Thursday, July 30, 2015

Busy Bee

Update on scheduling!

Normally, blogs here on VetWrite come out on the first and third Monday of the month.  Which means, dear readers, you might be chomping at the bit this Sunday, Aug 2. Maybe foaming at the mouth in anticipation. Heart palpitations? Normal. Cold sweats? It's ok. I know. I'd be excited if I were you, too.

BUT WAIT.

Due to summer travel during the first and third weeks of August--New Hampshire and Liverpool! Wheeeee!!!--posts will be on the second and fourth Mondays of August.


This has been your friendly VetWrite PSA.

Thank you.


Monday, July 20, 2015

Bovine Bangles

Although we've visited with authors, sculptors, and painters on this blog, we have yet to infiltrate the creative mind of a jeweler. Dear readers, today is the day. Let's meet Dr. Kathy Swift, veterinarian, jewelry artist, and creator of Cow Art and More.

Dairy cow charm, by Kathy Swift, DVM http://www.cowartandmore.com/collections/jewelry/products/dairy-cow-charm
Cow Art and More is an online gallery where, as Kathy's website declares, "art and agriculture meet." Featuring a handful of artists who make by hand original and limited edition art centered around the agricultural community, Cow Art and More is a place Kathy has created to showcase her art and the art of others.

Kathy says that creating jewelry has always been a special love of hers. Growing up on a dairy farm in Virginia, Kathy's other love, cows, translated into a veterinary career in the dairy sector of Florida. In 2001, a chance meeting with a local jewelry artist reignited the artistic flame that was quieted by the hustle and bustle of veterinary practice. Soon, Kathy was taking classes at the University of Florida, Penland School of Crafts, and William Holland School of Lapidary Arts.

Barn charm, by Kathy Swift, DVM http://www.cowartandmore.com/collections/jewelry/products/barn-charm

Focusing on a line of contemporary silver jewelry, Kathy struggled with ways to bring her love of cows and agriculture into her art. "In the beginning, I didn't want to create farm-themed jewelry," she says. "I did that all day, I didn't want to do it as an art project as well. I finally had an inspiration of creating a realistic cow charm after the umpteenth time of looking at someone else's cow charm and thinking, 'That's not a cow. Those legs and udder are all wrong. I can do better than that!' "

Kathy still practices veterinary medicine, and splits her time between science and art. She notes it's hard to be creative as a veterinarian. "Being a veterinarian has given me a good analytic sense which has proven invaluable to my art side," she says. "I can't get creative with treating patients very often so I find that art is my way of expressing an inner imagination."

Jersey jug milk can charm, by Kathy Swift, DVM http://www.cowartandmore.com/collections/jewelry/products/jersey-jug-milk-can-charm
Kathy admits it can be hard to balance her two professions. "I don't know that it's necessarily any different than any other work/life balance," she says, "but it does involve getting myself into a different mindset. The longer I do both, the more I find that it's hard to shift from one to the other all in the same day. It seems like I enjoy either better when I can do it for an extended period of time, say like an entire day, not just a few hours."

For those of you who may doubt the artistic wealth that is the kindly cow, please reconsider. "I love the artwork where the cow is just as I know her, including the subtle details like her ears and nose," says Kathy. "When you are with them for hours, you learn to love all their details."

Cowbell charm, by Kathy Swift, DVM http://www.cowartandmore.com/collections/jewelry/products/cowbell-charm

Kathy says her online business is growing steadily and she would like to see this continue over the next decade. "I have always joked that you will know I'm big time when you see me selling my jewelry on QVC!" she says.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Know Your Noir

When I think of noir fiction, my imagination turns black and white, with smokey overtones, cigarettes, booze, and of course murder mixing in a bowl of dry wit.


But that's being stereotypical.

I actually didn't know I was a noir fan until I flipped through the book Film Noir: 100 All-Time Favorites and gasped: Heat, Pulp Fiction, The Dark Knight... these were noir? My favorite movies? Granted, these are film and not books, but there's so much more to noir than just a cigarette and angst-y detective work. This is more than the Guy Noir skits of Prairie Home Companion. Noir, as author and veterinarian T.D. Hart says is, really, life.

T.D. Hart, a pen name for Dr. Jennifer (Mathews) Adolph, now writes noir fiction after selling her equine veterinary practice. On her website, Jennifer lays it out: "Noir characters fuck up, then fix it. Life goes wrong, then works out. And oh man, do they ever carry baggage...And yet... Noir protagonists survive, then win. Despite the deep, crawling ugliness of the crime, they find humor and beauty and honor in their fellows. Like sailors who survive a crippling hurricane, they know they will face other storms. And they damned sure enjoy the sunshine."

Let's meet Jennifer in a bit greater detail. She seems interesting.

"I was the kid with her nose in a book," Jennifer says. "A hopeless geek who loved horses more than breathing. As a young adult I turned that passion into a profession, working on breeding farms in Norman, OK." During this time, Jennifer worked with some of the elite Thoroughbred mares in the country. A veterinarian she knew encouraged Jennifer to return to college and apply to vet school. "You are better than you think," he told her.


Jennifer took the sage advice and graduated from Oklahoma State's vet school in 1997. "I started my equine ambulatory practice in Tulsa and worked for thirteen years as a solo practitioner," she says. "Along the way I got married, had three children, and built a haul-in facility for the business."

Busy bee. Enter, stage left: WRITING.

"The creative bug hit around 2008," Jennifer says. "Oddly it started with guitar lessons. Within months, I was writing--almost as though a dam had broken and my creative waters were again flowing. And things have never been the same."


During this period of creative re-discovery, Jennifer was still practicing veterinary medicine. Here, then, came the struggle we've explored before on this blog: how to balance practice with creative expression?

"I LOVED being an equine veterinarian," Jennifer stresses. "My clients and patients felt like family to me and I loved being able to ride in and save the day. But I didn't love not knowing whether I'd get to finish my dinner, take a quiet bath, or watch a movie with my family without being called out on an emergency."

A simple case of burnout, Jennifer diagnoses. We know the feeling, right? Empathy abounds. "In the end, I found myself having to work and getting to write, which seemed backward," she says.


So backward, in fact, that Jennifer decided to sell her practice. "Selling my practice is the scariest thing I've ever done... and also the thing I'm most proud of," she says. "I miss my clients and the sense of accomplishment at the end of a long, physically challenging day. I miss the foals and the high-fives at getting mares pregnant, the sense of wonder at transforming a gaping wound into a row of neat sutures. I miss being the hero." Realistically, Jennifer says she also, at the moment, misses the paycheck. But, the writing life is full of new, different rewards. "I get up every morning knowing I get to create a story out of thin air," she says. "And that's the most exciting, most fulfilling job I've ever had."

"I get up every morning knowing I get to create a story out of thin air."

Now a full-time writer, Jennifer hones her noir craft in a recently converted garden shed. She is polishing the final draft of her debut novel about a San Diego homicide detective who investigates the death of a rock star, discovering he had secrets worth killing for. Her character-driven stories capture deeply flawed protagonists. "The inspiration for my debut was seeing the furor over Michael Jackson's death and wondering how it would be to investigate the suicide of a star and discover he was quite different from his public persona," Jennifer says.

Early success has helped Jennifer's travels down the lonely road of writerdom. "My first [writing] award was the CNW/FFWA award for Best Novel Chapter and when I logged on and saw my name at the top, I screamed so loud my family thought I was being butchered!" she says. "Since then I've won the OWFI best mainstream novel and best mystery category and been a finalist in the Colorado Gold."


However, the reality of the tortoise-paced publishing world has taught Jennifer some lessons in patience and revision. "When my current manuscript won some contests back in 2012, I was sure I'd made it," she says. "Three years and umpteen revisions later, I've come to see the journey as a long, beautiful marathon through gorgeous scenery. If I'm tired, I rest. If I want to stop writing and go for a trail run, I do. Then I come back and finish my work. Honoring my craft as worthwhile work keeps me focused."

Jennifer thinks of her daily writing as exercise. "I've learned that writing is a muscle," she says. "Use the muscle, it gets stronger. Too much rest and it atrophies. So I write every day. I need time and quiet to really hear my characters. For the last several years I've escaped for intensive writing retreats. When I'm drafting, I shoot for 1,200 words a day. When I'm editing, I go as fast and far as I can."

"Honing my craft as worthwhile work keeps me focused."

Jennifer says over the years she's learned to relax into her writing and trust the creative process. She has an agent and a hopeful publication date for her debut novel in 2017. I'll certainly be watching for it.

"Writers are a welcoming bunch," Jennifer concludes. I concur and include myself in that group of open arms. *FREE HUGS FOR WRITERS!* "We're all learning and we're always willing to help other writers. The generosity is amazing. For me, it was a fantastic choice."



PS: 
Recent update from Jennifer... As she continues to build her writing platform, she is now offering developmental editing to help new and aspiring writers get their manuscripts in shape for publication. If in need/interested in this service, please contact Jennifer via email at: jenniferadolph@ymailDOTcom. 

 

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Liar Liar

Well, it happened. I missed my deadline. I promised you a new post on Monday. That was three days ago. No post.

BUT I CAN EXPLAIN.

I WAS IN A DIFFERENT TIME ZONE.

I WAS EATING CASHEWS AND DRIED APRICOTS IN SUBALPINE STRATA.

I WAS FAR FROM ANY WI-FI CONNECTION.

THERE WERE BEARS.

I.... I was on vacation.

So, in the mean time, enjoy these pictures while I type my fingers off.

Lupines at Lake Tahoe

Half Dome at Yosemite National Park

Sequoias at Sequoia National Park

Monday, June 15, 2015

From Flesh and Blood to Folded Steel

Veterinarians work with their hands. We palpate, we pet, we suture, we cut, we bandage. Some of us use hands for more than clinical efforts in the hospital; painting and drawing are some recent examples here on VetWrite. But what about bringing art into the third dimension? Let's hear from Dr. Patricia Frederick, equine veterinarian and sculptor.
Dr. Pat Frederick
Originally from Arizona, Pat grew up with a fierce love of horses. With no horse of her own, Pat had the good fortune to have a friend with a horse that needed exercising in the summer. Soon enough, this led to a job at a dude ranch, all at the age of 11. "Imagine a child of that age guiding ranch guests out on trails," says Pat. "Holy cow!"

Naturally, Pat chose to pursue an education in veterinary medicine with a focus on horses. "I was part of a five member surgery team in veterinary school," Pat recalls. "We were given a unique class while the small animal surgeries were filled with the other 44 students. Of course, we did small animal surgery, too. We had to argue to get the horse experience." Pat graduated from Washington State University's vet school in 1966.

"Amigos", by Pat Frederick, DVM
Although Pat did some drawing during her childhood, she admits most of her spare time was spent on horseback. However, once Pat had young children of her own, she started working with clay. "I did clay for several years," she says. When her family moved to Australia in 1984 due to a job opportunity for her husband, Pat took a ceramics course and then pursued an associate degree in painting.

"When we returned to Arizona [in 1991], I had ceramic sculptures which were fragile. I was fortunate to get private tutoring for bronze sculpture. As I learned how much welding the bronzes required, after casting, I took a welding class and was hooked. Steel was not only more available but cheaper and I thought easier to sell."

Pat stopped practicing when she turned 63. It was then that she was able to devote herself completely to her art. Prior to this switch, Pat held certifications in chiropractic medicine, holistic veterinary medicine, and acupuncture. "I have always wanted to 'do art' since high school," Pat says. "I liked biology, too, and science in general, but the art 'thing' was what I tried to make time for as our children grew."

However, it was only after veterinary retirement that Pat was able to immerse herself in her art. "I knew that as I aged I could someday misjudge a horse and get hurt, so I decided to quit veterinary work and start a new job. There is a pretty high learning curve in Art Business which I study seriously. I have shown in many galleries, attended workshops, teach, and generally practice, practice, practice."

"Practice, practice, practice."

Pat's lifelong love of horses is evident in her steel pieces, as a vast majority of her sculptures are of the equine species. Pat's appreciation for horses, however, goes much further than the skin deep beauty of the creature. "Whenever anyone gets on a horse they are immediately on top of the world," Pat says. "Not only are we above the rest of the humans but we are also imbued with a heroic feeling and have an energy under us which is thrilling and useful."
"Tango", by Pat Frederick, DVM
This concept of Horses Make Heroes has heavily influenced many of Pat's pieces. "Of course, no one has to be on top of the horse to feel the hero as brushing, cleaning feet, and feeling a soft hot breath on your neck is as magical as any time can be," she says. "As a veterinarian, this feeling continued when I went into my unique fields with sport horses because after a chiropractic and acupuncture treatment, most horses actually step forward and say thank you with closeness and breath and relaxation."
"Good Luck", by Pat Frederick, DVM
Now with well over 100 pieces to her name and projects gracing numerous galleries in Arizona as well as Australia and Tasmania, Pat estimates she completes about six pieces a year. This of course is highly dependent on their size. The largest project Pat has completed is called "Carousel of Life," a piece with five horses that took her almost a year. The entire piece is fifteen feet in diameter and consists of glass, steel, aluminum, copper, silver, bronze, cement, and wood.

"The time involved encompasses the drawings and research," Pat explains. "A couple of months of three to six hour days and four to five days per week." A step by step process, Pat likens sculpting to drawing, but with steel, not graphite.

Another example of a deep rooted message within Pat's work is a series she calls "Hippophagy." A result of Pat's desire to comment on the debate of horse slaughter and eating horse meat, these pieces are a way to evoke thought and self-reflection among horse owners and the choices they make that may or may not contribute to horse overpopulation. "People are so polarized by 'eating' horse and don't seem to realize why US horses end there," she says. "I felt I needed to call attention to the work in order to get it noticed." Next to the piece as a whole, Pat places a long dialog, called "Menu."

"Menu", by Pat Frederick, DVM
"Dining Out", by Pat Frederick, DVM
"I feel that the horses that are sent to slaughter if done humanely in both travel and killing are getting a better end than they might have done when the recession hit," she continues. "We breed too many dogs, cats, and horses in many countries and then they suffer sad lives and a hard end of life. I guess my bottom line is: if there are so many horses being shipped to slaughter for meat, whose fault is it?"
"Friends Dying", by Pat Frederick, DVM
Like other artists who have been featured on here on VetWrite, Pat emphasizes how her veterinary knowledge of anatomy is a basic building block for her art. "The essence of the animal is basically the energy they are putting into a movement with the correct anatomy," she says. After the primary correct structure is captured, Pat lets her creative side take over. "Once the posture and bones of the armature are in place, I stop being realistic. I have never wanted to capture a purely realistic look--just the essence--so that your own mind and eye fills in the spaces which you don't see without knowing it."

Pat draws inspiration for her pieces from her memory and things she has seen. For her piece "Corowa Sheila", Pat was driving through a town called Howlong, in New South Wales, Australia. "I saw a young girl lying on her horse, obviously waiting for a friend," she says. "The horse was appreciating the shade of a gum tree."
"Corowa Shelia" by Pat Frederick, DVM

In another piece called "Hope," Pat recalls a horse show she attended. "I was getting ready to show and saw a horse standing in a single wire 'stall,'" she says. "It was constructed with the little nylon posts which hold hot wire. He was a big, lanky Thoroughbred and the girl who left him there had put a bucket just out of reach. He was stretching with every sinew of his body to reach the bucket without stepping out of the enclosure."
"Hope" by Pat Frederick. DVM
"I have been very lucky to have such a supportive husband and sons who do whatever they can to encourage me," Pat says. When asked what advice she can offer to others aspiring to explore their creative outlets, she says this: "Just DO it. Try to make time for your hobby. There are so many different forms of artistic expression--the world is your oyster."

Stay tuned for July 6 for the next post.

Monday, June 1, 2015

As Luck Would Have It

Traveling through the internet as I do on a more-than-necessary basis, I came upon a little gem of an article from the Gainesville Sun about a veterinary oncology surgeon who also happened to be a cancer survivor and author. In her book which was just published last year, Dr. Sarah Boston, Associate Professor of Surgical Oncology at the College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Florida, lays out reality as she knows it:
  • about how, while living and working in Canada, she encountered a sluggish and apathetic medical system when trying to get her thyroid carcinoma diagnosed and treated; 
  • how the human medical field seems to pale in comparison to the compassion that is a hallmark of the veterinary field; 
  • and how her writing became an outlet for humor and a place of solace. 
Lucky Dog: How Being a Veterinarian Saved My Life captures this meaty goodness and tenderizes it into an interesting piece on the table of veterinary authors.  

Let's get to know Sarah a little better.

"This all started just over four years ago," Sarah says. "I was living in Canada at the time. I was getting ready for bed and putting lotion on my neck and I found a mass. I knew it wasn't there before because I'm a veterinarian and an oncologist and I touch things for a living. I just knew it was my thyroid. I don't want to say I panicked, but I just thought it would be like veterinary medicine and I would go to my doctor and he would get me to a specialist and I would have surgery in a week or two."

Quickly enough, Sarah found out this was not the way things were going to go at all.


"Things just ground to a halt," she continues. "Four doctors told me it probably wasn't cancer and that it had been there for a while and it was probably benign. Everything was so slow. I couldn't even get an ultrasound for a week and a half."

In the meantime, Sarah borrowed her husband's (a large animal veterinarian) ultrasound. The image she saw confirmed her fears. "It looked like a thyroid carcinoma in a dog and I've done that surgery hundreds of times. I follow my patients up with ultrasound, so I know what it looks like in dogs. I looked at my ultrasound and was like: OK, no."

Winding her way back and forth to specialists, Sarah entered a scary time. The mass was growing and she felt no one was listening to her. Finally, two and a half months passed between when Sarah found the mass and when she had surgery. "I couldn't help but compare what I would have done for my patients," she says. "They would have been in and out within a couple of days. I couldn't even get an ultrasound in that time when I had the same health problem."

During this process, Sarah began to do what a lot of people would do -- seek an outlet. Hers was writing. "I was just frustrated," she says. "I was writing these little essays. It was really about trying to make my situation funny--me trying to amuse myself. That was really the initial reason for me starting to write. It was cathartic."

Sometimes, writing begets writing (aren't we writers lucky enough to sometimes reach that point?) and Sarah soon found herself with 40,000ish words--way too much for a blog, way more than just a couple humorous essays.

--Writers, this is where Sarah's story gets surreal. Stick with me, here. Think the ultimate writerly dream of meeting someone on a chance encounter and ending with a book deal is the stuff of fantasies? Hold on to your hats.--

Sarah attended a gala at the Animal Cancer Center at the University of Guelph. Speaking at this fundraiser, Sarah decided to read a few of her essays, "So I could explain to the donors why animal cancer is important and how it relates to human cancer," she says. As the Fates would have it, Sarah was sitting next to Noah Richler, a well-known Canadian author. After her reading, "Noah pulled out a pad, got my information, and said he was going to put me in touch with the best publisher in the country," Sarah says. "And I was like: OK."

At this point, Sarah had had two thyroid surgeries and was undergoing radiation. Although she originally didn't expect anything to come of this serendipitous meeting, she soon received an email from Noah introducing Sarah to his wife, well-known in the publishing world. "Through that connection, I sent in a partial first draft. And then I had what I call my Sex in the City moment: I basically walked in and had a book deal within 15 minutes. I was completely stunned, not expecting that at all."

OK, OK. Calm down. See? These sorts of things CAN happen. The Writer's Fates are REAL.

Anyway, back to our subject. Fast forward to the finished product, a book that shares both Sarah's thyroid experience and the experiences of her own four-legged cancer patients. More than a memoir, Lucky Dog carries with it a few strong messages.

"The book has a really strong message of advocacy," Sarah says. "You need to be a really strong advocate for yourself, your dog, your family member who is having health issues. No one cares as much as you do about your health. The thing that scared me the most about my whole process was that multiple times I was told, sort of, to go home. We'll watch it. And I remember thinking that if I were a history professor or someone without this medical background, then, who knows."

A cancer scare or any death scare, really, can make one realize or appreciate on a grand scale how delicate, how short, how precious life really is. (Says Seneca: "Life is long if you know how to use it.") Sarah touches on her realization of this, too. "Thinking I have cancer, then having cancer, then being treated for cancer creates this feeling of living in the moment," she says. "I learn that from the patients I see. Just because my patients have cancer, they don't sit there and worry about it and think about how they're going to die. They are enjoying the moment and quality of life. I think anyone who has had cancer or a cancer scare, they come to the other side of that. They get to where dogs are. Even though you may have a relatively long life, it's not really that much time so make sure you're happy. Someone told me after reading the book that I feared being unhappy more than I feared death. And I think that's true. Be happy in your life."

"Get to where dogs are."

This wouldn't be a talk about a veterinary memoir if it didn't include a reference to the venerable James Herriot. Sarah addresses this outright: "I was trying not to be another James Herriot. I love him, but I was trying to be another voice in veterinary literature, trying to shed some light on what we do as veterinarians, to help people understand what goes on in our profession. I'm actually considering writing another book on that subject because I think it's an important area to explore."

Given how Sarah found herself at a unique juxtaposition between the same human and veterinary professional specialties of oncology, naturally her book includes discussion on the differences and similarities between the two. "I think there are many ways in which veterinary medicine works better," she says. "I think we are more efficient, more compassionate. We spend more time with our clients, sometimes to our own detriment because people get burnt out and suffer from compassion fatigue. But it's what we do. To compare the time my surgeon spent with me to what my clients ask of me, it's not even in the same world. I'm trying to show that."

And of course, any dialogue on health care must invoke opinions on socialized versus privatized care, especially now that Sarah lives and works in Florida. "There's a little bit of the book contrasting Canadian and US health systems," she says. "I actually don't think socialized medical care is bad. I'm Canadian and believe strongly in socialized medicine. In the end I was treated and it didn't cost me any money but the problem in Canada is it's slow. There are inefficiencies. But, everyone is covered and has the right to have the surgery they need without financial hardship."

Of course you're all wondering, as I was, how Sarah is doing now. I was relived to have her tell me she's great. Her treatment lasted a total of nine months and she laughs this off by saying it was good for writing. "Thyroid is a "good" cancer," she says, "because it has a high cure rate. I'm inching up on that magic five year mark." With no cancer in the lymph nodes, clean margins, radioactive iodine and total thyroidectomy--the whole kit and kaboodle--Sarah says her check ups have been good.

We ended our conversation on a light note. Sarah wanted to emphasize how her book was meant to be humorous and says the most common feedback she's received from the book is that people say they laughed out loud and cried. "To me, that's amazing," she says. "I think as you're going through something like cancer, you have to find a way to have humor in it because it's about finding joy. Try to find the laughter and the joy in things."

I can't think of a better way to end a blog than that. You can follow Sarah on Twitter: @DrSarahBoston.

See you in two weeks--next post will be Monday, June 15.


Monday, May 18, 2015

Painting for a Cause

It's interesting to me to pick the brains of those who have artistic capabilities. How they analyze color and light, how they pick their subjects, how they tackle a project, and where their inspiration comes from illuminates their unique views of the world such that I can't help but be fascinated. For this week at VetWrite, I had the privilege to speak with Michelle McCune, DVM. A veterinarian and painter, Michelle's many visits to Africa have inspired her art and her connections to wildlife conservation.

"Royal Repose" by Michelle McCune, DVM
Michelle's first visit to Africa was in vet school. "When I first went to Namibia, it was the first time I had even left the country," she says. "I went to a country I'd never even heard of." After inquiring about free-ranging wildlife programs, Michelle found herself working side by side with Dr. Laurie Marker within the Cheetah Conversation Fund (CCF).

"At that time, it was a start-up organization out on a farm," she says. "My main job was entering data for the cheetah stud book." During her Namibia visit, Michelle would go on walks, enjoy the wildlife, and take photographs. "It was such an inspiring place to be. CCF does conservation from a very problem-solving direction. They don't go out as bleeding hearts and say: don't shoot the cheetahs. They work a lot on farm management and education. The education really ties in a lot of aspects of veterinary medicine. It really opened my eyes to how conservation can be accomplished successfully."

When Michelle returned state-side, she finished her DVM degree. Settling into small animal practice, Michelle, her husband, and growing family traveled back to various African countries and each time, Michelle would return with stories and photographs. Although Michelle was an avid artist in high school, her other talents for science and math drove her toward veterinary medicine while her sister was the art major. However, after being invited to an art class once while in her vet practice, Michelle found herself drawn back to her creative roots.
"Nathan's Koi" by Michelle McCune, DVM
"I started with still lifes and sketching and I ended up looking for things that inspired me to paint," Michelle says. "I found I was going back to photos I had taken in Africa and that's what really motivated me. I was really excited about that and it really refreshed my memory about my trips, so I started picking more and more of those photos to paint."

Michelle then explains how she got it all--veterinary medicine, her love of wildlife, and painting--to meld together. "From a veterinary perspective, obviously I had a passion for animals. I always wanted to do more for conservation. I am in small animal practice and I enjoy working with the patients and educating clients, but I felt something was missing. I kept thinking I have had these really cool experiences but I'm not doing anything with them. So I started looking for a way to really tie it all in together and discovered a group called Artists for Conservation."
"Watcher!" by Michelle McCune, DVM
Artists for Conservation is a juried art group. Michelle applied in 2008 and was accepted into their juried show. "It was really amazing and I was incredibly humbled," she says. There, she met other like-minded artists who shared her passion for wildlife conservation. Since then, Michelle has attended numerous workshops with the group. The money she earns from her paintings goes back into wildlife conservation.

"I think with my art and my being a veterinarian, I'm really interested in the interactions between the animals," she says of her two vocations. "A lot of what I do is almost portraiture because I am really trying to capture the personality of the animal itself. You know from practice that one dog isn't another isn't another and the same goes for animals in the wild. It's watching their interactions and trying to bring out the emotion and actually identify with the animal--that's what I try to bring to my art."
"Meeting of the Minds" by Michelle McCune
Every one of Michelle's paintings has a story behind it that she originally captured on camera from her trips. While some artists are drawn to pet portraiture or other ways of capturing domestic species, Michelle's focus is solely on wildlife.

"I've got one piece that's a close-up of a Cape buffalo. It's called Mbogo, which is the Namibian word for buffalo. These buffalo are cranky, nasty, very temperamental, dangerous animals--not your domestic water buffalo. They are usually portrayed with oxpeckers in their ears and snot coming out of their noses--they are really portrayed as ugly. I was trying to find the beauty in the beast. This is one of my favorite paintings because you see the power in the animal--it's not about snot coming out of his nose. It's about his eyes and his expression."
"Mbogo" by Michelle McCune, DVM
Michelle frequently helps fellow artists on various anatomical details, given her background. "My anatomical knowledge also helps me watch myself to make sure I'm portraying things accurately."

Frequently, Michelle's art compels an education for the viewer. For example, her piece "Birds of a Feather."
"Birds of a Feather" by Michelle McCune, DVM
"This piece shows a bunch of oxpeckers on the back of a zebra," she explains. "This zebra had been attacked by a lion. It had big wounds on its sides and when it came up to the watering hole, the birds were cleaning its wounds. You don't see these birds on zebras very often. You see them on giraffes, Cape buffalo, and rhino."

Although Michelle finds paintings that contain lots of stripes or spots to be visually challenging ("They make me dizzy and I have to take breaks," she says), she finds scaling down her large, expressive strokes into smaller pieces difficult. "I find I am drawn to painting large," she says.

Michelle's enthusiasm, however, seems to happily be her biggest challenge. "I just get so excited that sometimes I just jump right in without thinking what I'm doing and I end up with bad colors or bad values or edge work that's off. These are things that I have to go back and fix later. I just really need to control my enthusiasm! I never have a lack of inspiration."

Currently, Michelle practices small animal medicine part time and is able to paint during the remainder of the week in her studio, Vanishing Visions.

Please join me for my next post, Monday, June 1.