Hey there! Welcome to my blog. I'm a free dog living in Portugal and I write about my life as an artist and street dog. This blog is a way for me to have more of a connection with other dogs (and people), to share ideas, experiences and some of my art. I love to hear what others have to say so feel free to comment on any of the posts or to contact me via e-mail. If it's your first time here, you might want to check out my first post and read on from there. You can also have a look at my profile in the column to the right.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Why do I keep an illustrated journal?

There’s an interesting discussion going on over at Cathy Johnson’s blog (Artists’ Journal Workshop) about how we use our journals and what form do those journals take. For me, this whole adventure into art started simply as a way to pass time with my friends. We would be on the beach just hanging out and one of us would start to run around, taunting the others into chasing him.  We would go crazy running in circles and dashing off left and right, jumping, diving, digging.
Buddy digging his afternoon at the beach
Eventually we would lie down and take a moment to catch our breath. The patterns in the sand that our playing had made would be fascinating. We could read the patterns as if they were images, sometimes quite recognizable, but created all by chance. Soon I began consciously to make images in the sand. And I started to notice that I wasn't the only one doing this. People seemed to have the same impulse.
I'm not the only one making marks in the sand.
Then I found that I could make more controlled marks if I used a stick in the sand. I could drag it and actually draw with it. I also used stuff I found on the beach to add to the composition – stones, bits of plastic, shells.  All of this was so much fun that I wanted to be able to make marks or drawings wherever I was, not just when I was at the beach. I started to work on scraps of paper or cardboard I’d find in the rubbish bins.
Some of my first drawings on paper
I used sticks that I would dip in muddy water or in my café com leite. I loved that these images were more permanent than the ones I did on the beach.
a drawing of my friends under a palm tree

I enjoyed looking at them later, or showing them to my friends.  My first actual journals were made from scraps of paper I found – mostly old paper shopping bags.

journal made of scrap paper with a coffee bag cover

After a while I got my paws on some ink pens and eventually real paint and decent paper, although from time to time I still use sticks and whatever is at paw.
some more recent journals

Eventually my drawings became more refined as my coordination with my pen (or stick or brush) improved. What I record in my illustrated journals are things that give me pleasure– the object and/or the feeling of the moment, the way I feel as the sun slants through the buildings and warms me as I sit with my friends, or the smell of the colour of the fresh orange blossoms.
Caldas de Monchique

I touched on this topic a bit in a previous post (Yes, I’m an artist but I’m a dog first!). I said that when I do a sketch of someone, I feel like I am that someone in a way. I get under his or her fur. I walk a mile on her paws. There’s also an element of ownership when I paint or draw someone. Although I’m totally against the idea of owning someone, I do have a desire to have the ones I love be with me all the time.

my best friend Rita

If I have a drawing or painting of him or her, then in a way he or she is always with me. Does anyone else feel this way or am I one pup short of a litter?

When I sketch something I really take time to look at it, to notice nuances that I often overlook normally. The very activity of drawing something makes me appreciate it more, both for the simplicity of it and the complexity of it. But it’s also a bit strange because while I’m drawing I’m unaware of anything around me, like all my senses are focused on just what I’m drawing. But when I look back over my drawings later - months, even years later-  my senses are flooded with memories. I can feel the sun warming my back, I can hear the cats yowling around the corner, I can smell the sausage frying at Brizze Bar. It’s like I’ve put that moment of creating the drawing in a jar (or between the covers of my journal) to be opened and enjoyed later, over and over again.

Of course I can’t draw everything. There's just not enough time so I do take photos too and they have their place in my journals. They’re great if I see something I want to draw but don’t have the time to do it or the image itself is fleeting, or if I want to make a record of something that someone else has made, or to simply document something quickly. And I find when I look back over my journals my eyes appreciate the variety in the types of images I’m looking at.

In response to Cathy’s question, others have said that they use their journals for writing notes about everyday events. I do this too, sort of as a reminder of both the good and the bad, like “I had a really nice walk on the cliffs with the lady from Scotland who treated me to a cup of café com leite at Varandas afterwards.” Or “I ate some Frango Piri Piri from the rubbish behind Restaurante Castelejo last night and I got really sick. Note to self: DON’T eat food that smells brown, grey and green all at the same time.”

I apologize for such a rambling post. It’s kind of hard to describe why I keep an illustrated journal or how it makes me feel. When it comes right down to it I get more out of every experience now, even if I’m not recording it in my journal because I now experience everything around me more intently. It’s like I have super dog powers to see, hear, smell and taste more than the average dog.  Just call me Superuca!

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Dogs smell colour. People don't. How crazy is that?

I bring this up because of a comment from Dan Kent (click here to go to his blog) about how it's difficult to describe colour to a blind person or sound to a deaf person. At first I didn’t quite know what he meant by describing colour to a blind person because a blind dog has no problem with colour. Being blind doesn’t affect your nose, right? But apparently people see colour in as many variations as we dogs smell colour. Then I remembered a discussion I had a while back with an artist person I know. I had jotted down my thoughts at the time  and I’ve just gone back to my journal and re-read that bit.

She had said something about seeing the variation in a particular colour as she mixed some paint. I didn’t understand what she was talking about. I could smell the nuances, but see them? I tried plugging my nose and there was barely any variation in the colour at all. When she tried plugging her nose she could still perceive all the variation. It’s like magic.  So this seemed to confirm it. People don’t smell colours. I mean at all. None. Nada. Zip. This seemed impossible so I did some research and whoa! It’s true. I find the whole situation very confusing.
Hey people, can’t you smell the the variety of greens of this building?
This website [click the purple text - or the text that smells purple (sorry, just a bit of human-teasing humour) if you want to see the article] supposedly shows the difference between how people and dogs perceive colour.  It shows two bands of colour. One is how dogs perceive colour and one is how people perceive it. To me, the two bands obviously smelled different from each other but when I plugged my nose they were the same. [Note to those people who have read my post about communication through scent. (Fire hydrants are to dogs what notice boards are to people) I mentioned that until the computer whizzes figure out how to send scent over the internet, we dogs will have to use language. Obviously the scent of colour can be transmitted. It’s the scent of messages that can’t be transmitted over the internet. Believe me, if you’re a dog it’s perfectly logical.]

According to various websites, humans are able to detect between 100 and 10,000 different scents. (Come on people. How can one website say 100 and another say 10,000?)  We dogs on the other hand blow those numbers out of the water. I got this from wikianswers: “Generally dogs have an olfactory sense approximately 100,000 to 1,000,000 times more acute than a human’s. A Bloodhound (the dog with the highest sense of smell) has a 10,000,000 to 100,000,000 higher ability than a human.” So you do the math. (Aside- Why aren’t there more Bloodhounds who are artists? Too lazy? I know a Bloodhound. I’ll have to ask him.)
This red smells spicy and sweet at the same time.
But then I got to thinking about personal perception - among dogs that is. (I still can’t wrap my brain around how people perceive colour.) A particular colour of teal blue would smell a certain way to me, but maybe it smells different to another dog. We both call it teal blue but how we react to it or perceive it is different.  And I suppose I should say that for us dogs the nuances of a scent are often associated with a taste as well – as in “a delicious red-orange” or a “yucky grey-green”, or more specifically a “buttery yellow” or a “café com leite brown”. But trying to describe the scent of a colour without an associated taste is really hard. I mean what can I say? Teal blue just smells like … well, like teal blue. Sheesh. I think it’s easier to describe how the scent of a colour makes us feel.
The colour of this sky sort of burns my nose. It makes me feel uneasy.
Maybe that’s why some dogs (and people?) prefer certain colours over others. I’m not very fond of a certain shade of moldy green but a friend of mine loves it. Maybe what he perceives is different than what I perceive. Maybe what he perceives when he sniffs that moldy green is actually what I perceive when I sniff a certain orangey-yellow. Does that make any sense? His perception of what we both call moldy green matches my perception of what we both call orangey-yellow.  And that’s why he likes the moldy green. Our perceptions of that same colour are different. When he smells the moldy green it wakes up his salivary glands and he wants to roll around on the colour, rub it all over his fur. When I smell the moldy green I get a lumpy feeling in the back of my throat and I find it hard to swallow and my stomach feels quivery. But when I smell the orangey-yellow my salivary glands jump to attention and I want to roll around on it and rub it all over my fur. Maybe every dog’s favourite colour is really the same – or at least once it gets to our brain it’s the same.

Okay, stop the presses! I just found something really interesting. Apparently some people DO smell colour. Check out this article about a condition called synaesthesia. Click the purple text, but please come back and finish reading my post (or just carry on reading this and you’ll get a synopsis.) Some people (it’s quite rare) can smell colours or hear colours or see numbers as colours or … there’s a whole list of variations. Wow. Maybe some people are part dog? It all has to do with neural connections in the brain getting pruned away in most people but for some they don’t get pruned as much, if at all.

And speaking of the brain, mine now hurts. I think I need to go chase a cat to dust the cobwebs out from between my ears. But if anyone reading this has a comment or can enlighten me, please feel free.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Fire hydrants are to dogs what notice boards are to people.

It has come to my attention that some people wonder why I write in English when I’m a Portuguese dog. Of course, this question comes from a person. A dog wouldn’t have to ask.

You see, we dogs communicate using and interpreting body language, smell, and intonation. Since the electronic media have taken over the world, curious dogs like me have adapted in order to communicate with dogs beyond our actual physical location. Yes, we have used other means before, and continue to do so.
fire hydrant sketch, colour pencil

Fire hydrants are a perfect example. They are to dogs what public notice boards are to people. If we want to leave a message for someone and it’s not too personal (because any dog who comes along can smell it) then the fire hydrant is the place to do it. If I was to arrive in Lagos for a pre-arranged get together with Rita and she wasn’t at the bookstore where she said she'd be, then the first place I would check would be the nearest fire hydrant to see if she’d left me a message. One sniff of the fire hydrant would tell me that Rita was waiting for me at the News Café. Of course we leave messages in other places besides fire hydrants, but those are usually found just by chance.

But back to the question of communicating in English. Why English and not Portuguese? Well, two reasons really. The first is that English is the people language that I’m most familiar with. This comes from being a free dog living on the streets. Most of the people who pay any attention to me are English - either English people who have moved here or people on holiday. Even those non-Portuguese people who come from a country where English isn’t the primary language still speak English here. It’s the language in common with the most people – expatriates, holiday makers, and people working at bars, restaurants, shops, museums …  It’s all around me, so that’s the easiest for me to use.

The other reason for using English is that I’m trying to reach out into the wider world and connect with other dogs (and people too) who don’t necessarily speak Portuguese. If there is a language that is common among us then it’s likely to be English. For anyone who doesn’t speak English, I’ve provided a translator tool near the top of the blog so the whole blog can be translated into the language of choice at the touch of a button. Magic!

Of course I realize that I could make this a video blog and use body language and intonation to communicate with dogs all over the world, but until the technical whizzes figure out how to transmit smell over the internet, video communication would lack the subtlety necessary to communicate coherently.
the fine art of communication

And besides, it’s kinda fun having people take part in this as well. I don’t think they could ever learn to communicate fully in our language. For one thing, they really seem reluctant to partake in a good butt sniffing. Oh well, their loss.
This speaks volumes!

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