Thursday, September 2, 2010

2010 Pug Nationals

I am covered in clay dust as I type this, but I am taking a moment to post what I am bringing to vend at the PDCA event of the year.

First, two of my original works will be in the auctions at the event. One is the ceramic vase with a unique carved Pug face, in the Bluegrass Pug Fanciers auction:

The next is the original pen and ink drawing that the PDCA 2010 Nats logo was based on. The final cleanup of the logo (including text and color) was all added later, digitally.

I also have a vendor space at the event. Last year, I was exhibiting as well as vending, so I had scheduling conflicts and some rather perturbed customers who kept finding my table empty. This year, I am not exhibiting, but I am attending some of the programs, so I have a professional business hours sign with each day listed. This should eliminate last year's confusion.

Several new items will debut at the Nats this year. I am only taking orders until the editions sell out or the end of this year, whichever comes first.

Salt & Pepper Shakers

The first five sets of shakers are already claimed, so be sure to see me early in the week if you want to pick up a set at the event. Also new this year are Puggy Lamps, Puggy Urns, Puggy Planters, the two new 2010 pin designs in the previous post, and the Eggbert and Puppy banks. This is definitely the time to do some holiday gift shopping for the Pug lovers in your life.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Wear Your Pug on Your Heart (or Your Sleeve)

Each year, I maintain my studio tradition of making a new ceramic pin design for my equine art collectors. As I have only been selling Pug art formally for two years, I have very few pin designs "out there". In 2009, I debuted two tie-tac molds in a wide array of art glaze colors. Those were the faces of my two ceramic miniatures, "Pug With Ball" and "Scratching Pug".

I also offered the face of "Invitation to Play" as a pin, in both realistic fawn and shaded black colourways. The pin was molded directly off of the wax clay original sculpture for detail integrity. They were only made last year, and sold out at the PDCA Nationals.

For 2010, two new pins in realistic colors will make the scene at the PDCA Nationals. These, unlike last years' pins, were specifically sculpted to be pins. The head pin is very earnest and sweet, with one side of its neck ruff highlighted. It resembles our Poots and her sister Lilly, who have wonderful worry-brows and are slightly "frog-faced".

The full body pin is based on multiple requests from last year: "Do one looking over its shoulder!" This one has the accompanying familiar expression, with the rolling eye. The traces (back stripe) vary from light to dark.

Perhaps, the draw of these ceramic pins is that previously, very few full-color tie tacs and brooches have been available. Most canine-themed jewelry is made of precious metals or tiny enamel portraits on white porcelain. Owners and handlers respond very positively to the full color glazed pins. Pug people are very fond of the richness and tone variation in their breed's two official colors. The art glaze tie tacs caused a lot of commotion, with customers making comparisons and choices based on handlers' apparel. Both pins and tacs make subtle but classy accents in presentation, and I am very happy to fill a need.

Even as the first two tests were hot out of the kiln this weekend, I couldn't resist pinning one on my husband and one on myself.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Pug Portrait

After a packed week of events for my biggest art trade show of the year, we packed up our Pugs and took a short vacation to Nashville, TN. That trade show is why I haven't posted in so long; I had no time to spare playing online. It was the perfect antidote to the previous few months' long hours and stress. With the girls safely lounging in the hotel room air conditioning, we went out in search of local antique stores and good food. We found both, but this post is about the Pug we found.

In one large antique mall, I rounded a corner and saw what looked like a cheesy Pug mini-poster, framed in an even cheesier gold-accent frame. I pulled it off the wall and discovered it was neither. The frame was cracked with genuine age, and it was no poster. This was a professional 12 x 14" portrait photograph by Delbridge Studio of Murfreesboro, TN, with its original paper frame backing still in place.

My first thought was, "Someone truly loved this Pug." It must have been just as costly as a human portrait at the time, such a large framed print; no expense was spared. It had been in-studio retouched to perfect the black face mask. Someone wanted this portrait to be right. Of all the proof shots, this one, the unusual profile with open mouth, was selected for the big print and frame job. It must have been panting under those hot studio lights, as the finger to touch the "Yawn Button" (on the chin of Pugs) would not have had time to get out of frame. Imagine what cultured guests at the owner's home must have thought:
"Why is your purebred portrait screaming? Or choking?"
What an odd and purposeful pose choice. This Pug meant something to someone. Perhaps she was a treasured show bitch, that the owner drove from a distance to have professionally photographed? I wanted to research her identity, when she spiced her owner's life, and if her line is still going strong. I couldn't just leave her there, unloved, in that shop. Twelve bucks well spent.

Some people ask me why I do so many non-portrait posed Pug items. Now I wish I could give them the Delbridge Studio phone number, and let him or her explain. There is so much more to Pugs and our lives with them than just a typical snapshot.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

A Conventional Pug

As artists make art, they eventually go to shows and conventions. We take our Pugs with us to our various trade shows. When they see the suitcase, they start squealing and singing with joy; when the crates are packed, the excitement is ear-splitting. There is a specific scream they reserve for the five minutes of loading, up to the highway onramp: "Weee go! GO! GO!" This scream is punctuated with "I ruv yooooooo!", just so we know they love us extra, for this. The hum of the freeway under the tires lulls them to sleep, and they only rouse when the car slows to an offramp. Here we just got on the freeway:

They know that they will soon be in a sea of people that (they think) are there to pet them. Attention is, of course, high on the Pug list of daily requirements.

How does one mesh a live Pug into a crowded event where delicate expensive things are on display? One word: homework.

I read the event's rules, the hotel rules, and make sure the kennel cough vax are boosted within the past six months. (Annual is OK for dogs who don't travel.) I also drill commands a day or two before leaving, using food rewards and creating novel situations at home. For example, on a warm day, I will put a wet towel on the kitchen floor and direct the Pugs to sit and lay down on it. Things at shows may be new and strange, so it's good to review commands for a few minutes, and make sure your Pugs are easy to manage in any situation. It is also important to be a good citizen and clean up after your dog; we pack those handy belt-loop baggie dispensers. We don't put our dogs up on foodservice counters or on lobby furnishings because it's unsanitary, impolite, and some people may be allergic to any residual hairs or dander. Good manners of both dog and owner are essential to being welcomed back again.

We start our Pugs at trade shows as soon as each one joins our family. Our Pugs are now known by name to the staff at some shows. The sights, sounds, and smells of a convention are excellent preparation for a puppy who will be competing at dog shows. Here is our Little Man at a scifi convention last year:

The Pugs are excellent conversation starters, and always make people smile. They also keep our spirits up, no matter the outcome of a competition or sale. If sales are slow, the Pugs will clown for us until we laugh. When business is bustling, they quietly snooze in their box under the table and wait for closing time.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Form of a Pug

Here at the pottery, the work has been flowing in non-stop. I have very few evenings like this one, where I am free to write for the blog. I have had to close all ceramic Pug orders, just so I can have stock at the 2010 National Specialty. Meanwhile, I have been working on many equine pieces for my other collectors and commercial clients.

When I'm working long hours and my mind wanders to the why of animal art pottery, I invariably glance over at history on the shelf. My animal art pottery collection is not large, but it covers a range of clays and techniques and serves as both reference and inspiration. Here are two ceramic Pugs of very different "pedigrees" that remind me how to capture the character of the breed.

The white glazed Pug in the golden barrel is a salt shaker by Royal Worcester, dating from 1867-1875, as best I can tell from its mark. The decorating technique is detailed down to the red overglaze woodgrain patterns on the barrel's gold-overglazed staves. The mold has excellent detail, even down to the tail poking out the barrel hole. This Pug seems to be trying to free himself after falling into a barrel, and is panting with the effort. His entire head is covered with the shaker holes, negating any room for forehead wrinkles, although ceramic Pugs of this era were often smooth-headed. In the ceramics world, despite his long 19th century nose, this Pug is truly a blueblood.

By contrast, the humble black Pug bitch may date from the 1960's, and is by Alberta Booth. She made many pottery dog breed figurines, and, like me, made her own sculptures, molds, and glazed all of her ware. From a little online reading, I learned that Ms. Booth continued her pottery up until about 2006, at age 89, when her sight began to fail and forced her to stop. I hope that I have the good fortune to have such a long life, and be making my ware at that age, to boot! This little Pug has the characteristic cocked head and forward ears of interest. The forehead is well wrinkled, and the tail double-curled and set on top of the back. Even though standing (stacked) for show, and solid black so details are hard to see, this Pug has expression.

In fact, both of these pieces illustrate how to show breed character, despite a lack of face shading and fawn color. They are lessons in the basics of modelling a breed for ceramic production. When I have a doubt, I ask myself if my Pug sculpture would read as a typical Pug, even if glazed solid white or black. A big thank you to Jo Ellen for gifting me with both of these charming instructors in Pug art.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Puggy, er... Penny Savers

Now that production on the original Puggy bank (shown in middle) is closing this month, I can talk about my newest bank sculptures. The molds are working, the kiln is ticking, and the new banks are ready for homes.

Some customers have told me that they are using their Puggy banks to save up spare change for entries and spending money at the PDCA National Specialty. That Pug face is difficult to pass by without giving him a coin or two. It's a self-perpetuating saving habit. It's not a reach to understand how so many pet Pugs become obese.

Eggbert came from an egg. I wouldn't pull your leg, even on April Fool's Day. I had an old giant egg hobby mold, cast one, and used part of a pug of earthenware clay to sculpt his limbs and features. Here he is shown when he was new and wet:

There were some dodgy moments as he cracked badly in the bisque firing. I sealed the flaws with epoxy, and on went the plaster flood. It took weeks for his plaster mold to dry out enough for the first test casting. You can see how much he shrank in relation to Puggy by comparing to the glazed trio photo, at the beginning of this post.

The origin of the Puppy bank is more conventional and premeditated. The number one most-requested sequel, since the debut at last year's National Specialty, was "a puppy for the Puggy Bank".

This was probably the most silly fun I've had sculpting in a long time. I kept it true to Pug puppy traits, so the face wrinkles are not fully developed and it has a happy-tongue smile.

Decoration of the new designs pretty much follows the same formula as the first bank. There are only two differences. The shape of Eggbert means that I have to block black airbrush overspray from ruining his pale chest and legs. The puppy bank's tongue requires two extra steps: to pink the tongue and then mask it from black overspray, as well. Eggbert gets to showcase his trace (the stripe down the back, a breed trait) better than the other banks.

You haven't seen the end of the Puggy bank family. Well, the end of the line, I mean.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Rewarding Work

Positive reinforcement gains good results in dog training, and it does the same for my self-discipline. Rewards keep me working. Like Pugs, I am food-oriented and I do use food rewards to keep me on task all day. After a long, continuous workload of 12-18 hour days, a bigger reward is due. I am looking forward to a little day trip, just enough to shake off some of the clay dust. Being self-employed, the hours are what I set for myself, but unlike other employment, I also work every night shift and every weekend. To maximize duration of reward road trips, I find ways to make each one doubly functional (fun, yet business related). It is not often that I get to combine Pugs, visiting friends, delivering orders, and raising funds for something near and dear to my heart.

I have been looking forward to the Greater Atlanta Pug Specialty show for months. I plan to visit with friends, meet some in person for the first time, and sketch some gorgeous Pugs. I have a vending table reserved, and a mess of back orders to deliver. Right there, it's both business and pleasure.

On the fundraising side, it also a double. The Puggy bank-custom-to-planter that I donated to this show is being raffled for the Pug Dog Club of America's Health Fund. My original Puggy Bank limited edition sold out in two hours, so this is a rare variant of a very hard-to-get item. The planter will be displayed at my vendor table.

Independent of the show, I finished the Pawprint Ornaments that you've been reading about. I will be bringing the available ones to sell at my table, and all proceeds also go to the PDCA Health Fund. The Health Fund sponsors research in Pug diseases, including developing testing. Through this work, and when breeders apply the test results to their selection processes, these inherited diseases may be eradicated.

Tonight, the kiln is cooking, the Pugs are snoring, and I'm dreaming of my reward day out.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Paws to Help Others, part II

Last you saw, the clay pawprints had just been cut into little Pug faces. The clay dried to a lighter gray color. Each "cookie" was allowed to airdry and warp in unique ways, suggesting different Pug facial expressions. I then cleaned up the rough edges and drilled a hole in the top for a ribbon hanger.

To get the fawn Pug look, it takes three different colors of underglaze (pigmented liquid mud). I airbrush the cute little pawprints to further emphasize the faces. At this stage, the cookies go in for their first baking in the kiln.

The cookies are now "biscuit", or bisque fired. I had fun painting silly Pug faces on them. I let the directions of the toe prints suggest where the Pug should be looking.

The next stage is to apply the clear glaze over all. It looks pink, but that color burns out in the glaze firing.

These cookies have been glaze fired and the ribbons added. They may be hung in windows or for holiday decor. The glazed ceramic will never fade in sunlight. With careful handling, they will last forever.

These will be only available as a fundraiser for a Pug charity. I will post more information as it becomes available.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Help to Others' Paws

After I trimmed the Pugs' nails yesterday, I thought about how often I have been asked how I do it. Pug owners can attest that for all their cuteness and love, Pugs turn into squirming, squalling, incredulous hulks when it's time to trim nails. How can this possibly keep feet and pasterns healthy?! Who do we think we are? There is a scale of disgusted behavior that ranges from little whines and yawning for mercy, all the way to so wild, only the entire vet staff holding on, all at once, can manage it.

Theory: stress reduction
Years ago, I read about a product called the Anxiety Wrap. I took that thought and went a step further- how to keep myself from getting pawed to death while trimming Pug nails. Pugs of the breed standard size slide neatly into an old flannel shirt sleeve. You may have to do a little shopping to find a sleeve that fits a larger Pug.

Gently fold the forefeet to the chest and make sure the Pug's face is at the end, for safe respiration. This hold keeps the Pug calm and prevents you from getting kicked.

Start with a hind foot. Be gentle, it's just a little guy! Isolate the foot as shown and snugly wrap the other hind and the rest of the Pug with the remainder of the shirt.

These diagrams show two common problem nail shapes.

Practice: sculpting the nail
I use both a dremel with a sanding drum and a regular human nail file. Use eye protection, a dusk mask, and flexible but thick gloves for this job. Before I turn on the dremel, I check the claws to see if the back edge is "hooking" into the toe pad behind it. Hooks are removed by sliding the file between the hook and pad, yet keeping it off of the pad surface (you don't want to sand the Pug's skin). This part of the claw seems to grow much faster than the front. The front wall of the nail is the thickest. I find that sculpting this down, as well as the very end, until you reach the rubbery end of the quick, helps the quick recede naturally.

If the quick stays long, the nail stays overgrown. Dremelling is pretty easy, just put it on slow speed and take your time, dabbing at the nail. The whitish part of the nail below is where it has been dremelled. The other nails are untouched. .

Do not hold it on to get it done faster; it will build up heat and burn the dog. If you see lamina peeling, stop! You are about to quick the dog. Keep QuickStop gel ready, in case you make a mistake. It is both a pain reliever and coagulant. Nails should be done once a week. If you show, you may have to do it twice a week to keep that ideal rounded profile. Dogs who are exercised on asphalt and who lack enough biotin may have flaky or slow growing nails, so adjust the diet and trimming schedule accordingly. Have patience and don't expect perfect nails the first trim. It takes weeks of careful trimming before the quick recedes naturally, from contact wear.

Work your way around all four feet, taking care to rewrap the other limbs each time. Some Pugs complain a little for the duration, but others are so secure in the wrap that they actually snore through it all. When unwrapping, be sure the place the Pug on a floor with a texture for grip, such as a carpet or rubber mat. They are backing out of the sleeve blindly and could slip or fall. This trimming method does not work for all Pugs, but it is worth trying if you have a problem child. It helps to start training your puppy early, in proportionately sized sleeves. A behavior hint: negative reactions to stimuli are "contagious". A normal dog will take a cue from a dog who is expressing disgust (such as of trimming). Trim each dog in isolation, or you will end up with all of them misbehaving the same way. If you take no other advice here, be kind and don't be bullied by your Pug.

DISCLAIMER: The techniques and materials suggested on this site are merely suggestions. The advice given here is not intended as a substitute for a professional veterinary opinion. The site owners, authors, and affiliates are not responsible for the misuse or use of any advice or recommended products.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Paws to Help Others

Pugs have big hearts, and so do Pug people. We love to find artistic ways to raise money for charities. Poots, Paul, and I have teamed up for a new fundraiser mission. Between many other studio projects, Paul created a metal cookie cutter from my original drawing. While I had something else drying, I threw a thin clay slab on the floor. Poots watched from the puppy pen, yarfing with excitement. How do they know? I lightly pressed outlines for each cookie in the clay.

I asked Poots to put her best foot forward... and she gave it her all. Her knowing half-smile is priceless.

After all were stamped, I used Paul's cookie cutter again. Even at this stage, the paw prints suggest a funny little Pug face on each one. It's also time to trim those nails!

You may be wondering why I didn't ask Tater to help. Tater is a temperamental artist and she stomps everywhere, shreds the clay, and leaves messy prints all over the studio.

In a few days, we'll share another sneak peek. Do you have a skill, no matter how humble, that could do some good for others? You don't have to shoot for the stars; we are down here, on the floor, pushing mud around.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Low Pug on the Totem Pole

We oddly social mammals love to bring other species into our families. It's interesting to observe our fabricated packs as they settle and reinforce their ranks, through very subtle eye and tail gestures. Our Tater has always been on the bottom rung. It doesn't matter how many dogs are at play, nor how old they are, nor the location. Other dogs, especially puppies, that try to include her in the fun only send her running. As close as she ever came to an equal, a true playmate, was her "brother", Little Man. But, that is a story for another day...

We went to a model builders club meeting, and the hobby shop had a giant plush Pug on sale for a song. All the ride home, we looked forward to seeing Poots' reaction. She has a history of boxing the ears of any remotely Puglike plush. She loves real Pugs, but not the "skin jobs".

True to the breed's trait of doing something unexpected whenever someone is watching, neither Pug reacted. They just wanted dinner, as usual. A few minutes after dinner, the solemn Pug giant sat alone in the middle of the living room. I heard a noise behind me, and managed to snap only this one pic before Tater saw me and showed doggy guilt. She had knocked it over, biting and clawing like it owed her money.

Witness: the only Pug she outranks.

Think about how much strife the world would be spared, if more people played Wii Boxing. Take another lesson from Tater.

Clay Going In, Clay Going Out

I'm new to this blog habit. The topic today, geophagy, is not new. Living things eat clay as a strategy to safely bind and excrete ingested toxins. Another biological fact is that among living things, Pugs are among the most open-minded when it comes to ingestion.

I have a professional pottery studio. On occasion, I make exceptional clay messes that spill over onto the floors. The floor is the domain of the Pugs. You see where this is going.

In the past, I've caught the Pugs hoovering up bits of clay. They leave it when told. It never gives them any change in processing, and it possibly fulfills a basic need that some dogs try to meet by eating their yards. It is worth noting that quantity makes a difference in outcome. I suspect that the tipping point for Tater could be measured in terms of teaspoon fractions.

When I have to spend long, consecutive hours in the studio, I bring the Pugs along. Another biological truth: Pugs were invented for companionship; they thrive on being with their people. Poots toddles off to Paul's side of the studio and lurks his comfy office guest chair. Tater, however, is devoted to me and snores for hours on the dog bed at my feet. Recently, I was in the midst of a mind-binding project that generated a fresh clayfall. My entire faculties devoted to the task at hand, I failed to notice that helpful Tater was making a dent in a wet clay drift. The "Leave it!" command never came. The next day, my perfectly housetrained Pug was not-so-much. Tater timed it admirably. She waited for me to leave the room, followed me to the bathroom door, and left her first "clay sculpture" in the main studio. She left it in Paul's area, not in mine, because she has a sense of loyalty. After cleanup, I took her back to the house for a time-out. Pugs who take liberties lose their liberty in the studio. I didn't realize she'd only just begun, and I'd just left her alone with carpet.

To make an unpleasant story short, I was glad I had just bought a new gallon of Nature's Miracle. Tater is inarguably a self-made expert in the detox diet movement. The puppy pen has returned to service, as long as I am in this phase of this project. Sorry, Tater, but I don't need a living extruder.