My church holds an auction every year to benefit our sister church in Haiti. I donate pet portraits – charcoal sketches that can be done quickly from life. (I don’t work from photographs: not only do I not like the flat appearance of drawings made from photos, I would miss the joy of observing a living being up close. I would miss the shameless way I get to scrutinize someone, animal or human, with my eyes while I draw. I would miss the feeling of knowing I am seeing someone properly – the way one ought to be seen – while I draw.) Sophie’s owners had the winning bid. Sixteen years-old and ninety-six in human years, and, as you can see, still glamorous, Sophie was my model this year.
The things I consider while drawing a portrait of a pet are the same things I consider while drawing humans. Mammals all have generally the same shapes in their skulls, and within each species variations from individual creature to creature can be very subtle, but it is these subtle variations and how they combine that make a specific someone look like itself. Most of us humans are aware that our zygomatic arches (cheekbones) have disappointed any ambitions we may have had of becoming fashion models – it seems the height and prominence of these forms are essential for the demands of that career. Sophie’s zygomatics blew me away. They were very prominent and high, as well as white. Her eyes were huge and looked like two enormous teardrops reclining in billowy clouds. She had one forepaw folded downward and one leg extended as in the “L’eggs” pantyhose ads of my youth.
I am two hundred and sixty-four in cat years, with unremarkable cheekbones. And I suspect I have what I once heard a rockstar who always wears pants call “Irish Catholic legs.” And while their fur may be healthy during the cold months, it’s unlikely anyone would find them glamorous. But I wonder if Sophie saw me at all while I scrutinized her, and if she did, did she like what she could see? Or is it her gift to just lie around, be beautiful and be seen by those who draw her and hand-feed her treats?