>Exploratory Learning Center

>Not far from our house is a school in the Tucson Unified School District with a great garden playground. Tad and I took a walk after dinner and enjoyed the buzz of cicadas as the sun set and eased the heat down to body temperature or just above. Once home, I read up on the gardens at Miles Exploratory Learning Center and discovered that they are a work in progess, maintained by the Special Education teacher. Counselors often meet with students in the garden and classroom lessons are often conducted outside in one of the gardens. I imagine, too, that art class is hugely inspired to mosaic up stepping stones or to paint a birdhouse or mural.

I feel like I’ve discovered a playland, too. With chairs all around, little huts and other whimsical objects, when I’m in need of a muse, I’ll just do some exploring at the Learning Center. Now, if only it were cooler and I could play all day!

>It’s all in how you market your paintings…

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SALISBURY, Md. (AP) – Strapped for cash and looking for a way to keep open her fledgling dog-training academy, Mary Stadelbacher hit upon a bizarre fundraising scheme.
If she could teach dogs to become service animals for the disabled – holding open doors and even removing socks for people in wheelchairs – why couldn’t she teach them to hold a paintbrush and swab a piece of art?
Sammy, a foxhound mix, uses a paintbrush attached to a rubber bone, to paint a canvas at a gallery at Salisbury University in Salisbury, Md. (AP Photo/Matthew S. Gunby)
Two years later, the owner of Shore Service Dogs has a collection of abstract paintings daubed by her three service dogs in training. The creations are rudimentary, to be sure, but the pictures of bright strokes across white canvases are winning fans because of their tail-wagging creators. “Signed” in the corner with a black paw print, 20 of the works are being shown this month at a gallery at Salisbury University.
The doggie da Vincis also have a line of greeting cards that has sold out as word spreads about the unusual works of art. One of the original works has sold for US$350.
“Go paint, Sammy!” Stadelbacher orders at a recent demonstration at the packed gallery, where about three dozen people strain to see the large mixed-breed dog chomp a red rubber bone with a hole drilled in the middle to hold a paintbrush. Stadelbacher has dipped the brush in blue acrylic paint.
After a little coaxing, Sammy takes the bone/brush and heads for a white canvas taped to an easel in the corner. As directed, Sammy swipes the brush across the canvas and then looks to Stadelbacher for more instructions, tail wagging.

His trainer repeats her “Go paint!” command a few times and then calls Sammy over for a treat while Stadelbacher changes the brush for a new colour. Within about 20 minutes, the canvas is covered in swabs of blue, red, yellow and aqua.
Sammy makes the canvas every time – even though the gallery hasn’t taken any chances and has plastic taped to the wall behind the pup-level easel. Sometimes Sammy doesn’t head immediately for his easel, walking instead toward a group of kids who squeal when the paintbrush comes near. But except for a dab of purple on a cameraman’s lens, all of Sammy’s paint ends up where it belongs.
“It seems like a silly thing, but we’re all amazed about it. How many dogs could do that?” said Stadelbacher’s mother, Elizabeth Stadelbacher, who attended the exhibition.
The audience was wowed.
“There are people who make a lot of money to make paintings that aren’t as intriguing as what these dogs have done,” said Sandy Waller of Salisbury, who paid $350 for Sammy’s work this day.
For patrons who don’t see the canine artists work live, a DVD accompanies each painting, showing the dog making the work. Stadelbacher dabs their paws in black paint for the “signature.”
Stadelbacher’s pups aren’t the first painting animals to sell work. Several galleries have shown paintings done by cats, and a Jack Russell terrier from New York City has created paintings shown dozens of times. But Stadelbacher says her dogs may be the first nonprimates to paint with a brush, not their paws.
“They are so incredibly smart that it blows my mind,” she said.
Stadelbacher isn’t pretending that the paintings are, well, good. But she says the works that look like toddlers’ fridge art can raise valuable funds for Shore Service Dogs, where she trains rescue dogs to assist people with disabilities. When people buy prints or note cards, she calls the transactions “donations,” not “sales.”
The paintings on display in the gallery are accompanied by photos of the painting pooches performing other tasks, such as putting dishes in the sink or standing at attention.
“The painting part came because I was thinking, ‘Um, what can we do for fundraising?’ I love training dogs. It’s just a joy. But the fundraising part sucks,” said Stadelbacher, who works as a computer consultant but hopes to one day raise service dogs full time.
Stadelbacher peppers her show with demonstrations on how service dogs are trained. She sits in a manual wheelchair and has Sammy pull her around the room. She demonstrates the dogs’ willpower by placing a treat in Sammy’s mouth and having the foxhound mix hold the biscuit until told he can chew it up and swallow.
“I just wish my kids were this behaved,” joked Donna Turnamian, who brought her 12-year-old daughter to see the show. “I’m kidding. But the dogs are just amazing. . . . It’s not a Picasso, but it’s a novelty and you know it’s going for something good.”
The paintings actually aren’t so terrible, said Linda Shipp, curator of the Salisbury University galleries.
“There’s obviously no planning to them but they have some real nice accidental results to them,” Shipp said. “They’re unique. People can say, ‘I have something no one else has. I have a painting by a dog.’ “
After the show, Stadelbacher puts Sammy back into a vest that asks people not to pet him while he’s on duty as a service dog in training. Stadelbacher says the painting sessions are rare chances for her dogs to goof around and get treats, something they won’t get while working as service dogs.
“They get a lot of praise and admiration, but they’re working dogs,” she said. “They have to be rock solid.”
Sammy doesn’t seem to mind when art time is over. As Stadelbacher packs the acrylics and says goodbye to the gallery folks, he wags the whole time.

On the Net: Shore Service Dogs: http://www.shoreservicedogs.com
Salisbury University galleries: http://www.salisbury.edu/artdept/exhibits/pages/homeset.htm

>Last night

>In the comfort of an air conditioned apartment (rather than the 100+degree heat outside) I sketched these bells to meet challenge #123 of Every Day Matters… and then I sketched (just with the paint brush) the tea pot full of jasmine tea that I was drinking. This was a very loose, therapeutic way to paint. I enjoyed it.

>Home

>I did this sketch of home quite a few days ago and promptly forgot to upload it. Haven’t done much of anything recently, so nothing new to post besides this. Can you spot Sagis in this sketch. He popped into view when I was nearly done with sketching and the light was fading into night.

>La luna

>It’s a New Moon. Some folks have been complaining of needing inspiration to get creative. I think the moon’s new cycle will jump start a lot of creative spirits and they will begin to feel the muse again.

I searched “new Moon” to see what the internet would tell me. It seems this is a Balsamic Moon in the sign of Gemini, accourding to Moon Circles.

>3 new pages in my Moleskine Water Color notebook

>In my kitchen, while listening to NPR talk about summer camps, I painted this scene in my kitchen. The bowl contains freshly picked cherry tomatoes, set out to ripen.
Sara and I went to another Open Studio. This one, the morning session, was more to my liking, with varying poses and lots of friendly folks. This is hard to see, but for the second sketch, I sketched purely in watercolor. I enjoyed sketching this way. The light kept changing, as the sun climbed the sky and filtered in through the skylight.

>Don’t Look Too Close…

>Wednesday and Thursday night sketches…
This is inside La Indita restaurant. I had a fabulous dinner there. They start you out with tasty chips and salsa picante. I usually get the #8 Combination plate: one chile relleno, a spinach enchilada, beans, rice and a potato taco (fried). It is always muy riquisimo! I thought the rock wall would cover me for my EDM challenge to draw rocks. As long as I don’t look too close to Paul’s left arm, I really like this sketch of my friend Paul D playing some tunes at the Casbah. He performed some Nick Drake, Leo Kottke, Beatles, Velvet Underground, Leadbelly and Crosby, Stills & Nash. Very good tunes!