My favorite childhood illustrator was Wesley Dennis, whose miraculous pencil work brought to life dozens of best-selling animal stories. Horses and dogs were his primary subject matter. In homage to his work, I copied one of his drawings in great detail on my fifth-grade desk. The fact that my teacher considered this vandalism and took away my recess for an entire semester did nothing to dampen my devotion. I wanted to grow up to be like Wesley Dennis.
The publicity photo on the flyleaf of his books showed a somewhat grumpy-looking man seated at an easel, with a crow perched on his shoulder and a horse watching through the studio window. In my ten-year-old opinion, nothing could be more heavenly than drawing animals while a horse looked over your shoulder.
As it turns out, I still feel that way. It took 50 more years of drawing and painting and living life, but during this week’s video art lesson — the one on painting owls, which went out to students in my Journey Through the Natural Year course — a donkey suddenly brays in the background. That was Jenny, who was looking in through my studio window as I filmed the lesson. Beside her was Decker, a huge and ancient spotted saddle horse. Take that, Wesley Dennis.
I am drawing and painting the 60+ animal residents of a private rescue farm in north Florida. My little RV is parked outside a rustic cabin, and my plan is to split my time between working here and traveling. Each animal living on the farm — birds, chickens, dogs, cats, horses, donkeys, pigs — is a rescue with a unique story to tell. Their stories are sometimes shocking and sometimes heartrending, but every single one has a happy ending.
From time to time, I’ll share more about the farm. I’ll post sketches and paintings as they develop. I will have an exhibition of these illustrated rescue stories in a few months — and I will share more about that, as well.
But for now, if you will excuse me, I have to go get a carrot out of the refrigerator. There’s a horse looking in my window.