Friday, May 13, 2011

Soul-Catcher: Sally Logue

Inlaid and incised soul-catchers were the most important items used by curing shamans. When sickness was believed to be the result of the soul leaving the body, a shaman could be hired to search for the errant soul which he enticed to enter the soul-catcher. With the apertures at either end securely plugged with cedar bark stoppers, the soul could be safely carried back to the patient and restored.

                                            -- Norman Bancroft-Hunt

She likes to start on the eyes as soon as possible in her portraits, artist Sally Logue explains. “It’s important to get them right. I usually start with a rough outline of the head and then work from the eyes outwards. You’d be taught to work from top left to bottom, gradually building up color and tone, but I like the eyes to bring the portrait to life early on.” They really are “the windows to the soul,” she says, and they speak to her.

They speak to the viewer, too. The animals and birds in Logue’s portraits draw us in with their eyes. A wistful Blue-cream Point Siamese…an elfin Ruddy Abyssinian…an inquisitive Springer Spaniel…two British Giant rabbits looking like they’re chatting companionably over a lettuce lunch…all of them are vivid presences, seemingly ready to step off the pastel paper and become fully dimensional. Logue has a strong rapport with her subjects, and it shows in every pastel-penciled line. The word that keeps coming up in her customers’ comments is “captured,” and they’re not always talking about a physical likeness. More often than not, their remarks have to do with intangibles: “you captured their spirit,” “you’ve managed to capture so much about them…it really does look as if you know Simon and Barney well,” or “her character is captured totally.” Some folks even admit to crying upon receiving a portrait of a deceased pet. “I don’t feel like I’m looking at a portrait and it really brings it home that he is no longer with us,” one customer wrote.

“Someone did a ‘Wordle’ of my customer comments,” recalls the artist, who works out of her home in Cumbria, England, “and you’re right – the words ‘captured’ and ‘likeness’ and ‘absolutely’ came up top of the list, my customers are so kind!”

Her first portraits were for local clients: they’d bring their pets to her, and she’d take photos to work from. “This gave me a chance to study the animals closely and pick out individual characteristics,” she observes. “If you have three similar Black Labs running round your feet, you may think they all look the same; but studying and comparing their photos make it much easier to tell them apart.” Now that she receives commissions from other countries, she often exchanges “several e-mails with the client to discuss their photos and help choose one to work from which brings out that spark of personality.”

Over the years, Logue’s artwork has made some pretty impressive appearances around the world. Her animal portraits have been used by Chelsea Textiles (London, Paris, and New York) in their line of hand-stitched tapestry cushions; they’ve also appeared on a variety of pet gifts in the U. S. In 2009, she was commissioned to do a group piece for the RSPCA Freedom Food Awards. Last, but certainly not least, she designed the Chinese Year of the Dog commemorative coins for the New Zealand Mint. Each coin in the series featured a different breed – Springer spaniel, black Labrador retriever, bloodhound, husky, Newfoundland, Shar Pei, Borzoi, and St. Bernard -- and all but three have completely sold out.

“I can draw dogs with my eyes closed!” exclaims Logue. Her first “commissioned” dog portrait was, she adds, for her future husband: “when we first met 20 years ago, he gave me an empty picture frame and asked me to draw something to fill it! If I hadn’t drawn his dog, who knows which direction my artwork would have taken me?” So, in that respect, she considers her husband her “biggest influence.” Another influence is British artist Lucian Freud (1922 - 2011), who included animals in much of his work. She’s particularly drawn to his “Double Portrait” (1985 -86), which features “a woman curled up with her dog. I love the way he uses color to describe the translucence of skin and the way the dog is always the calming element in his painting.”

Dogs do make up the bulk of her commissions, followed by horses and cats. But birds, rabbits, sheep, pigs, and other farm animals find their way into her work as well. For the  Freedom Food piece, she had to paint “12 farmed animal types, including cattle, sheep, pigs, a duck, a turkey, and a chicken. And a salmon. “You won’t believe how hard I had to persuade them to have the salmon drawn separately from the other farmed animals!” Logue laughs. The salmon ended up meandering along in the lower right-hand corner of the limited edition print, just below the barnyard fowls "despite my trying to convince them otherwise....Farmed salmon don’t jump unless stressed, so it had to appear to be happily swimming somewhere in the picture.  I have to say, I was surprisingly pleased with the result.”

She’s not just an animal portraitist, however. In fact, she loves drawing people, “especially if the photo is full of life.” One of Logue’s favorite people portraits is that of her brother and his wife: “I just love the way Tom is pretending not to enjoy being romantically kissed on the cheek. When you know someone well, it’s easier to get a good likeness.” She gave the piece to them at their wedding reception and told them it was a mirror. Which, in a sense, you might say it was.

Logue can’t really call to mind a time when this passion for art wasn’t a part of what she was all about. One of her earliest memories is of “getting a paint box with lots of wonderful colored blocks. I remember being asked if I would like a paint box or a new dress for Christmas. I think I chose the paint box but ended up with both!” And years later, her very first art homework assignment in secondary school “was to draw a pet! I didn’t have one at the time – in those days, we didn’t even have a picture of a dog in the house – so I had to make it up based on our neighbor’s dog.” The result -- and she still has the sketch book to prove it -- was “basically a hairy rectangle with a head and legs” that earned her a “7/10. I knew I could have done better with a reference source, and from then on, I strived to get 10/10 for my art homeworks.” You can see that same striving in her work today.

She has also made good the early lack of animal companions with “dogs and cats all my adult life.” And the love of that life is Roxy, a Lab-collie cross who came to them from the local animal rescue seven years ago. “Roxy and I enjoy long walks together,” Logue enthuses. “She’s so responsive and quick to learn. She listens to every word, waiting for the ones she understands! I never need to raise my voice to her, she looks so apologetic if she succumbs to temptation and ‘accidentally’ empties a bin. And we curl up together, just like the Lucian Freud painting.”

                                 Sally Logue displaying her work.        

                                            "Phoenix & Dawn" by Sally Logue.

-- To see Sally Logue's pastel portraits, check out her website Pet Portraits by Sally Logue