a garage sale. My son was with me and he said he felt like lightning was going to hit him because he’s gay. How can I support a church when it makes my sweet, little boy feel so condemned? I don’t go to church at all but even if I don’t attend church, I still love the buildings and I have a feeling of fondness when I see them.

I never felt the need to attend church. As a child, I had a recurring nightmare that Satan was coming to my house to take me to hell. This was in reaction to the teachings I heard on Sunday morning. I had the terrifying dream over and over, waking up in a cold sweat curled up in a ball on my bed. As I grew older I had no use for the church which could cause a child to feel such fear. I have more reasons to stay away than to belong. 

But as an adult, I have cared for patients who are faced with their own death. I see their despair and fear. I listen to their weeping. And I have come to understand the value of a deity. People cower in the face of death. We hide in the coat tails of a God who may or may not exist. But often, our beliefs give us some comfort when looking up at the emotionless face of our own mortality. In the darkest times in our lives, we need a warm voice to tell us “It’s going to be OK.” And when they feel that fear, we call the pastor to talk to them, to pray with them. Religion is able to give comfort that medicine can’t offer. I have learned that we don’t have to be believers to see the transformation that can be brought to a person’s fear by God. That’s what I see in the churches I sketch. I see people coming together to remind one another how wonderful it is to be alive.

This drawing and the subsequent painting can be downloaded at dalegreenearts.bigcartel.com