So many cats in the Middle East have a story to tell and Sammy is no exception. He was extremely lucky – or as his owner says, she was.
Sammy’s story (told by his owner)
I picked up Sammy at the vets’ office when his human brought him in to have him euthanized as he was leaving the country and couldn’t find anyone to take him. I didn’t really want another cat but I couldn’t let him be euthanized. I also tried to find him a home but sadly no one wanted him. He turned out to be the best cat and I fell in love with him. He lived to be 17 years old and finally passed due to gradual kidney failure. His young original human ironically passed before Sammy of a drug overdose.
The first stage of Sammy.
The lighting is quite tricky on this one but am liking the power in his gaze in this initial sketch.
Establishing all the basics.
Have now got all the basics in place but am fighting a bit with the lighting. The dilemma is whether to darken all the front as in the photo or make it softer and more “logical”. I don’t think it would work well to darken all the front but finding an in-between solution is proving tricky. Will put it on the easel to study and analyse for a bit…
So a few messages back and forth with Sammy’s owner and settled on what to do with the lighting issue, below is the scan of the end drawing.
I was pondering whether I should soften his expression slightly but his owner said no this was how he often looked at her, she said, I quote
” He told me everything with his eyes, he was a very deep and emotional cat and took about 6 months to decide if he wanted to be with us after his last owner wanted to dispose of him”.
So I left that slightly uncertain look, which was clearly part of him and a reflection on what happened in his past – clever creatures cats, we have to earn their trust and respect.
This cute cat with such lovely markings is called Gizmo, his portrait has been commissioned as a Christmas present for the clients’ husband.
Gizmo was one of three kittens born in the back garden of a villa in Qatar. His mother was not very good at looking after her brood and disappeared with one of her kittens, leaving the other two in the garden to fend for themselves. Lucky for them they were abandoned in a cat lovers garden and were whisked away to the vet for help. They were so tiny though that the vet thought they wouldn’t survive the night, well they were fighters and did survive, Winston and Gizmo became part of their family.
Winston was the stronger and smarter of the two, he taught Gizmo everything, they were completely inseparable. Gizmo had a few developmental problems which prevented him from jumping high and climbing trees, however, he had a big heart and would make friends with all the rescue kittens the couple took care of; he never fought or spat at any other cat. Gizmo did get quite sick at times and once spent a weekend in the vets because he was so ill, they knew he wouldn’t make old age but they hoped he would join them when they were ready to leave Qatar and relocate to Cyprus. Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be and he passed away last Christmas. This portrait is in memory of their sweet little Gizmo. I think he was a very fortunate cat to have been born in their garden and have known love all his life.
Just love that he looks like he is wearing a little black hat. Feeling slightly emotional having just written his story (and I never even met him) but below is the initial sketch.
Working on establishing the lights and shadows.
All the basics now in place, moving onto the detail stage.
Slowly getting there, still building up the detail. White cats are actually quite hard because you need to put the shading in to give them depth but they do have to look white at the end of it!
He has an absorbed look on his face, wonder what he was looking at so intensely?
I think I am almost done. Am going to leave him sitting on the easel for a while to double check. Quite like his intense look and having checked my other photographs of him, he does seem to have that type of expression. So loving that little black cap, makes him completely unique, it couldn’t possibly be a portrait of any other cat!
I thought I was finished but two more days of analysing, have finally put the pencil down. Here is the scanned copy of the final portrait.
Portrait number 2 of Gizmo – the client loved the way he is sitting in this picture and it shows his markings so nicely.
So I am back in the Middle East and back seeing the animals trying to survive on the streets of Qatar, it is heartbreaking, makes me want to hide away from the cruel sights and live in an ivory tower where it is all about the fancy malls and Friday brunches, head-in-the-sand technique, ironic statement I know considering I am living in a desert country!
I drove out the compound this morning and on the first corner saw a stray dead dog covered in blood, probably run over in the night. By the time I drove back from the school run, the body had been cleared away, shame my memory of that poor dog won’t be as quickly erased! Sadly the stray dogs here are also at risk of being shot or poisoned, I also always wonder how on earth they find food, cats can jump in bins to search for food but the dogs must really struggle, perhaps they rely on human kindness, never advisable – sorry, I am sounding bitter!
I just went to help a lady trap a cat to be taken to the vet to be spayed, it is so nice the lady is helping the cats on her compound, only to hear from her that she found one dead that morning, she thinks the cat was poisoned by a neighbour who doesn’t like cats, will this be the fate of the cat I just dropped at the vets? Very sad to think it might, so yes, today I am feeling a bit bitter.
The compound where I live has quite a few stray cats living there but unfortunately, some of the humans don’t like this, some have complained to the management, they say having cats around is unhygienic – OK, so if you remove all the cats bring on the rats! Cats are actually very clean animals and perfectly healthy if TNRed and part of a managed colony, which brings me actually on to what I was supposed to be talking about, TNR – Trap Neuter Return.
I have done TNR now in many countries (Bahrain, Abu Dhabi, Philippines, Dubai and Kuwait), so I just as well add Qatar to my list. TNR works; as long as unwanted/unfixed pets don’t get dumped into the colony (happens a lot). For example, by some strange coincidence, I stopped by a dumpster where a cat was climbing the rubbish bags searching for food, I wanted to get a photo of how life for the street cats is to add to this post. I approached slowly so not to scare the cat but low and behold the cat jumped down to the floor ran towards me and wrapped herself around my legs crying loudly – this was no street cat! Closer inspection she had stunning blue eyes and looked very much like a Siamese – yes someones dumped pet! From a distance, I thought she was a street cat but when you look at the close-up photo, you can see she isn’t! Poor baby, shame on whoever did this to her.
I am preparing a document for our compound management to try and get their support to run a TNR program here, I hope they will agree. For those of you wondering what exactly TNR is, the below poster illustrates it well, if you would like to know about it in more detail, please follow this link: https://www.alleycat.org/our-work/trap-neuter-return/
There are many groups of animal lovers all around Qatar working to help the animals. A lot of people raise money to fly the dogs out of the country to homes they have found for them abroad; it is very difficult to find homes for big dogs here. There are wonderful Facebook groups showing these dogs loving their second chance at life, here is just one example of such a group: https://www.facebook.com/pupswithpassports/
My area of animal welfare has always really been TNR, for every cat we spay we stop yet more kittens having to survive on the streets, that in itself is an achievement. Have a look at the chart on the left to get an idea of how many kittens an unfixed pair can produce!
The difficult part of TNR is to pay for all the vets’ bills, so I am going to donate 20% from the sale of my Original Art to build a fund for spaying and neutering, it is never enough but it is a start. When I leave the Middle East at least a few poor souls will have been helped, sorting out the massive animal welfare issues here might unfortunately not happen in my lifetime.
Tomorrow is another day, I will pick myself up, stop ranting and just get on with it again like all animal rescuers do, it is the happy endings that keep us going.
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Having packed up the furniture, sold the car, shipped the cats, enrolled very reluctant daughter in her new UK school and said a fond farewell to expat life, we thought that was it for living life abroad – end of a 23 year love affair with expat life and the thrill of exploring new countries, the UK beckoned and with it stability and finally putting down some roots. But hold on, we now live in Qatar! Yes the expat pull was just too much, is it a slight addiction I wonder… maybe the grass isn’t always greener on the other side – literally!
So we are back in the desert and back to drawing one of my favourite models -a characterful camel! I particularly like this one in his halter.
Below is the finished drawing. Called him “Best Blanket Day” as he does look very smart.
My latest Pet Portrait is a cute Himalayan called Teddy.
Teddy belongs to a friend of mine and I did this portrait as a surprise leaving present for her; she had been living in Kuwait and was moving back to good old Blighty.
Teddy had a sad story to tell, he had been re-homed numerous times because he had a very sensitive stomach that was completely out of control, on top of that he was scared of his own shadow as he had been “disciplined” so much about not getting to his litter tray in time; he even had a few teeth knocked out and his tongue sometimes hangs out one side as the teeth aren’t there to keep it in place. When my friend adopted him from a rescue group (where he had finally been surrendered), he was a very sick boy and pretty much scared of everything. Luckily for him, this time he had been adopted by the right person! It turned out he had numerous allergies which was why he was so sick. They then began the slow process of managing his allergies, plus building his trust in people. He is now the most contented cat living in England. His allergies are under control and he is extremely loved – so nice that he finally got his happy ending.
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These two very cute cats belong to a client in Kuwait, they are going to be drawn in two separate portraits as it was difficult getting them to pose together, plus the photograph of Podge (on the left) came out so well. His friend is called Splodge and the client is going to continue to take photographs of him whilst I work on Podge They look such a perfect pair, with their dark sides over opposite ears.
Starting to put the basics in place, establishing the light and dark areas.
All the basics now in place, lots of tiny hairs! Will move onto the detail stage, really liking this composition.
Final stages coming up, need to work a bit more on the face and then onto the easel for final analyses.
Podge is finished, below is the final scanned image.
The client managed, after lots of perseverance, to get this great photo of Splodge. Love the way he is rolling on his back so trustingly.
Below is the first stage. At the moment I need to check with the client about his right ear, it looks like it has been tipped; something that is done to cats who live on the streets, as an indication that they have been spayed/neutered to ensure they are not trapped again. However in the other photographs I have of Splodge, the ear doesn’t seem to look tipped. Is it an illusion? Or maybe the tip is folded under the ear?
Question about the ear answered, it isn’t tipped, so will extend it so that it doesn’t look like it is missing the end. Have also started on the tummy, lots of folds showing the muscle structure.
All the basics in place, next stage the detail, liking the cute pads on his feet.
He looks a bit lighter in real life, my scanner struggles with white images.
Look at this cutie! Can’t help but smile when I look at this face. Nicknamed him “Elvis” because of his lip curl – hope he isn’t a she…..
A trip to Wafra at the weekend resulted in this camel photograph; one of over 50 I took in my attempt to get the perfect shot. I am always unsure how to act around camels, I know nothing about them and can’t read their body language at all (give me a horse any day). They also tower above me which is a bit imposing however I have to say, the ones I met at the weekend were all on their best behaviour. At one point a camel walked right up to me and lowered his head to have a closer look, he looked so sweet I scratched his nose which he seemed to enjoy; I did shove my daughter behind me though just in case I had read the situation wrongly! Their companion (not sure what you call the man who walks with them with his stick) did say something to me in Arabic, which unfortunately I couldn’t understand, I just hoped it wasn’t a warning that the camel wasn’t friendly!
This commission is for a lady in Kuwait, I emailed her a few of my better shots and she choose this very unusual and cute one. I am looking forward to the challenge as I have drawn a lot of camels lately (really popular with expats as keepsakes) but never one with quite such attitude and an usual lip curl.
Below is the initial sketch, starting to add the light and shade, all those little hairs take ages! No in depth detail yet, just working out where everything goes and building the framework.
Worked on finding the light and shade of that comical nose curl, now moving across towards the eye. Still just working on getting the structure in place.
All the basics now in place, have started working on the detailed layer left to right; at the moment he is looking like a two toned camel, will catch the right-side up soon!
Have added more detail on the neck area, now moving up to the right eye along the cheek.
Big jump here because I got inspired and worked non-stop! My favourite stage is when I begin to add the final detail, it suddenly starts to all come together. Here is the final scanned image.
This is a portrait for a lady who lives in Kuwait, as an anniversary present for her husband. Really like this photograph, she has managed to capture her with such a cute but alert look, love the way her ears fold over.
Below is the initial sketch.
At the moment working on finding the contours of the face using the light and shade, no great detail yet.
Continuing to work on the contours, as Mushkila is a white dog, it is finding the fine balance between adding the shading to give depth and “saving” the white of the paper. Discovered that under Mushkila’s nose is a little black patch, if you don’t look closely it looks like her nose is going right down towards her top lip but on closer observation you can see the part underneath is a black patch. At the moment have added this in roughly, will work out how to define this a bit later when all the contours are complete.
All the basic contours now done. Have left the tag until later, we are changing to a different tag and I need to work out the angle it would be lying.
Have been working on the fine detail, small but important changes which are actually hard to capture with the camera. Need to now work on her nose now and sort out the disk on the collar.
Almost finished. Will put her on the easel over the weekend and check for anymore changes/improvements. Always like to “live” with a portrait for a bit before it is declared finished, just in case I suddenly see something that I have missed, nice to step away and come back with fresh eyes.
Made some minor changes but she is now finished and signed. Here is the scanned image.
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With their haughty looks and wonderful eyelashes, camels are always a favourite with us expats. This camel drawing has been specially commissioned by a group of ladies for a friend of theirs who is soon to leave Kuwait, a memento of her time here.
I love this photograph, am going to include the halter/harness to give the drawing a very traditional feel.
Stage 1 – the initial sketch.
Have just started to develop the sketch, finding which direction the coat falls and the underlying muscles.
All the basics now in place, next layer will be adding more light and shade. He is a handsome chap!
Started the detail work on the left-hand side of his face.
All the basic detail of the camel now in place. Would love to keep working on the camel but will tear myself away and get the harness to the same stage.
Have added the harness, now onto the final detail. I think Mr Camel will be one of my favourite pieces, the great photograph really helped matters. If you click on the image, you can see it close up.
Have completed another layer of detail; small but important details. Now onto the final stage of checking and improving.
Finished Portrait – Mr Camel scanned.