My Labradoodle Pet Portrait

Sometimes one good experience leads to another. This was the case when my first time participating as vendor at Artspring Festival art market in Davis, West Virginia lead to a challenging but rewarding commission of a pet portrait of Blanche the golden Labradoodle. Also rewarding was that the art commission came from what had to be one of the world’s nicest customers. There were trials and tribulations along the way while creating the detailed Labradoodle pet portrait, brought on by dealing with neuromuscular disease (which I detail in my blog Living with Myasthenia Gravis from a Patient’s Perspective). In the end the job was successfully completed and everyone was happy. Blanche, the model pup, looks happy about it too. Watch the video below and read on for my drawing techniques, physical trials during composition, how I became ambidextrous again.

Sometimes one good experience leads to another. This was the case when my first time participating as vendor at Artspring Festival art market in Davis, West Virginia lead to a challenging but rewarding commission of a pet portrait of Blanche the golden Labradoodle. Also rewarding was that the art commission came from what had to be one of the world’s nicest customers. There were trials and tribulations along the way while creating the detailed Labradoodle pet portrait, brought on by dealing with neuromuscular disease (which I detail in my blog Living with Myasthenia Gravis from a Patient’s Perspective). In the end the job was successfully completed and everyone was happy. Blanche, the model pup, looks happy about it too. Watch the video below and read on for my drawing techniques, physical trials during composition, how I became ambidextrous again.

Watch Blanche the Labradoodle’s pet portrait develop before your eyes. See the happy starlet at the end.

Discovered at Artspring 2019 Festival

I was overjoyed to be selected to participate in the art market at the Artspring 2019 Festival in Davis / Thomas, West Virginia. It was my first big art splash in the art filled area that my heart calls home in Tucker County. I participated in the art market at the Fire Hall in Davis with a table staked out at the entrance. I was excited to offer my handmade jewelry, original paintings, illustrations, and digital abstract art along with donating a handmade necklace whose bid money went to support Artspring and its efforts in the area. Many of my illustrations on display at my booth were crowd pleasing pet portrait illustrations of dogs and cats. My sales that weekend were restricted to jewelry, but, as I said, sometimes one good thing leads to another.

The next morning I was greeted by an e-mail from a festival goer who had seen my art at Artspring. He had been excited by my ever popular Black Lab dog pet portrait called “Ajax Watches the World Go By.” In his desire to be stealthy about a gift, he did not approach me directly regarding commissioning pet portrait work.

Popular from Melasdesign on Society6 - Ajax Watches the World Go By - Canvas Print - dog drawing - pet portrait
Ajax Watches the World Go By – Pet portrait Black Labrador Retriever illustration art print available on Society6.

He asked if I could draw a similar pet portrait to Ajax’s, drawing his beautiful golden Labradoodle Blanche (named for the Golden Girls character – Appropriate, no?) instead. He provided an excellent photograph of the pup in all her golden curly glory, sitting by a window watching the world go by just like dear Ajax, the Black Lab. This was a great way to start. My pet portrait illustrations are only ever as good as the original photograph presented to me. That’s all I have to go by in creating the beloved pet’s likeness. I draw what I see.

Blanche the Labradoodle; pet portrait model; golden Labradoodle;
A great quality photo makes for the best drawing experience for an artist creating a pet portrait.

Complications with the Labradoodle Portrait

I took the job on happily, but made it clear that it would very possibly take a while. I have a neuromuscular diseases called Myasthenia Gravis. It causes weakness and double vision. The other thing going on is the polar opposite with painful muscle spasms and spasticity. We settled on a date 5 months later at the latest, in time for the portrait to be a birthday gift. This timing turned out to be totally necessary through a hot summer of MG weakness and the stressful events of trying to determine the cause of the spasms. Spinal taps are no fun (among other tests, trials, and tribulations of life). Thankfully in the end it was not the suggested Stiff Person Syndrome at the root of the cause.

How I Became Ambidextrous (Again)

My method of drawing pet portraits is by using a grid to help aide me with scale and proportion. I used to keep quiet about that, but I’ve since seen many fine artists using the technique. If I tried the “judge by your thumb” technique, I’d often see two thumbs, so that’s a no go. My worst double vision from Myasthenia Gravis is in my peripheral to low vision, so at some point with all the curls and grid lines, I had trouble keeping golden Labradoodle Blanche’s paw area correct initially in the illustration. Watch the WIP montage, and you might notice the shift.

Another grid that gave me problems. My brain was telling me I was on 45, but my muscles said otherwise. Imagine this when drawing.

This golden Labradoodle pet portrait was the way I become ambidextrous again. I have been told I initially used both hands for drawing and creating before I settled on my left hand. This Summer I was losing control of my left hand, either through the pain of gripping a stylus the wide stylus that came stock with the Wacom Bamboo tablet (they’ve since created a narrower one), or through spastic jerks. I took to using my right hand to draw with my mouse to try to give my left a rest. There were a few days where I exclusively worked with my right. Through all of this I think of Chuck Close improvising his working method after paralysis and stay on the job.

Composition

With this golden Labradoodle portrait I fleshed in quite a bit of the room details at the same time I was getting Blanche’s outline down. I was concerned about scale and as well as coloration. I know that I have had a hard time conquering orange cats in pet portraits. Blanche had just enough orange undertones that I wanted to have other colors around her drawn already to keep my tones within range of each other.

Work in Progress; golden labradoodle; drawing
WIP 1 – It’s a start.

I love the fact that Blanche’s coat has both curls and silky, wavy fur. She was my first ever curly critter. My last pet portrait had been a Yorkie, so I had already practiced my chops with silky faces there. The room Blanche was sitting in was much easier to draw than the pupper herself. I did have to re-invent the scene through the right window. In the original photograph, a grill cover was the main object visible through the righthand window. I’m Blanche loves those steaks, but I asked if the customer had any shots of the view that were more aesthetically pleasing. He obliged and I did some Photoshop magic to meld the old and new pics for my drawing model.

After realizing my drawing technique mistake with the gridline and paw placement (mentioned above), I chose to switch to my iMac, using Photoshop and a Wacom Bamboo drawing tablet. Having the model picture nearer to me was helpful. In photoshop I could have the model photograph of Blanche and my drawing open simultaneously, side by side. This made my eyes move much less, which helped greatly me fight my muscles’ myasthenic tendencies.

Labradoodle; pet portrait; work in progress; dog drawing; technique
WIP 3 of my Labradoodle drawing. See video at start for all stages.

Did I happen to mention the great customer?

Susan Hicks

I have nothing but gratitude for my customer’s patience, because I had predicted 3 WIPS and then a final proof. I gave the first two WIPs in much quicker procession than I might ought to have in early Summer. The drawing then took much longer than I had anticipated. I’ve had jobs where I go over by a day, but this time the additional work was considerably more. My customer never complained a bit, and I enjoyed the challenge of all those golden Labradoodle curls when I could work. Summer is the worst time of year for any MG patient, and I was out of commission for most of it, literally. <wink>

I had just started hitting the pet portrait illustration end phase in early Fall when I got a polite email making sure I was still aiming for the given latest due day. Refreshing. It would indeed be a good birthday for Blanche the Labradoodle’s dad.

In the end I decided to make Blanche’s golden Labradoodle curls more stylized than I had initially planned. Honestly, I could still be working today to get absolute photorealism of her gorgeous coat. My husband pointed out that the photo already looked like a photo, and I might allow myself to loosen up a bit with my illustrated interpretation in this case. After experimenting with brushes, feathering, and layers, I hit upon a style I liked.

Detail; golden Labradoodle portrait; dog drawing; Susan Hicks art; dog portrait; pet portrait
Illustration detail. I finished the face last.
The Final Portrait

The hardest part of the illustration ended up being the face, and I always save that for the end on any pet portrait. Interestingly enough, her eye placement was quite tricky. I used the Photoshop smudge tool a lot for Blanche’s pet portrait. The black of the eye would shift slightly when I smudged the fur detail close to that area, and there was so much detail to define around the eyes. This combined with the celtic knot nature of layers of silky, wavy curls was indeed an artistic challenge. The smudging helped me retain depth and texture to the fur on Blanche’s face, extending the shadows along with the golden streaks, a bit as if they were being finger painted. That tool is also a great way to inadvertently make your furry subject gain weight. I kept a pretty good handle on that with Blanche. No doggie diet needed here.

So I made deadline and helped the customer find a good place to get a print made. We went with CanvasPop, by the way. I had good luck with them in the past. The happy commission ended on the happy note of the gift being very well received. See the full portrait in the video at the top of this post. The nicest surprise of all was this wonderful photo:

Labradoodle; pet portrait; dog drawing; artist Susan Hicks; Blanche the Labradoodle; fan picture
Best Fan Photo Ever 🙂

Ain’t she a doll baby? What do you think? Please write your comments and questions in the comment section below. I’d love your input.

Be sure to see more of my work in my pet portrait collections in the Melasdesign shops on Society6 and RedBubble. Each site offers slightly different merchandise with my dog and cat portraits printed to order. Until this health nonsense gets straightened out, I won’t be offering any work by commission. I do hope to still participate in the next Artspring Festival. Stay tuned. Fingers crossed for the future.

Darkness and Light

Join me on this exploratory trip down memory lane, with its potholes and traffic jams, by way of a self-portrait art from 1991. This quickly executed scrawl on graphed notebook paper encompassed so much of my life experience in one sentence: It’s taken me 21.5 years of seeing this face to even get this far. “This face.” It’s almost like it was one of multiple faces, or maybe not even my own image. Read on for my interpretation of the drawing, 28 years later, and how my perception and individual experiences influenced my personal philosophy.

Join me on this exploratory trip down memory lane, with its potholes and traffic jams, by way of a self-portrait art from 1991. This quickly executed scrawl on graphed notebook paper encompassed so much of my life experience in one sentence: It’s taken me 21.5 years of seeing this face to even get this far. “This face.” It’s almost like it was one of multiple faces, or maybe not even my own image. Read on for my interpretation of the drawing, 28 years later, and how my perception and individual experiences influenced my personal philosophy.

Self portrait, Susan Hicks, 1991

An Impromtu Self Portrait

This self portrait drawing was the result of sheer procrastination. I was studying abroad in Germany and was a bit fed up with studying Hegel. Not just Hegel’s philosophy, but Hegel in German. Daunting. I drew this from my reflection late at night in my huge dorm window, with my head between the drawn curtain and glass. I call this a win, in hindsight, considering I hated even seeing myself in the mirror. Maybe looking out into darkness helped me see.

When everyone has this idea of what you’re “supposed to be,” how can you see yourself clearly? It can rob you of your individuality. The notion that “this is how it is, and you are not to do, or be otherwise” provides a sickening, dim, artificial light of a million tones and impossible angles if your individual truth is not already in line. I loved the view of the dark night from that window, on the many nights I was robbed of sleep from anxiety and stress.

Art and Perception

This thing of seeing yourself. An artist’s perception is key to their art – both external and internal. The more you can see flows into what you let others see through your art. I had seen art history classics in books and magazines, and had visited my share of top art museums in the US, London, and Munich. In my hometown the local art scene favored colonial gardens. I was more satisfied with abstract masters, art films and videos, and art connected to music; album covers, concert posters, fan art. I admittedly hadn’t seen much outside of family trips other than school, church, and limited campus forays by the age of 21. I did see myself every day to tidy up, but only briefly.

Self representation failed me. I knew I absolutely did not fit the trappings of a “proper Baptist woman,” but that was the eternal pressure – the eternal hellish pressure. How can you see your actual self when you are constantly discouraged or even banned from being it? The proper Baptist woman face is one with a never failing smile, or at least pleasant expression. This is demanded. In many cases, that face was a lie, on my part and on the part of many others. In hindsight, others seemed to trust their perception of this.

Yes. I’m Different.

I am….. different. Now I wouldn’t have it any other way. I have distinct values which I vehemently uphold for myself, without demanding them of others. I have no patience for bullshit in the guise of externally proving how good and righteous you are, or keeping up with the spiritual Joneses. Spiritual peer pressure is inexcusable to me. I’m apparently so different that every push and prod, jamming me into the expected societal mold was akin to hacking “me” into bits.

Creativity other than for “sacred” ends was seemingly the most irritating thing I could possibly do. It was once vehemently stated “Why should you get to be an artist? I wanted to be a musician and didn’t get to!” How dare I? Nonetheless, I have an undefined faith. As much drama and illness as I’ve been through and face daily, I don’t give up. There’s a reason for getting through, but I’m not sure it’s teachable, law driven, or precisely written in a book. Maybe I got that from staring into the dark.

Noel

Art was my religion. Art and music. Color. Sound. Expression. Individuality. That brought me peace. Integral to my being. Born to be. Peace. Noel. Love. That’s what religion claims to promote and provide, but in my almost featureless congregation I often felt surrounded by exclusion, prejudice, and staggering narrow-mindedness. Somebody once said something about “well meaning, but highly misdirected people.” So many things that were said to be in the name of LOVE were so damaging. Sheep. Flock. Not known to be very concerned with the notion of the individual.

Born to Be

Born to. I wasn’t really supposed to be born anyway, as a 2 month early premie. If I bucked the odds that way, maybe it was more MEANT to be that I’m here than the other way around. This is my argument to myself. It so often seems the opposite. Was it that early birth that put me behind the 8-ball healthwise? Did it stack the deck for friction and unaccepting attitudes in my family?

Or was it like a trained professional once counseled me? – Keeping a child from being what they are is profoundly damaging. Whatever the thing about being a musician was, yeah. Profoundly damaging.

Damage. Not seeing yourself clearly. Self-perception. The individual. Darkness. Hegel.

The Philosophy of Kindness

Look at my self portrait. What is this philosophy of kindness? Perhaps it was how I was raised, or my late mother’s genes, but one thing I always try to do is see the good in others. I do my best to be kind and helpful when I am in the position to, even with folks I may only encounter once. I have met many wonderful people this way. Usually kindness is returned, even if only through a smile that tells everything.

Haters Gonna Hate – A Self Portrait

Haters Gonna Hate - Self Portrait - Susan Hicks - 2019 Reprise
Quick self portrait in reaction to endless misperceptions of others.

Look at my self portrait. What is this philosophy of kindness? Perhaps it was how I was raised, or my late mother’s genes, but one thing I always try to do is see the good in others. I do my best to be kind and helpful when I am in the position to, even with folks I may only encounter once. I have met many wonderful people this way. Usually kindness is returned, even if only through a smile that tells everything. I think back on how even small kindnesses in my own life truly helped in the end, even when I didn’t always recognize them at the time. Sometimes this philosophy backfires, but that’s life.

As shown in my self-portrait from 2017, this approach often gets wildly misconstrued by folks who haven’t cared to know me well. Read the writing in the drawing and note the contradictions. People see what they want to see. Read the quote on the right from Ralph Waldo Emerson and know where I stand. A huge part of the “something” that I am involves my philosophy of kindness. A bit of the rest is covered in Forced Restart. My likeness above is distorted. That is a goal of most who criticize. It impresses me that these criticisms came through in the expression of my own shape in this drawing.

My Motives

My motive in being openly complimentary about things I’m truly excited about is an attempt at spreading some positive notions in a currently overtly negative world. I feel it bitterly necessary when so many people senselessly beat others down. Of course I don’t like everything, but I try to encourage and appreciate what is good. There IS actually good in the world.

If I do feel the need to criticize, I still try to be kind, or even clever. My mom’s philosophy strikes again. What good does it do to dwell on negatives? I am not perfect myself. Nobody is. I do not believe we are meant to be. Imperfection is often beautiful in and of itself. Seeing the world this way is a survival technique. Seeing “beauty” is crucial. 

I am willing to overlook others’ imperfections and interact with people I see a spark in. By the same token, I defend solidly against manipulation by those who might be false or even aggressive. Manipulative kindness is not true kindness. This gal believes in truth.

Philosophy of Kindness

In life, you must *somehow* see good and beauty, or your spirit will die. The negativity you project will very likely come back to you in an even bigger dose. If you only see negatives your life will be negative. You must also know yourself to see the true beauty in others. That can be an excruciating process, but it is worth it in the end. That is life.

“Just” a Fan

As an art and music geek, I am curious. I love talking process, simply because it is so fascinating. If anything is spiritual for me, it’s music. As far as teachings go, the Golden Rule is imperative. In truth, everybody approaches things in their own way. Everybody must also find their own way. My favorite experiences as an artist have been the sharing experiences with many talented individuals who I admire. 

I try to operate with humility. Do I believe I’m “all that”? No, nor do I want to be. I do what I do with my art, and if it resonates with someone, all the better. It’s another part of my philosophy. From that angle, I am truly an art fan and a music fan. I am much more likely to cheer on others’ work by word of mouth or social commentary than exclusively drawing attention to my own efforts.

My own efforts are self-driven to provide inner balance in the face of ugliness projected, spewed out, and grinned at by the world. Sometimes I add beauty through my own artistic process. This process lets me more readily concentrate on the good around me. It gives me focus rather than letting me become consumed by the misfortunes and ill influences I face.

When Halloween Got Wyrd

It’s nice to meet someone who loves Halloween as much as yourself. It’s also great if they too have dreamed of creating a DIY, homemade Halloween yard display. Better still if they are a gifted creator. Fantastic if their talents work complimentarily to your own. This was the experience which ultimately led to a magical Halloween featuring a staging of Terry Pratchett’s Wyrd Sisters, witches from literature.

Making a Halloween Witch Yard Display

It’s nice to meet someone who loves Halloween as much as yourself. It’s also great if they too have dreamed of creating a DIY, homemade Halloween yard display. Better still if they are a gifted creator. Fantastic if their talents work complimentarily to your own. This was the experience which ultimately led to a magical Halloween featuring a staging of Terry Pratchett’s Wyrd Sisters, witches from literature.

Setting the Scene

I had been already been thinking about decorating for Halloween, but the plot thickened when I was approached by Thomas, West Virginia native Andria DiBacco. The concept was simple: Create a scene featuring the trio of witches known as The Wyrd Sisters as created by British writer Terry Pratchett, also known as Sir Terence David John Pratchett. His title surely indicates his stature in British literature.

He created this trio as a comedic fantasy partial coven, loosely representing the Maiden (the green Magrat Garlick), Mother (the bawdy Nanny Ogg), and Crone  (stern Granny Weatherwax) female symbols and added overtones of Macbeth. His writing is stylistically similar to movie scripts of the beloved comedy troupe Monty Python. He’s not afraid to throw a punch and is wickedly funny.

Halloween DIY Yard display based on Terry Pratchett's Wyrd Sisters
Homemade Terry Pratchett Wyrd Sister witches for a DIY Halloween yard display.

The Do It Yourself Concept

When Andria approached me about making the scene, I believe she already had a pretty good idea of what she wanted to do. It would be something new in Tucker County. With a surplus of currently unused chicken wire (there were once chickens up the hill) and old PVC piping formerly used for same, she had a ballpark idea. Determining the figures’ poses and final stability was a dual task, and my husband lent multiple  tools.

I was given the task to make the faces and hands. My as-of-late unused polymer clay supply was revived, and my assortment of acrylic paints opened. I had never sculpted a face before, and my portrait work was mainly limited to drawing cat and dogs. I was excited to tackle the Wyrd Sisters likenesses as a first portraiture attempt. See close-ups of my modeling and painting in the short video below. We had the initial vision of our DIY Halloween display.

Creative Minds Don’t Always Think Alike

That’s no biggie when working in the creative realm. Read “A Philosophy of Kindness” to be clear on my own life philosophy, and a part of the reason I joined in with this project.

In the case of our creative process, our differences were a great thing. I feel the two of us compliment each other nicely with ability and style. Andria’s technique for creating the chickenwire armatures for the Wyrd Sisters figures was different than what I would have suggested, but it worked out wonderfully. The witches took impressive form. I am used to felting garments where no sewing is needed. Andria has the mind of a tailor. There was a lot of wire to clip and fasten, so we both pitched in.

Tasks, Materials, and Sources

We brainstormed on how to cover and clothe the figures, and a sort of landscaping cloth was chosen as the material of choice. We needed something that was lightweight and preferably waterproof. Thomas weather is very erratic and can waver to extremes. Imagine my surprise when the basic covering turned into full fledged dresses, plus divine hats for two of the witches in Andria’s hands. For Nanny Ogg, we used thrift store clothing.  No need for a tailored look there. I made amulets of polymer clay. Andria had made suitably witchy potion bottles with hand lettered calligraphy to help set the scene. A DIY Halloween had been on her mind.

DIY witches for Halloween from side view
How would Halloween be complete without witches?

The thrift store did indeed come in handy, and I recommend shopping there for your DIY Halloween activities. Thank goodness for B-thrifty. Not only was there witchy clothing a plenty in September, but the perfect wig for the Maiden, and sundry Halloween decorations to scatter about and upcycle were also scored. Instead of buying black cloth for a black light banner, a black duvet cover was chosen at a high discount. Dollar Tree was also a preferred destination.

I found the perfect used buttons, lace trim, and long pins for fastening, plus the fabric for face and necks at Fabric Place Basement. The gracious owners were getting used to me squeaking in at the last minute for Halloween fixings, and never hesitated to quickly help me find what I needed. Next year I promise to get the hours straight. We tried to avoid store-bought  main props, but the Spirit of Halloween was helpful for lighting, cobwebs, and a really cool cat. It’s also terribly fun to visit when getting in the Halloween mood.

Halloween do it yourself witch yard display
Witchy figure of character Nanny Ogg in snow prior to Halloween.

While Andria was feverishly working outside, I respected my health (see blog topic Myasthenia Gravis) and worked indoors in the unseasonably warm September weather. I modeled the three faces and painted them to character. There was a bit of drama with cracking during curing, but it was mended in the end. Then was the issue of affixing the “masks” to the head armatures. The technique applied gave extra stability to the heads in addition to the sturdy PVC “skeletons,” and helped keep Nanny Ogg’s noggin from being battered off in the wind one night. She was kinked strongly at the neck, but that was reparable. I have become a true believer in E600 adhesive. The Wyrd Sisters witches were pummeled in the wind and rain, and as the picture above shows, even snow. Our girls survived through sturdy construction and deft ground attachment.

We had no idea what kind of weather to expect on Halloween night. The weather in 2018 has been extremely unpredictable.

Handy Friends

While looking forward to making faces, I dreaded making the hands. A friend had the perfect how-to suggestion. I am not going to give away the secret method of sculpting, but you might have caught a glimpse of the WIP in the video above. We couldn’t believe we were hanging out on Saturday night making hands. I had to confess that I’ve often been very guilty of weekend “arting” vs. socializing. This was a happy mix of the two. Between that and goofing off with the wigs I bought, there was a lot of laughing.

Halloween 2018 Thomas West Virginia - DIY witch created by neighbors
Granny Weatherwax from Terry Pratchett, DIY witches.

Apropos hair, Wyrd Sister Granny Weatherwax’s strands were bought at an “ethnic beauty supply,” (uuughh. awful description) where the cashier somewhat incredulously asked if I was going to try braiding. I didn’t quite have the nerve to state my purpose, and found the only gray hair in the shop. I brainstormed a bit, and found a satisfactory method to affix the locks. Andria then styled the long silver strands perfectly, which was quite a help to this traditionally shorter coiffured gal.

Mother Nature Helped Too

In prep for our DIY Halloween, the Monongahela National Forest offered its wood for the brooms, as procured by Andria, who had a specific location up trail in mind. The forest is a wonderful resource for hiking and adventure in Tucker County, West Virginia. While we stripped branches, our pups made themselves comfortable beds of the discarded leaves on a day that was finally temperate enough for me to enjoy the much missed outdoors.

Wyrd Sisters Scene Halloween 2018 - a dog helped
Somebody insisted his view not be blocked.

Otherwise I worked inside on the Wyrd Sisters’ faces and hands, but there was also a spooky soundtrack to make, and I had my heart set on making my house haunted. I had my first experience with track mixing and combined many free Halloween sound files from FreeSoundEffect.com with some spoken Wyrd Sisters dialogue. My cauldron sound was said to be convincing. The dialogue I chose and additional groans, howls, and creepy sounds gave added effect. Have a listen to the churning bubbles and more in the wrap up video at post end.

Artists, Nurses, and Actresses

With the Wyrd Sisters cauldron and audio completed, it was time to haunt. I have only recently begun experimenting with video, and had only made animated shorts using still images thus far. Tongue-in-cheek video Dry Cleaner Horror is my favorite example thus far, using a Dream Series illustration and putting it into action. We needed something more for our ghosts in this DIY Halloween event.

Andria and I became actresses – not as Wyrd Sisters characters, but ghosts in the house that would peer out of the windows on Halloween night. I gave direction and shot a simple video on my phone. Then I edited the footage to the extreme for a blurry, ghostly effect. I was thinking of horror films from Fritz Lang’s classic Nosferatu to more recent visual effects of modern ghost chillers. I was creating my own lore for our DIY Halloween.

There was another helper too. A home healthcare assistant kindly obliged me for some shots of clawing hands. Through crafty editing, it turned out to be pretty spooky. She was nurse number two, with Andria first in line. My part was being a bit of a magical spook. Andria was the trapped soul peering out the window before striking a ghastly pose. As a final touch, I added a few of my own graphics of macabre and skulls, plus flashes of different colors to move the theme along.

Some found this startling. That’s called winning.
Homemade Halloween

After a lot of DIY work and much anticipation (including both televised and printed news pieces in Tucker Country, West Virginia, featuring Beth Spencer’s expert photography), it was Halloween at last. We made final adjustments, and there were still pumpkins to carve. I found out exactly why my mother advised me as a child never to use a baking pumpkin as a jack-o-lantern. It’s an exercise in futility. If you succeed at all (as Andria did), it will probably require supporting toothpicks for the parts threatening to fall out. Imagine carving a spaghetti squash – no solid meat.

While we were finishing up the whole DIY display on Halloween afternoon, a black cat came to visit. Definitely a sign that we were doing something right. I just wonder which witch’s familiar it was. Maybe it had come to check out Greebo, Wyrd Sister Nanny Ogg’s cat. In the end, my little black familiar (Elsa the dog) chased it away. She was also insistent upon staying with us for the festivities and even made some new dog friends. With little time to spare, Andria and I dashed inside to change and then “it was on.”

Halloween - DIY Elder Witch in Light and Fog with Cauldron
A Halloween night filled with fog, light, and magic.
Family, Friends, and Townsfolk

As the sun started getting low in the sky in Thomas, and visitors started appearing. The littlest ones arrived first. Many were making their maiden trick-or-treat voyage. Baffled and wide eyed, they didn’t hesitate in the least about grabbing candy. A boy and girl who chose to run, not walk, the entire length of the long, hilly street, with their chaperone following behind in his truck tickled us to death. They were definitely going to burn off those candy calories in advance. Respect. I got a huge giggle from the brother and sister who debated whether their mom actually knew “us witches” when she told them to go down the road to get candy. The world changes so much, but kids are still kids. Thank goodness. For me it made all the DIY Halloween work well worth it.

Trick-or-treaters on Halloween 2018 in Thomas, West Virginia
The first lucky candy recipients on Halloween evening, 2018

There were characters of all sorts including a mummy, scarecrow, and my favorite howling werewolf ever. A policeman was on the scene, and as appropriate, a little witch. She looked delighted when I asked her to join our coven. ….. our literary coven, to be clear.

Andria got plenty of help at the cauldron when she began posing as Wyrd Sister Nanny Ogg, leaving the DIY figure to the side. She beckoned the children, asking to throw them in. In the end, they helped toss in frogs and snakes. Whew! I got the impression that some had watched a lot of cooking shows.

My biggest personal achievement resulted when I begged one visitor to watch my “cousins” in the window. They jumped in surprise when a “ghost” appeared. Maybe I do have a future in horror. Nobody noticed Andria taking the place of the Nanny Ogg figure and sitting like a statue. She knew just when to spring into action. Listen to choice crowd reactions in the video below.

Is that a real person in there?????” / “Look! It’s a witch!!!” / “That’s my worst nightmare!!!!!!!!

Halloween Visitor

Not only did we have young first trick-or-treaters at our DIY Halloween extravaganza, but we also treated Thomas school’s Chinese teacher Mr. Duh to his first ever Halloween. China doesn’t celebrate the holiday, so I hope we gave him a proper introduction. Welcome to the US and good luck. Thank you for educating our children, and perhaps creating more curiosity about the world around them.

Many Thanks

Andria and I were grateful for the outpouring of appreciation and enthusiasm that we encountered from the first day on. We started the actual staging three weeks prior to Halloween and added elements up to the day of. Curious folks would drive by, or stop, admire, and turn around. It was amazing and encouraging to see huge smiles and many thumbs ups. I cannot speak for Andria, but that made it all worth it for me, even before the event. The gracious input and reactions received on Halloween night was extremely rewarding. It’s so rare to hear unbidden “thank you’s” for something purely creative.

Special thanks to Brian Hicks for his patience, support, transportation, and tools. Thank you to Beth Spencer for coming out and supporting our cause with beautiful photography. Dora Clemons, we couldn’t have wigged out properly without you. Thanks for lending a hand.

Thanks to our trick-or-treaters: To Jimmy Wilfong, his family, and pups – we might consider Pepsi next year (wink, wink); The Cooper girls, my first candy recipients; the Clavengers and Ponickvars who came out; the enthusiastic teachers of Davis-Thomas Elementary School; Shanna and Aldean Pennington, our expert policeman and polite jack-o-lantern extinguisher; and lastly,  Tyler Elliot, Heather Carr, and Owen with their gaggle of nighttime visitors.

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