Friday, April 26, 2013

An Interview with Karen deCordova, Dog Lover, Trainer, Artist

My Sugar
  Currently at Creative Pencils I am teaching a workshop on drawing Dog Portraits in Graphite.  I needed a model for the lessons and for the example I draw in front of the camera.  But what dog would have the physical  characteristics that would teach my students a variety of traits all in one?  Dogs have such varied features.  And then I remembered Karen deCordova.  Karen is one of my local students and is also a member of Creative Pencils.  She has a passion for her dogs and a lot of interesting experience with them.  Karen has Golden Retrievers.  That would be just right because they have short hair, medium hair, and long hair all in one portrait.  And their features are not at one extreme or the other i.e. long pointy nose or flat nose.   I have interviewed Karen and I think you will enjoy getting to know her and Target, my model, a little bit here.   


**Did you have a dog as a child?  If so what breed?  What kind of relationship did you have with that dog? 

I did not have a single dog as a youngster – I had a plethora of varied strays that I would bring home, try to hide from my parents as long as possible and train to do anything I could convince the dog to do for a treat. My father was in the Air Force and we lived overseas for several years of my childhood. Once we returned to the States I begged my parents until they relented and purchased a Shetland Sheepdog. I wanted a bigger dog, but my non-doggie parents couldn’t bear the thought. “Cinnamon” was a stubborn, serious girl that didn’t like to do what she was told. She really was more my parent’s dog than mine and I vowed to someday have my own dog that was sweet and big. 
 
**I know you to be very serious about dog training.  How did you get into dog training?  What preparation have you had? 

A commissioned portrait
I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t training a dog. I just always liked the idea of convincing a dog to do what I asked and marveled at how dogs can so easily get past the language barrier! After college, when I finally had my own sweet and big Golden Retriever, I went to a dog training class in Oklahoma City that was held by the Golden Retriever Club. My first class was taught by a woman who became my best friend for the last 30 years! In addition to training my own dogs, I have taught classes for several groups and even worked full-time as a dog trainer for several years in the late 1990s. I honed my craft by reading, attending seminars and working alongside top trainers from California to South Carolina . I even lived in Wisconsin for a summer to work with a field trainer I admired. Mostly the dogs teach me. By watching their demeanor and behavior, I hear them. Every dog speaks in their own language. Paying heed to what they say can lead to a wonderful relationship where I mostly understand them – and they mostly understand me. Helping owners achieve that relationship is always my goal when working with the public. Usually the dog figures out the owner LONG before the owner figures out the dog!
 
**You have also been involved with dog shows on many levels. Can you tell me a little bit about that? 

Dog Shows, Obedience Trials and Field Tests are the proving grounds for any trainer worth their salt. Besides being an opportunity to see what is possible with a good dog and trainer team, pitting my skills and my dog’s talent against other dog/trainer teams sheds light on my weaknesses and highlights my strengths. Training is the cake, but showing is the icing! Exhibiting a dog is a test of the dog’s learning, the handler’s skill and the ability of the dog-handler team to manage stress and work for each other. In addition to showing my dogs, I enjoy getting students ready to show their dogs. I take much pleasure in seeing the handler become confident in their ability and committed to training, although I am always more nervous watching my students compete then when I am in the ring myself! Another area of dog sport that is often ignored are the ring stewards, marshals, and other workers that make events run smoothly. Putting on an event takes a lot of manpower. I enjoy training new stewards and take pride in facilitating the smooth running of an event.
 

**Tell me about Target?  Help us to know him better.  Why was he special?  

My portrait of Target
The litter that Target came from was interesting to me because of the characteristics of individuals in the pedigree. There was a lot of talent evident in many generations and when the breeding was planned I knew I wanted one of the puppies. Target picked me at about 3 weeks old when he was the only one in his litter who woke up and toddled over to me when I spoke a greeting. From that day on, he was responsive to my words, body movements and even eye movements. Every trainer’s dream is to have a dog that is “eager to please”. The ability of a dog to work accurately yet with enthusiasm and love for the job is a difficult combination to come by. Some dogs have enthusiasm but are unable to manage the precision necessary to compete at the top levels of obedience. Some dogs have precision but without the enjoyment that makes working with them (and watching them) such a delight. Target was a wonderful combination of trainability, enthusiasm and desire to please.  “Utmost in willingness” is a phrase in the AKC rules for obedience that epitomized Target’s performances. In addition to obedience, Target was skilled in drug detection, field work, agility and tracking. He excelled at every venue we tried. He was a very flashy working dog, yet was very gentle and loved small children and kittens. Because of his high energy level people often didn’t believe me when I told them what a wonderful dog he was around our home. Other than staring at me until I would finish doing something to play with him, he was a perfect companion. We finished every day with him lying down beside my bed. I would tell him “I’ll love you one more day” and as I drifted off to sleep I would hear his tail thumping his reply.
 

**Karen, you have been in my drawing classes for a while now.  Why did you begin and what is your goal?   How does it make you feel when you accomplish a drawing?  

 I started my drawing classes with you about 3 years ago. I had listened in on your teaching while visiting And Bear Makes Three in Moore for a stamp class. I was drawn to your teaching style. My early experiences with drawing had been with my grandmother who did quite a bit of work in pastel and in oils. I remember her encouragement to try different things and her gentle way of guiding my drawing. However, in Junior High I applied to be in a drawing class by taking my portfolio of drawings to the teacher. Being an impressionable teenager, I was crushed when the young instructor callously told me that I must have traced or plagiarized my work. Despite my tearful protestations, I was told to not come back. So I quit drawing for more than 30 years. I never told my grandmother what had happened as I didn’t want to relive the embarrassing incident. I stopped my after-school drawing sessions with her and put away my sketch books. I deeply regret that I allowed a very young, ignorant art teacher to ruin drawing for me for so long.
When I heard the gentle style of your teaching, I decided to brave rejection and try drawing again. What I found was a welcoming, positive environment where I can push myself without fear of falling off the edge because I have you as a safety net. You help me be brave in trying new techniques and playing with new materials. My goals are to become comfortable with canine portraiture in a variety of mediums. I want to be able to draw my own dogs and those of my friends both as portraits and as the action figures they are!
Finishing a drawing makes me sad. That might not be an expected response, but I think I have PDSS (Post-Drawing-Stress-Syndrome). It often takes me a week or two to recover from one drawing and get excited about another drawing. Although I am always proud of myself for either what I have learned or what I have accomplished with each drawing, I also am always sad when I am finished. Perhaps it is my fear of starting something new? What I love most about drawing is that with just a pencil and a drawing surface I can take what is in my head and translate it onto paper. Lines, shading and shape – such simple concepts can express complex subjects and emotions. I often lose myself in drawing and only come out of my trance when interrupted by a muscle cramp – or the poke of a dog’s demanding nose.

**Thank you, Karen.  I have thoroughly enjoying reading your comments here.  I know others will too.

Enrollment for the Dog Portrait in Graphite workshop is still open.  Come and join us.  You'll be glad you did.   

***CREATIVE PENCILS HAS MOVED TO CREATIVE WORKSHOPS*** 

A Commissioned Portrait
 
 
Wind and Honey Creations

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Red Means Go and Green Means Stop


Or wait! Is that right? No, it doesn't seem right. It must be wrong. I must be remembering it wrong. Wait a minute. Let me think. Now, I'm confused.

That is a fairly typical conversation that I've had with myself while recording workshops.  When I record, I place the camera on a tripod over my shoulder so that the student can see the drawing happening from my viewpoint.  But as I move the paper around and zoom in sometimes, I can get out of the camera range.  So, I hook my camera up to a small tv that allows me to see what the camera sees.  The screen shows a light when the camera is on and another light when it is off.

The red light is on when the camera is recording and the green light is on when the camera is turned off.  HUH?!!!   This has confused me for a long time and I have to check and recheck myself.  I have tried to rethink it by telling myself the Rrrrreeed means Rrrrreeeecord.   And Green means Ready to Go!  But, alas, that idea has never stuck for more than  the length of time it took me to think of it.  Red for stop and green for go is too deeply embedded into my  brain from those first grade reading lessons about Dick and Jane and Sally.  Jane, watch Sally Go.  Go, Sally, Go!   Go, Go, Go!

Go happens on GREEN!

So, anyway, I've stumbled around with that for all these months of recording workshops.  It has caused me some glitches here and there.  But they were always small and fairly fixable.  .......until this last week.

I don't know what happened that day.  Maybe I didn't eat enough lunch.  Maybe I didn't sleep enough the night before.  Maybe I packed my brain in one of those moving boxes already taped up.  I don't know.  But whatever it was, it wasn't funny!

I recorded for 4 hours working on my upcoming Dog Portrait in Graphite workshop.  But when I started to download from the camera to the computer, there was only about an hour's worth of material.  What?  How could that be?  And then, I began to get nervous.  Surely not.  SURELY NOT!  

I waited patiently (haha!  Yeah, right!) until the downloading was complete.  And when I checked my imovie program, I about cried.  Every time I had stopped the camera to sharpen my pencil or get a drink of water, the camera was on.  And every time I started the camera to teach, I had turned it off!  Sigh..........

I finished checking the download at midnight, went to bed, got up the next morning and promptly made myself a
sign to put on the tv.  And then I recorded the whole thing again.... or for the first time, as the case may be.

Believe me when I say that I checked and rechecked my little sign and the light colors many times during this recording session.

I hope you'll join me for the dog portrait workshop.  It opens April 21 at Creative Pencils.  It comes to you with much effort.  HaHa!  You will learn how to draw the dog portrait of your choice as I teach you the basics for dog features.  There will be lots of instructor help for you.  You can ask questions and show me your work in progress.  It'll be lots of fun and very informative.

So, Go on Green or Go on Red.  But either way, Go to Creative Pencils and sign up.   There are other workshops going on now that you would find enriching too.


***CREATIVE PENCILS HAS MOVED TO CREATIVE WORKSHOPS***



Wind and Honey Creations

Monday, April 8, 2013

And Now It Can Be Spring!


The girls are up. The turtles, I mean.  It isn't officially Spring at our house until we see the turtles.  We have 3 of them and they live freely in our backyard.  They could leave if they wanted to.  They could easily dig under the fence.  But they choose to live with us.  I like to think they enjoy the tomato and watermelon treats I give to them as much as I enjoy sharing.

The first picture is Cleopatra and the second one is Claudette Colbert.   These pictures were taken today.  I didn't have time to create a reunion picture today as I am supposed to be recording a workshop.  And besides that, Goldie was hiding somewhere this morning.

Cleopatra
Claudette Colbert

A turtle picnic
Here is a picture of Goldie and Cleopatra taken last year.  It was
later in the year, hence the watermelon.  If you find our turtle family interesting, you may read more about them in previous blog posts here and here.

I will be recording a turtle drawing lesson for the new subdivision of Creative Pencils this week.  I might have to bring one of the girls in as a visual aid.

More about the new Creative Pencils project in just a few days.  We are wrapping things up to get it all ready.




Wind and Honey Creations

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