Milo is the name of the greatest cat of my life (so far).
We first met on moving day. John and I were so lucky to move out of our cold, deathtrap of a basement suite into a perfectly average and peaceful little apartment. We were suddenly walking distance to a public transport hub, and at least 3 major grocery stores.
We parked the moving truck and headed up to the apartment. John stops and says "I forgot to mention, the landlord left something in the apartment..." As soon as we entered, there was a soft "meow". Milo was spread out in the middle of the empty floor, and let us pet him without incident. His litter box was tucked away in the bathroom, and clearly hadn't been cleaned in days and days.
Our new landlord *Alice arrived to take Milo to the animal shelter. With teary eyes, she told us of her fear that he would be euthanized, and her regret that she was unable to take him home instead (Metro Vancouver housing is very unwelcoming to pets). Since we love cats, we offered to take care of him for however long she needed. And so we went on to become emotionally attached to our temporary fur-babe. He was six years old.
After a month, as promised, Alice came and retrieved Milo, leaving our home empty of cat. It was hard to let go.
As usual, time passed. We rented for 6 months. Then Alice sold the apartment to us and left town. We were so excited to finally get a cat of our own. On my birthday in 2010, I received a beautiful mama tuxedo cat, who was found abandoned in a forest with a litter of kittens (and infected with tapeworms). I named her Magellan, Maggie for short.
Soon, we received a call from Alice, who wanted to live life to the fullest and take some years off to travel the world. She pleaded with us to permanently adopt Milo, assuring us that he and Maggie would eventually get along fine. She drove hours to deliver this cat, leaving him with nothing of comfort: no food dish, no bed, no toys, nothing with his scent. He was a changed man that day.
His terror was aggressive. Anytime we came close he would scream at the top of his lungs and lash out. It was like sharing a home with an angry badger. We left him in the bedroom, regularly visiting until he got used to his new home. Maggie immediately disliked him from the start. John and I actually slept on the couch every night for an entire month. Milo had nowhere else to go.
I'd never had a male cat before and was shocked at how affectionate he became! I could hold him like a baby. He would give the best hugs. His purr was so loud you could hear it from the next room. He talked to us like we were cats. He would tuck us in at night and made sure we fell asleep before he did. John and I were his big, stupid kittens.
Maggie would never come to trust him, though.
Eventually, Milo started having health problems. Every summer he would end up in emergency with urinary blockages from the stress of heatwaves and us going on weeklong camping trips sometimes. He was such a sensitive boy. He turned into such an angry, stressed-out monster at every hospital that veterinarians were shocked that we kept him as a pet. Every trip came with an $800 - $1200 vet bill and a LOT of trauma, so we stopped going on trips together. Since 2011, one of us would always stay behind to care for the cats. I got a lot of "helpful advice" during this time.
"I would just put him down."
"Take him with you on your trips."
"Send him to a boarding service."
It was as if no one believed or heard my stories, and frankly, I was getting tired.
Milo got worse.
In 2016, Milo was diagnosed with congestive heart failure. His lungs had filled up with so much water that his hard, shallow breaths caused him to rock back and forth. The hospital pulled the water out with syringes and estimated that this traumatic procedure would buy him an extra six months of life, assuming we would be willing to spend a little under $200/month from then on to medicate him.
Since the procedure was already done and he could breathe again, we agreed and adjusted to our new expensive and high-maintenance cat.
Milo would continue to amaze and terrorize vet techs for another two years.
What really complicated things was how horribly mismatched our cat family was. Milo was smart and stubborn as hell, and preferred to eat his meals in small bites over the course of several hours. Maggie was extremely insecure about food, due to her past-life as a forest survivor; She gobbled her food in seconds, hid under tables to catch crumbs, and worst of all, spent hours obsessing over and trying to steal Milo's medicated food.
Feeding Milo got harder and harder. His medicine tasted bitter, AND it had a side effect of suppressing his appetite. This is why he became so shockingly thin. We had to come up with new "tricks" constantly. Tension was really high: we were always yelling at Maggie as she tried to steal his food every 10 minutes. As soon as she stood up, we were on suspicious alert. If we left the room for any reason, we had to put his food away because she would pretend to be asleep just to get that second of opportunity. It was a mess.
In July, we had a heatwave and the cats melted. Unbeknownst to us, Milo was reaching his limits and he was too uncomfortable to eat much, which meant he wasn't getting his medicine consistently. It snowballed until this past Saturday when he stopped eating entirely. Sometimes he gets into a sulky mood like this, knowing it makes us crazy and we start bribing him with his favourite junk foods. I feel guilty that we went on with our day, berry picking and having dinner with family while quietly worrying about what new trick we were going to pull on our friend at home later that night.
But nothing worked, and Milo started hyperventilating at 10:30pm. Thank goodness there was an overnight hospital just a ten minute drive away. The x-rays and blood tests were practically instant. His lungs were 60% full of water again, and his liver was failing. His last experience on earth was screaming at us in terror while techs with thick work gloves held him down to sedate him.
We could have emptied his lungs again and took him home, but we thought the repeated trauma was too cruel. We chose to say goodbye. While the process was torturous, the decision itself was easy.
I really did think I would feel better this morning! I thought I was going to ride a wave of relief: no more worrying, no more mealtime tension. Maybe we can even go on vacation and just have someone drop by to feed Maggie like a regular cat family does. I figured that Maggie would be very happy to be Only Cat again and that her whiny temperament might improve some. I figured that my regular exposure to sadness would have dulled this experience considerably. Made it "old hat".
Truth is, I woke up this morning and for the first time I was not comforted by my purring friend. As predicted, Maggie remained unaffected as if Milo never existed at all. She kept to herself and offered nothing. She doesn't prrrp us good morning like he would.
Nobody barged in while I used the bathroom. Serving the cat breakfast was easy and drama free. I didn't have my usual back-and-forth morning cat conversation. Nobody followed me from room to room. Nobody purred next to me on the couch.
I hadn't realized how impossibly HUGE of a presence that Milo had had in the room, even during the morning nap routine. I just assumed that I loved each cat equally, but petting a sleeping Maggie didn't give me the usual chemical rush I was expecting.
I feel kind of guilty and weird about it. I feel resentful that the world just keeps spinning. I feel silly about having all of these feelings over a small animal while there are bigger problems in the world. Worst of all, I feel awful that I relied so heavily on on Milo's extraordinary skill of comforting his people. Especially knowing that I was unable to provide him even a fraction of comfort while he was screaming for his life on the examination table, thinking we were all conspiring to murder him. Finally, and for once, he was right.
I miss him.
*Fake name, obvs
I have a new intruder on the desk these days. Somehow, Maggie has considered this spot on the desk to be an escape from the summer heat though I can't imagine why. Today I found a "dog cooling mat" at the dollar store, and while Maggie seems to be afraid of it, Milo is half-into it. If they don't want it, I'm taking it to sleep on tonight. Note the blanket over the window! We are all uncomfortably warm!
Last weekend was such an adventure visiting some plant conservatories and eating expensive sandwiches on yet another hellishly humid day, which I did not appreciate in the moment because of irrational sadness. This weekend, I don't know what to do because I am alone. My dude went on vacation this week, and I never get to tag along. Usually I don't mind, but this year I REALLY wanted to be there. I wanted to finally get to spend an entire week sketching and not much else. I wanted to grab a tube and float down a crystal clear river for several hours a day like we used to.
I'd love to have my own adventure tomorrow, but I can't think of an equivalent activity to do at home. The beaches are polluted and indoor pools are a little boring. The blackberries are so tasty this year that I wouldn't mind taking my bicycle out for a berry hunt.
I'm going to miss July's sketching theme on patreon which was "pattern"! It was so relaxing and I didn't need to hunt for references or chain myself to the computer to sketch anything - I was free. The sparkly blue pattern above is a painted board that I am sending to the $10+ tiers. $10 for a 5x7 piece of original art is a pretty dang good deal, just saying.
Speaking of which, the voting card is up for August's sketch theme. It's Birds vs Landscapes and anyone who is a Hungry Bug or above can vote! Every month we pick a theme to focus on in our sketching, because the best way to learn how to draw something from memory, is to draw it from life over and over and over. Once is not enough!
So far, Birds are in the lead (finally!), which is convenient because I just went to the Bloedel conservatory and snapped way too many photos of any bird I could find. It felt so much like real life Pokemon Snap. And I still missed a lot of them! All patrons get access to whatever reference photos I'm taking for royalty-free use. But don't let that cloud your vote! Join us here:
Weekends are too short!
I never accomplish as much as I intend to when time becomes available, but nonetheless it is usually time well spent. This life where I've never traveled anywhere, done anything big, studied anything Important, nor been passionately romanced can feel bad sometimes. But I still appreciate the small things.
Finally meeting up with a childhood friend (an art friend even!) is so valuable in the way it softens a hard perspective, and not just in the list-crossing way. Or even in the fear-facing sense of accomplishment after NOT crashing on a highway to get to her (which still terrifies me).
Some relationships I cling to in any small way because they are important ones. Like kindred spirits, we feed energy into each other instead of stealing away. It's like finally getting that one good night of sleep.
It's also literally getting a good night of sleep because it's so dark and QUIET! Yessss!
Though we can't stay up until 5am like we used to, or gobble down candy without guilt, the laughter is the same. We didn't have an art session. I didn't vlog as much as I would have liked, mostly because for ordinary folk, we don't have flawlessly witty and entertaining conversation or wild antics always. We played video games for hours like we used to. It's comforting to know that no matter how many BIG life changes happen, people don't really change that much.
Hoping for at least another 23 years of friendship!
I am such a creature of routine. Just as it seems like I will get some of my life back, and feel a bit more like an artist again, it suddenly looks like that's not going to happen. I've gone through many emotional stages over it, and maybe I'm somewhere between sad and acceptance. Sad that it feels like a step backwards for my passion, but acceptance because this new life is so different and interesting! As of this moment, the circumstances officially seem Not Bad.
My body and my brain beg to differ though! I am aching. I have to eat pizza every day (eek!). I can't carry a thought from one moment to the next and am very spacey and forgetful.
I think I'm through the worst part of adapting this new life pattern.
This month's sketching theme on patreon is Patterns, by the way. I like to add very simple patterns to my paintings a lot! I don't have an official impressive explanation for that yet, but I like the idea of collecting new basic patterns to choose from in the future! Come join us.
I haven't quit, but sometimes it feels like it. This past month was mostly about working through anxiety and I guess, being a martyr? I always put the day job first, which must seem insane from the outside. This act of doing for not much reason other than "I suppose I should, because this is what society prefers." It's very hard to start a new job, especially one with such a sink-or-swim kind of style. It's one of their busiest months, too, so I've been working full time at the expense of my own business. It feels like I've put art on the back burner again, and sometimes wonder if I've given up trying. I chose to prioritize this way, so I can't complain. Yet, I acknowledge that it's kind of weird.
I hope that work will chill out soon and I can go back to having a bit of my life back. In the meantime, the anxiety has simmered down to usual (Okay apart from some irrational health panicking that I'm trying so hard to reason).
I am LOVING having weekends off! I give myself a legitimate day off EVERY week so that I can enjoy the summer months with my husband, walking outdoors and observing creatures. I found this charming cactus, which I've been thinking about since I saw some living under SNOW a couple of years ago. Wish us luck. This cactus already bit me multiple times, so we're having a rough start. I dropped him while planting, though, so I guess we're even for now.
I fell victim to temptation this weekend at my favourite art supply store, as they were having an inventory clearance sale. I bought some sheets of coloured strathmore papers to make a way-too-fancy sketchbook for Patreon. Which I absolutely don't need! The paper sheets never come in the size I need, so it took a lot of extra effort tearing it into the size I envisioned. *groan*
But why waste the cut offs when I can fold them into mini sketchbooks?
I haven't blogged since may, and I've disappeared from social media entirely! What small amount of time I could scavenge went to youtube videos and patreon. June was flower month, and it so happens that I take a lot of pictures of flowers. Lots of photos means lots of references to study!
It's about time to vote for July's sketching theme. The vote is Birds Versus Patterns! Practice bird wings, or create interesting patterns to embellish your drawings? You decide.
Oh yeah! This thursday eve at 6pm is the artist reception for the AIMAE show. This is a show that exhibits small artworks that are mailed in from anywhere in the world! I am half excited about it, but mostly nervous, because Granville Island is so heavily touristed. I mean, it's so busy there that it can be hard to stick around for too long. Luckily, there are some nice, quiet ocean spots to rest and watch the kelp. And there's an art supply store that usually isn't too bad. And a gem store. And a lot of ice cream. Because it's a random weekday, unfortunately, I might have to go it alone, and I don't do well on Granville Island alone. Wish me luck.
And if you're in the area, come check it out! Finally, something you can do on Granville Island for free :D
May lost its charm pretty quick! Things feel a little bit like walking through a thick sludge, these days. It's probably a regular thing for humans, to worry about nothing no matter what. I should be grateful. Should I be grateful? Should I feel like I'm working enough? Should I feel like I'm working too much? Should I feel like a lazy slob? Who knows!
Mermay is still in progress, but perhaps only because I feel obligated to do so? Maybe I have abandoned sunday youtube videos, maybe not. Maybe I will get the hang of my day job, or maybe I'm just getting used to the management style. I feel like a bag of loose change being sorted in a machine that doesn't quite work right.
There is a severe detachment happening.
This month's patreon theme is food! I have not purchased as much snacks/exotic fruit as I thought I might (and maybe that's a good thing??). There's still nearly half a month left to pick up the pace! It's kind of fun to do a watercolour study every month, and I guess the challenge of that is to twist it in SOME way to integrate some different process to keep it fresh.
This week I am FINALLY starting this intimidating commission. Why is it intimidating? I don't know! I'm doing this one fairly large because it is a generous commission and I want to put everything I've got into it. It's not like I haven't painted this exact garden before. It's not like I've never painted cats before. It's not like I don't have OODLES OF TIME these days in which to do it!
Savour these moments. Even if the moment itself seems so precarious and lonely.
I know I just did a whole ATC thing, but the idea of doing tiny mermaggies for Mermay2018 was irresistible. Mermaids is such a trend these days, and it hasn't really tempted me much until now. I'm posting these daily on instagram (so far), and will do a weekly round up on youtube.
My current mood for May: really, it's my favourite seasonal month of the year so I've been psyched. However, I have also learned that it is considered a "depression" season, which is really surprising! At least in my location, it has nice weather, wonderful floral scents, extremely looonnnggg days.
Admittedly, I feel like crap in the psychology department. So what else is new? I have a long history of feeling worthless which will never go away (don't we all), and this combination of
A: having a lot of days off all of a sudden
B: making no money in a world that values money over everything else
C: feeling unfit and scared in a new part time job full of passionate leader-types and ending each shift on a downbeat of failure
Has been a real damn drag. My personal philosophy is that feelings come and go and that when I feel like this, it's just a matter of waiting it out.
(though sometimes waiting it out turns into staying at a bad job for 9 years and having zero memory of my entire 20s so maybe don't trust me, heh)
In other news, on Patreon we are doing FOOD! for May's sketching theme. I can't imagine not injecting colour into food drawings though, so we'll see how it goes. Might as well since I've got all of this time. Come practice tasty snacks with us!
Where has April gone? This month I prematurely severed ties with my convenient part-time job as mass layoffs were scheduled for May. I've found something new in a small cake shop, which is also extremely "part time" (so yay!) but is also interesting in that I will be working in what was technically my educational "field" way back when. There is a scant possibility that my life is about to be enriched in a genuinely soulful way, so I'm trying to keep my head up through this discouraging training process to get there.
But it also means that I've been flipping between two jobs this month. One which is full of anxiety and mystery, the other full of boredom, sadness and a twinge of guilt for leaving early. Technically three jobs, if you count the bounty of artist activity in the corner of the living room (which I do)!
This month, I somewhat foolishly signed up for a huge artist trading card swap, rationalizing it with the promise that I will have an easy source of material for videos. Which really was a blessing while I was so busy.
I also had a small surge in art commissions, which naturally only happens when I am working full time! Heh. I love making art for the promise of future return, but I REALLY love making art when it is my actual job to do so. It is much more challenging/scary to make art that exists in someone else's imagination. You could say it is more of a collaborative effort. I have a custom pet art listing in the shop for pricing purposes, though I've gone beyond pet commissions!
Surprisingly (to me), my crow and gift painting "Return" was accepted into the AIMAE show! What is notable about this (to me), is that this show is taking place at the Federation Gallery on Granville Island! If you've never been to Vancouver, Granville Island is this little touristy spot under a bridge that considers itself to be a little art haven. Emily Carr art school is located there, among the small handmade-goods shops, food market, theatre, art supply shops and an awful lot of foot traffic! It's a far cry from the quiet little art galleries I go to locally. It's going to be a blast. Register for the artist reception on thursday, May 31 (it's free)!
Finally, it's been tough to keep up with everything that is happening while still trying to fit in sketching for the Patreon sketchclub. It's still the art that I most look forward to making. I'm very glad I got to do a theme that is easy to sketch (people and portraiture), but due to time constraints, I pretty much only got to hands and feet. Today, I am definitely doing some drawings of friends, but there are so many more hands/feet photos to play with!
Psst! You get to use my photo references too, if you are in the group!
The first post or so on Patreon are public to give curious folk a look into what we're doing. This time I posted images in stages and I thought that I would share them here on the blog. I'm drawing my social media icon.
Rough linework... It doesn't exactly match up in size, but oh well. Drawing faces can be scary because when you add the lines and creases, it can seemingly add 30 years to the face! lol
Choosing lines I want to stick with by tracing over them a little harder...
Using a paper blending tool to add a flat middle tone. My blender has some weird edges so it looks really splotchy. I used the kneaded eraser to pull back out the highlights on the edges.
Hatched out all the darks and for fun, added a sparkly green background with the coliro colours!
I kind of like this format of taking progress photos, and I'm sure it takes some mystery out of the process which might actually be helpful too. Maybe I will switch to this format permanently? At least throughout the portrait month, it will be good.
Follow this portrait sketch series on Patreon!
Hello! I'm Melissa, and here you'll find some behind-the-scenes footage of an artful life. Won't you join me?