Milo

Milo Feature Image

This is Milo, a portrait commission from 2021.

The key on most dog portraits (and, frankly, most every portrait, in my opinion) is the eyes. You could have the whole portrait nailed perfectly but if the eyes are wrong, everyone will notice and the portrait will not be successful. Alternatively, you can have flaws in the overall portrait (and I often do), but if the eyes are done well, you will likely be forgiven the other flaws.

I spend a lot of time on the eyes, but I often save the final touches for the last little bit. It's amazing how much life can be brought into the eyes by a simple judicious use of a reflective dot. That reflection suggests the eyes are wet and reflective, which further suggests the subject is alive and active. Without that little reflection, the eyes will ALWAYS look a bit dull and lifeless.

Spending some time learning how eyes reflect light from both outside AND inside also helps to bring them to life.

Milo dog portrait


Love Your Pet Forever

I have been doing these portraits for years for family and friends. Now I'm doing them for everyone. Let me create a custom pet portrait inspired by your photos.

More Info
2

Max With a Stick

max with a stick

This is another portrait from early 2021.

I enjoy painting subjects in snow. It allows for a lot of playing with shadows and such. The original photo was taken on a cloudy day, so the colors were a bit muted. I boosted the values and enhanced the light source to give a bit more definition to Max's shape.

The look on his face is what makes this portrait so cool, in my view. You can just imagine the puppy-zooming scene that preceded this image.

max dog portrait


Love Your Pet Forever

I have been doing these portraits for years for family and friends. Now I'm doing them for everyone. Let me create a custom pet portrait inspired by your photos.

More Info
6

Travelogue: Lewis & Clark Caverns, Montana

Lewis and Clark Caverns feature image

"The river now becomes more collected the islands, tho' numerous ar generally small. the river continues rapid and is from 90 to 120 yds. wide has a considerable quantity of timber in it's bottoms. towards evening the bottoms became much narrower and the timber much more scant."

Journal entry of Meriweather Lewis

Jefferson River, Montana

Looking towards the Jefferson river where Lewis & Clark camped

The Lewis & Clark Caverns are located on the Jefferson River, in Montana east of the Continental Divide.

It was within sight of the caverns that the Lewis & Clark expedition camped on July 31, 1805, though they did not know of the caverns' existence and soon continued on. The journal entry above describes a little of what Lewis saw that day.

The Jefferson River is one of three headwaters to the Missouri River, the other's being the Madison and Gallatin rivers. To the northeast of the caverns, the three rivers meet near a place called, appropriately, Three Forks, Montana, forming the Missouri River.

Many names in this region harken back to that historic expedition of 1804-1806. Traveling through this area was like traveling in time for someone like me, whose head is easily filled with visions of what it must have been like to be among the first People of Pallor to set eyes on this region.

Our expedition to the Jefferson River was less arduous and much quicker than Lewis and Clark. Traveling by road in unbelievable luxury (comparatively) we left Cody, Wyoming on the morning of September 14 and arrived at Lewis & Clark State Park early that afternoon.

Eager to explore the caverns, we went to meet our group for a guided tour, leaving Beorn and Hudson ensconced in air-conditioned comfort in our [email protected] camper.

Lewis & Clark Caverns State Park

If this trailer is barkin', don't bother parkin'!

It took me a few experiments to get the camera settings right for such a dim place, and I didn't want to use a flash, which added a difficulty factor. Nevertheless, I did get some decent shots.

Here some of my photos of the Lewis & Clark Caverns:

The Missus was thoroughly enthralled by the underground magnificence of this place. I was quite entranced as well, though I think working the camera distracted me a bit from fully experiencing the wonder of the caverns. That's the trade-off with gadgets – sometimes you spend too much time playing with 'em and miss out on the richness of living.

This was the last day of our seven day vacation, and the dogs were ready to go home. I could tell because they just kept staring to the west.

the dogs

Our boys were ready to head home

It was our last night spent in the cool silence of the Jefferson River valley. That night as I took Hudson and Beorn out for their nightly and, afterwards, having hustled them back in bed, I stood outside the camper and looked up. For fifteen minutes I stood gazing at the heavens and more stars than I have ever seen before.

I went to bed that night, warmed by the dogs and pleased at having seen, in one day, wonders both above and below.

The next morning we ate, cleaned up, packed, gave the dogs their exercise, then loaded up and headed home.

Road ready

Packed up and ready to roll.

What a great trip!

(Between this post and my previous vacation post, I've only covered the beginning and end, mostly. I'll be filling in the middle with future posts.)

2

A Pressing Mystery

forest

As many of you know, I live a secluded life surrounded by dogs and trees (and the The Missus, but she doesn't figure in this story). I'm like a mountain man, but without the mountain, flintlock rifle, rangy beard, beaver pelts, or any applicable survival skills whatsoever.

But I do have internet service.

In order to maintain that service, I've had to cut down several trees which were blocking the Line-Of-Sight radio signal that brings the internet to this hilltop paradise.

Cutting down a tree is a nerve-wracking adventure. These aren't mighty redwoods, just ordinary ponderosa pine, mostly, with some Douglas and silver firs tossed in the mix. But they're big, and sometimes they fall in unusual ways; and by "unusual" I mean the exact opposite of where I expect them to fall.

It's dangerous, cutting down trees. Every time I fire up my chainsaw, in the back of my mind I'm asking the question: "Is this the tree that's gonna kill me?"

I come from a family of Polish lumberjacks (on my mother's side), several of whom met their end when the forest struck back in one way or another. So when I ask that question it's not to entertain morbid thoughts, but rather to remind myself to exercise as much caution as possible on a job that's full of risk.

It's a learning process. Each tree teaches a lesson. Sometimes the lesson is simple (cut a bigger wedge) and sometimes emphatic (park the tractor further away, Dummy).

But today, as I stand looking out over the four trees on my hill that I took down a few weeks ago, I am confronted with a mystery. Each trunk is at least twenty inches in diameter and rises high above the field grass. I stare down at the largest trunk, trying to put into words this most pressing of mysteries, and the most succinct question turns out to be:

"Who laid a log on my log?"

Who laid a log on my log

Hmmm… did Joe Biden visit my log?

About the Author

topdog

Topdog is Steve Merryman, a graphic designer (retired), and illustrator. Living in the woods, Steve can often be found working on portrait commissions. In his spare time he paints, writes, shoots guns, cuts trees, hikes with his dogs, savors a beer or two, and searches for the perfect cheeseburger. He studiously avoids social media and is occasionally without pants.

4

The Big Question

the big question feature image

"How do y'all fit in that tiny trailer?"

Almost without exception, everyone we met on our five-state weeklong vacation asked us that very question.

It was not the question we expected to hear just a day or two before we left, because we were preparing to sleep in our 9' x 7' tent. But five days before we were to leave, I casually mentioned to The Missus that I wasn't exactly looking forward to sleeping on the ground for a week.

I swear within five minutes of internet searching she found several used [email protected] trailers for sale within a day's travel. In case you don't know, [email protected] trailers (built by NuCamp) are a well-designed and very popular "teardrop" trailer. Teardrop trailers have their roots in the Depression and gained popularity in the post WWII era. They were essentially a bed on wheels, usually with a simple exterior kitchen on the back.

The particular [email protected] model The Missus was looking for was the LX model which was about a foot wider than the regular model and contained a king-size bed. This gave us plenty of room for us and our monster dogs.

EDITED TO ADD:
When I originally wrote the above, it didn't even occur to me that some people DO NOT sleep with their dogs. I don't understand such people or their motivations. Who could pass up a chance for the extra warmth, or the occasional tick crawling up the inside of your thigh? We have always slept with our dogs, and I'm grateful for that spacious 8 inches of mattress Hudson allows me every night.

The one we found had been well taken care of and had a few nice upgrades and accessories. Best of all, the sellers lived just a few miles away.

We bought it the day before we left. I then spent over 8 hours anxiously waiting at local U-Haul dealers as they installed a difficult hitch and wiring harness on our Honda CRV (that's a whole other story).

The hitch issue solved, we left four hours later than planned.

thanks, siri

"Honey, how's our water supply?"

Our trip took us from the eastern edge of Washington, across the Idaho panhandle into Montana, then down to Wyoming and on to South Dakota and back. The Missus loves her iPhone, and set up the navigation using Siri.

I'm not sure the makers of Siri  – dwelling in the crowded urban landscape of Cupertino and working in a massive donut that can be seen from space – understand the vast emptiness that can be found in the wilds of Wyoming. They programmed Siri to only care about the quickest route, regardless of where that route goes.

After the fifteenth gravel road Siri sent us on, I began to wonder.

I'm not against gravel roads (I live on one myself), but after the first eighteen miles waiting for a left turn – ANY left turn – the magic of technology wears a little thin.

Siri tried to save us three minutes on one gravel route, but ended up costing us twenty because the cows refused to move to the shoulder.

I'm not saying Wyoming is thinly populated, but we passed a lady on Highway 16 with a non-vanity license plate. Her plate number was 41.

Big Dogs and Tiny Trailers

Our little trailer worked great following behind our Honda CRV. At most campgrounds we were surrounded by massive giant campers and motor-homes. It felt like we were tiny visitors in the land of giants.

land of giants

In the Land of Giants, trying not to get squished

Everyone asked the question, and we always smiled and explained how much room was inside, even showing the interior to a few people who remained skeptical.

Wherever we went we had the biggest dogs with the smallest trailer.

big dogs and Bill Cody

The lovely Missus, our two enormous dogs, and some guy named Bill Cody.

If we had planned our trip with the sole intention of meeting lots of people we could not have done a better job. Our presence was a curiosity that could not be resisted, and they all wanted to know…

"How do y'all fit in that tiny trailer?"

tiny camper

Hold me closer, Tiny Camper!

About the Author

topdog

Topdog is Steve Merryman, a graphic designer (retired), and illustrator. Living in the woods, Steve can often be found working on portrait commissions. In his spare time he paints, writes, shoots guns, cuts trees, hikes with his dogs, savors a beer or two, and searches for the perfect cheeseburger. He studiously avoids social media and is occasionally without pants.

Taking a break from internet

Almost Daily placeholder image

I'm taking a few days off from technology. Got some things to do around here before Winter sets in, and the Virtual World is harshing my mellow, so I'm going to ignore it for a week or two, and get a full dose of awesome reality.

I'll be back fresh-eyed and bushy-tailed in a week or so (I don't think it will take longer than that to get my Mojo back).

Take care and don't believe anything you read on the internets.

-Steve

About the Author

topdog

Topdog is Steve Merryman, a graphic designer (retired), and illustrator. Living in the woods, Steve can often be found working on portrait commissions. In his spare time he paints, writes, shoots guns, cuts trees, hikes with his dogs, savors a beer or two, and searches for the perfect cheeseburger. He studiously avoids social media and is occasionally without pants.

1

To Encourage The Others

a wood pile

With summer winding down, it's time to start splitting firewood for the coming winter.

Each year I spend parts of the late summer and most of September making a pile of firewood. It's great exercise, and so far, I can still manage to do it without a powered log splitter. I get by fine with a splitting maul, wedges, sledgehammer, and…

Firewood is my responsibility. On average, we go through a couple cords each winter, but each autumn it's a bit of a guessing game how much to split. Too much, and I've got a bunch for next year (Yay!) that I have to move away from the house in wildfire season. Not enough, and in March I'll start filing the edge of my axe while eyeing the furniture.

Guessing wrong can make for an uncomfortable last month of winter, especially taking into account the The Missus' cold feet, and accommodating the dogs in bed. They usually curl up in the middle which forces my uncovered ass out over the edge at some point. The Missus has also perfected the North Pole Roll, which, by locking her arms around the blanket and rolling she wraps herself into a toasty warm blanket burrito, leaving the dogs and me to fend for ourselves.

By the end of March, the dogs and I have become very close.

I have great motivation to stock up on enough firewood for the bitterest of winters, because in the end, I'm accountable for any mistakes.

Admiral Byng's Accountability

Speaking of accountability, let me tell you about the British Vice Admiral John Byng.

Way back in 1756, Admiral Byng was a big mucky muck in the British navy. When war broke out with France, he was ordered to sail his fleet to defend the British forces on the island of Minorca, in the Mediterranean.

Admiral Byng was not very aggressive in carrying out his orders. He failed to make an impression in a fleet action attempting to defend Minorca against the French. He retreated to Gibraltar, effectively abandoning the British on Minorca, which the French eventually seized.

When he returned to England, he was arrested, court-martialed and found guilty of "failing to do his utmost" to defeat the French. Condemned to death by firing squad aboard his very own flagship, the sentence was carried out at noon, March 14, 1757.

It was Byng's execution to which French philosopher, playwright and author Voltaire was referring when he wrote his famous line that the British needed to occasionally execute an admiral from time to time, "in order to encourage the others."

Up to that point, the British hadn't had much success against the French. After Byng's execution, a fire seemed to be lit in the ranks of the British Navy. They took risks, and fought with tenacity and audacity. Clearly no officer wanted to be seen as cowardly and overly cautious.

At the end of the Seven Years War, the British Navy stood (floated? sailed?) alone as the world's pre-eminent naval power. It's true! You can look it up.

A dead Admiral? Firewood? What's the connection?

Interesting, but what does Admiral Byng's execution have to do with firewood?

It's about accountability; A pretty tenuous link, I admit. But I've been watching what's going on in Afghanistan, and I find myself wondering if anyone will be held to account for the mess.

Everyone pays a price for failure. If I don't pay bills the power will get shut off. If I don't split enough firewood, the house will be colder in winter. If I don't make friends with the cat, he'll chew my arm off while I sleep.

Paying a price for failure is almost universal, except for those in government; there are no penalties for them. On the contrary, they often get promoted!

Joe Biden is the prime exemplar of failing upward.

What to do?

I think we should look to the British for a solution. Not necessarily execution. Although an argument can be made that arming the Taliban with helicopters, heavy equipment, technology, rifles, guns, ammo and everything else, can be construed as "giving aid to the enemy" aka "treason".  But even worse than that, leaving American citizens and allies behind to face almost certain death is even more treasonous. And I think most of us would agree on the penalty for that.

Talk about "failing to do your utmost"!

But, hell, toss us a bone! At least fire one or two of those idiots at the top, perhaps toss in a little public disgrace vinaigrette for a pleasant Caesar "Et tu?" Salad.

I have no problems removing a president for treason. It's clear he's not in control of his mind, but I only care about that to the extent that it's yet another good reason for his removal. There should be penalties for such ignominious failures and betrayals, ESPECIALLY for those in positions of ultimate power.

Of course, no one will lose their jobs over this, which is pretty typical for government these days. But if we ever expect our nation to bounce back from this, there need to be harsh consequences for failure at the highest levels. If we don't do so now it will be like accepting brochures from Jehovah's Witnesses, it will only embolden them.

Severe and swift punishment must be visited upon the fools in charge of this debacle…

…to encourage the others.

About the Author

topdog

Topdog is Steve Merryman, a graphic designer (retired), and illustrator. Living in the woods, Steve can often be found working on portrait commissions. In his spare time he paints, writes, shoots guns, cuts trees, hikes with his dogs, savors a beer or two, and searches for the perfect cheeseburger. He studiously avoids social media and is occasionally without pants.