Interview With Thomas Dalsgaard Clausen
Merlin: You’re gaining a reputation for doing pet portraits. Did you always like animals or have pets?
Thomas: I grew up in the outskirts of a small down. It wasn’t in the countryside, but we had a large garden, which made it easier to have a lot of pets and animals as well. While growing up, we had dogs, a cat, two-three kinds of birds, a turtle, rabbits (I remember one in particular who was more savage than a tiger!) and lots of chickens. I had a pet-chicken who followed me everywhere I went in the garden which was pretty fun. All this came with the reality of caring for another living being, which is something that can be quite important for a child growing up in my mind. There were fun and great times, but then one morning we woke up to find the whole chicken coop killed by a fox (or other wild animal), one day the rabbit had to go.. And the dog got sick.. Sad, but important memories and life lessons for a kid (or an adult for that matter). Oh and then we had fish.. And on rainy days, my brother and I enjoyed collecting snails and making them race against each other (don’t worry no snail cruelty ;)) – In my mind all animals deserve respect and observing how snails navigate with their strange stilk-eyes can be just as important as caring for a horse. I have no pets at the moment.
Merlin: After drawing daily (over 600 drawings) for a year, what have you learned about yourself and about pet lovers?
Thomas: About myself: I think that the main lesson that I’ve learned from this – is quite obvious – if you stick with something, you’ll eventually get good at it. A year ago I felt rather complexed about my drawing skills. As an architecture student, you don’t have to make pretty drawings, but you have to be able to quickly express an idea or a concept and get it down on paper in the form of a sketch. I’ve always felt a little self-concious about this, and have always opted for doing things a little too complicated on the computer, while it could have been done much clearer and faster by hand. Most people can’t draw, and a lot of people seem to think that people who can, have some kind of talent, and that it’s due to this talent (that they’re born with) that they can draw. I thought that this was wrong when I started my “One Drawing Daily” challenge. Now, one year later, I’m even more sure! Rembrandt was talented – but everybody can learn to draw without being a Rembrandt. I invite everyone reading this to join me in doing something creative every day for the next 365 day.
And what have I learned about pet lovers? I’ve learned that pet lovers are amongst the most supportive, enthusiastic and positive people out there! The reactions I get when I do get for doing a sketch of someones pet, has really surprised me! Sometimes, when I just don’t “feel it” and when I’m not too happy about the sketch that I just did – I still get the warmest and happiest responses imaginable – and it’s not only the person who requested the drawing, but often enough it’s a whole community either on blogs or on social networks who join in cheering. This really really motivating. Sometimes when I’ve had a long list of cats and dogs to draw, I’ve actually felt pretty bad at not being able to draw everybody’s pet. Each one is unique and special to their family, so that makes me want to deliver!
Merlin: I agree about creativity and cats are good muses! The pet loving community is amazing. You add journal type notes about the drawings which have become a diary of sort. Do you want to do more writing.
Thomas: I’ve always enjoyed writing, but to me, writing is not the “end product” it’s much more like a part of the process or a step in the journey in arriving at something (well you never really arrive anywhere, do you? ;)). I think that writing can be a help to force yourself to reflect upon something. Keeping a blog is very helpful like that. Sometimes, if I’m lazy or tired, I just post the drawing with minimal text, but ideally, I force myself to put down some words about what I just did. Making something spontaneously is great, but it’s when you step back and think about what you just did, that you really learn something.
Merlin: I have to ask: What have you learned about drawing cats?
Thomas: I have gotten much better at drawing fur, eyes, noses.. And the odd tooth and tongue! And all of this actually applies to all kinds of drawing. It all comes down to light, shade, texture and color-tonation. In the last year of drawing every day, I’ve had various periods of drawing a lot of portraits, drawing hands all the time, drawing in pencil all the time or making watercolors all the time, and what I’ve found is, that whenever I take a pause from that particular thing I’m currently obsessed about (for this example it’s cats!) – I tend to have gotten better in areas that I haven’t even thought about for a long time! So I guess what I’ve learned from drawing a lot of cats, is to draw people ! I draw them in 4″x6″ moleskine sketchbooks (I have 10 of them filled on a shelf!)
Merlin: Drawing from life is different from a photograph; how is your process different? Which do you enjoy more?
Thomas: Every art teacher in the world will tell you to draw from real life. Do figure drawing, do landscape painting out there in the field, draw your self-portrait in front of the bathroom mirror.. And so on. And the idea is, that this forces you to really look at what you’re drawing. The impressionists painted “plein air” and they worked fast, because nothing is permanent in the real world – the sun will set, and the shadows grow longer, the wind will create little ripples in the water.. That sleeping guy in the subway will get up and leave.. Or change his position and start drooling against the window! Drawing from life is hard! And that’s why it’s important to do! And when something is hard it forces you to think differently, and that creates great art.. All this being said. I mostly work from photos. It’s way more convenient, I’m more comfortable in front of my PC with a cup of coffee than out there in the rain.. And when it comes to cats.. They often lie around sleeping, but if you start drawing them, they’ll probably just jump up and start grooming themselves on your sketchbook ?
Merlin: Yes, most cats will not pose for long, sometimes not even for a photo. Which medium and what subject is your favorite?
Thomas: The ballpoint pen was quite a discovery for me! It’s funny actually, because that was the drawing tool that I was sure I’d never love in the beginning. You can’t erase it, and you can only use the black of the ink and the white of the paper. Nothing in between! But somehow I’ve fallen in love with it! For my commissions, I often add some watercolor to my ballpoint pen sketches, and I think that the two work great together. Watercolor alone is a whole science – Watercolor paintings are among the most beautiful in my opinion, but learning to master watercolor is really hard! So in my drawings, the pen play the “first violin” while the watercolor is an optional glazing on the cake.. (Forgive me the metaphors!) As for subjects – I don’t think that I have a favorite! But I like animals and people more than “dead” things. I’m not sure why, but there’s something almost meditative about being able to look into the eyes as the drawing is coming along. It’s almost like communication!
Merlin: I agree the water color adds a certain je ne sais quoi like in your lovely portrait of me.
Merlin: What have you learned from self-portraits?
Thomas: I have learned that self-portraits are hard! REALLY hard! At a certain point, I had made quite a bit of progress with my portraits, but whenever I try to draw myself, It looks HORRIBLE! I swear, I don’t look like that in reality! But there’s something strange about the way we see ourselves. I always wondered why I look different in the mirror than I do on photos. I think there might be a lot of psychology in there!
Merlin: I can imagine. I’m pretty good at selfies though but tell me why is it Americans are buying your portraits and not Danes?
Thomas: I honestly don’t know! The obvious answer would be that Americans are closer to their pets than Danes are, but I’m actually not sure about that. In Denmark people get really close to their pets too, but perhaps it’s in another way? My mother has a small and very popular pet-sitting business. While pets play a big part in many Danes’ livess, you still don’t see a lot of solely pet-related businesses and establishments i.e. pet hotels, pet cemeteries or cat cafes.
Merlin: Now that you’ve met your goal, what’s next for your art, school, career, life?
Thomas: Good question! The world is huge and full of opportunities. I actually have no idea where life might take me, and I feel quite excited about that! I’d love to do more art and go see the world. I’m sure something will present itself.
Thomas: Woops, back to reality. No – still not finished. I’ve got until November. I’m an architecture student, so the “thesis” is mostly an architecture project. I’m doing a house with 4 apartments and a “guitar builders workshop” in the historic part of town. Hope to mix some freehand drawings in there in the process. No cats though! ? My plans after architecture school is to find a job in architecture – they’re not easy to come by these days though, so I might have a lot of time for drawing in the following months. I hope that I can get to scale up my commissions as well as get to experiment with different subjects in art, but I don’t have any concrete or “set in stone” plans right now.
Thank-you, Thomas. Now dear readers, go follow and visit our artist friend TClausen Be sure to stop by here on Thursday and Friday for treats, surprises and another giveaway.