The following is an interview by the Swiss online magazine Tierwelt in May 2015. From this, the reporter, Niklaus Salzmann, has written a shorter article for website. The magazine specialises in Animals and Nature issues and the questions were very well planned. The link to the original article resulting is also included in this website as a link.
Q - How did the idea start to do those pictures? When did you start?
A - The idea of using Bella as a model started by the middle of last year. By then, I have started to develop some interest in Photoshop and somehow wanted to go back to drawing. You may know I am originally a graphic designer but have not been working as such for some years now. Using Photoshop was a personal project and making something for fun, and for Bella, would be good to me. I could start practicing again and also "immortalise" her somehow in those works. I am also greatly interested in the history of Art and Design and I see this as a great way to restart reading about it and learning too. These paintings are part of my past as a student and reading about them and their makers once again is so important to me: the models, the lights, the details of a composition, the people involved and their relationships. The fun aspect is having Bella as a model: she is versatile and lean and flexible. It is interesting to see her turn into a human (or almost so!) to adapt to a certain position, or to hold onto some object, and wear a dress or a hat. This is also a challenge, morphing a little animal into a human being. Bella is my baby, and I am a dog's lady, I must admit!
Q - What about "Bella-chan in Japan" - do those pictures also start from existing pictures or do you create them from scratch?
Well, Nik, is not only "Bella-chan In Japan"! There is also "The Paper Moon Vintage Company" and the "Bella's Bric-à-Brac Stand", besides Bella's "Little Gallery of Dog Art"! The former two categories are a manipulation of old, vintage photography and the latter is the work done with famous works of art. The bric-à-brac is just an imaginary collection of different memorabilia kept by a hoarding little dog.
Bella-chan in Japan, because I love all things Japanese, from architecture to Kimono. So, I search the web for beautiful antique photos and postcards and transport Bella to those times and locations. Japan seems to go especially well with her due to its Kawaii culture: all things cute and "chibi".
The Paper Moon Vintage Co.: I use old vintage pictures of can-can dancers and flappers and old actors, for those amazing dresses and the vimtage, déco and nouveau vibes. I would love to have lived in those times myself.
Her "bric-à-brac" little stand is a collection of mementos. For the moment we have porcelain plates (the Pooopsburgs colletion) and a poster for the film "Belleficent". Basically those works are not created from scratch: I do insert Bella in that context and manipulate the photo to include her - be it a canine Geisha, a Parisian Lady in the 20's or an Austrian Princess with a fancy headdress. The image has to do with Bella and with myself somehow, which is indeed very subjective.
Q - Do you have a favourite art period or painter? Are you a painter yourself?
A - A favourite period or painter... Yes indeed. More than one surely. And always finding out others in the process of researching for this Bella "enterprise". I do love Pre-Raphaelites, especially Dante Gabriel Rossetti. But all the Pre-Raphaelites are among my favourites, as well as the late ones (such as John William Waterhouse or Evelyn de Morgan).
I have a very special admiration for Gustav Klimt and his bright colours, gold foils and textures, which for me are the materialisation of dreams. He is outstanding.
Finally, Marc Chagall, for being such a lovely human being and for making us revisit a world that is long gone by now: the Eastern European shtetls that disappeared during the 2nd World War in such a tragic manner. To my perception, he brings images of the Happiness, the Music and the People that once could be found there.
As for me being a painter, no. I am an illustrator originally or, more precisely, a graphic designer by formation . I always worked with watercolours and pencils in the past, but not oil. I love transparency and colour blending and watercolours are, in my opinion, the best way to achieve this. But it is a long time and a long history since I've done that last, years ago, and that looks like eternity to me! I mean, using "non-virtual" drawing material. Nowadays, I am concentrating in Photoshop and Photoshop Elements, all digital tools. At least for the moment. I do intend to go back to traditional media at some stage, just not right now.
Also, making jewellery has somehow replaced the traditional drawing for me as of late. I buy vintage beads, or vintage jewellery that I can upcycle, especially Murano glass, and make new necklaces by mixing it, and create a name and story for them. For me it is a form of very abstract drawing somehow, because the creation process is very similar - even if the material used is not. For an example, you can go to: http://andrea.irlbrl.com/2011/09/bella-necklace.html
Q - Do you have a huge stock of Bella pictures or is there a photo shooting each time you start working on a new picture?
A - I do have a huge stock of Bella's pics indeed! Since she is my Baby, I am always taking pictures of her and her little faces and poses. I use either a DSLR camera or my mobile phone camera. This is probably like human parents do with their human kids. But she is a natural. And when I say lots of pictures, well, I mean it! I simply go through the endless files and select the ones with more appropriate expressions and where her ears and eyes are more expressive, or show better, whatever I need for that specific idea. Or when I love the results of a photo taken, I decide to create a collage just to use that photo/expression.
Sometimes, just as an example, I mix a head from one picture, a right paw from another pic, the body from yet another... I have to repaint over them or add onto them so I can fuse it into the original media (photo or painting) the more seamlessly I can.
I work with layers. Some of these collages can have up to 30, 40 layers. Some others are simply composed by a maximum of 4-5. It will all depend on the theme and the painting I am using at the moment. But I have to have tons of pictures available. And if needed, I take new ones. But she does not like it very much. Most of the times now she runs away when she sees me getting the camera or the mobile phone, like she is thinking :"Damn, here she goes again with that thing..."
Q - You are a free-lance graphic artist. Do you ever sell Collie pictures or is this strictly for fun?
A - This is strictly for fun at the moment. I would love to do some work though, digital animal portraits. Write a little "History of Canine Art According to Bella" or something like that... Also take some custom orders... Perhaps even a calendar for charities that deal with abandoned and abused pups so they could sell the item and use the revenue money for their rescue. I don't mind if I am paid or not. I just want to keep doing it. I love animals and, if I can help somehow, count on me. But mind you, I am a disaster in promoting myself, too shy for that.
Q - I'd like to know some more about your Collie. How old is Bella? Did you take her with you from Brasil or is she Irish? Could you do those pictures with another breed or is the Collie especially apt?
A - Bella is a rescue dog. She has been rescued by Dogs Trust Ireland from a pound some years ago. From Dogs Trust we adopted her. By my husband's insistence, by the way. I was mot wanting another dog, since I grow too attached and, in the end, they leave us and it is such a hard thing to handle it. but... It was love at first sight. She was painfully thin, restless and not very hairy! Now she is still restless, but fluffy and strong! She is an Irish girl, a Wicklow Collie. Why she was abandoned, where she lived and under which conditions and how old she is, we will never know. Dogs Trust told us she was originally in the Death Row list in a pound, but they saw potential in her, and immediately rescued her. She was in a bad state and with her face hurt it seems, as well as pregnant (only one puppy survived). Dogs Trust is an amazing organization, the dogs seem very happy there and she still meets them when they have events and meetings. I look at Bella now and think how many adorable little animals are put to sleep every single day without someone giving them a chance to be loved and to be unique to someone's life. It is alarming, if you start thinking about it.
But Bella is about 6-7 years old. Probably 6 because she grew a bit and became more adult since we got her. I mean, she is not interested in shoes or hangers any more! And she is able to sleep cuddled to a toy instead of destroying it!
She was a change for better in my life. I have been diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis some years ago and, lately, I started to see my health deteriorating little by little, which is part of the condition I guess. I stay home most of my time. Having Bella has helped me to stay stronger. She is company, she is my friend., she is always by my side, like a little shadow. So I would say that I did not rescue her, but, instead, she was the one who rescued me.
As for the collage work, I can do it with any dog or animal, as far as I have some high resolution pictures of them. Any dog (or animal) has the talent for that, I think. They are all very unique and so special in many different ways. More than one picture is even better, so I can pick the best poses and play with them until I find the right angle, position, or else. It helps me to know the name, age and temperament of the animal as well. This way I can use something that somehow goes with his or her personality.
Q - As far as I see, Bella always plays the role of a woman. In your eyes, does she have a female face or could she also take the place of a man in a picture?
A - In my eyes, and my mind, Bella is always a girl, a lady, a woman. One must argue that she sometimes behaves a bit boyish, but she is and always will be, my little girl. That's how I depict her. Of course she could also be pictured as a boy, but in my mind, she is indeed a little lady! And (always in my mind!) she would probably say to me: "But Mom, I want to wear those long fluffy dresses!" OK. Probably because I would love to wear it myself...
Q - I also came across two cat pictures with Lolita and Diva. Are there more cat pictures to expect?
A - Lolita and Diva are two adorable kittens belonging to a good friend of Mark, who lives now in Portugal. Yes, two little Portuguese girls... He asked me to make collages for them and it was a joy. He gave me lots of pictures so I knew what to use. They are delicate, extremely pretty and sociable. You can expect more cat pictures of course! As long as someone asks me to do them and provide me the models. That would be fabulous.
Q - Who is the other dog in "The Awakening Conscience" (William Holman Hunt)? And who is the Springer Spaniel Fred ("American Gothic", Grant Wood)? Are they dogs of friends of you?
A - The dog appearing in "The Awakening Conscience" is a lovely Samoyed we once met in Phoenix Park and photographed him along with Bella and others. It was just once, so I don't even know his name. I have used his picture on that collage and also in "Belliana" by Fido Gabriel Croquetti and "The Swing" by Jean Terrier Dogonard.
As for Fred, I like to think of him as Bella's boyfriend. Which he is not, lol! Anyway... Fred belongs to Ela, Bella's pet-sitter, whom she loves and adores! Bella goes in walks with Ela and Fred and other dogs. And, when we have to travel, Bella stays in Ela's house with Fred. Fred is a special friend. He has those long ears and sad hazel Spaniel eyes, and gives you a kiss every time you ask him for one. A sweet boy. He also appears in "The Swing" by Jean Terrier Dogonard again, "The Salutation of Beatrice" by Fido Gabriel Croquetti, Thomas Cocker Catch: "Bawlleluia". And, of course, as you mention, "Canine Gothic" based on Grant Wood's "American Gothic".
Finally, there is also Rhima von Biscrock, an English Bulldog belonging to a best friend of mine in Brasil, who appears in "Queen Rhima von Biscrock" wearing a Tudor dress. My friend said: "Wow! I have never seen Rhima looking so thin!!". Unfortunately Rhima passed away last October. We miss her a lot.
Q - And finally, is this you in "The Cuddle" ("The Kiss", Gustav Klimt)? If no, could you send me a picture of you to show with my article?
A - It is indeed me, and this is how Bella and I sleep and cuddle in real life. I also appear in "Belle et Sa Soeur" by Téodog Chassebordeaux, being Bella's twin sister, James Toto's "The Hammock" (as Bella's dog) and finally, Dogonardos da Cane's "My Dog and I". I am Bella's little lap dog and this was my very first collage. In Bella's poster for "Belleficent", I appear as well, as Princess Aurora with a blonde wig and, my husband Mark, as an ogre on the left hand-side.
I also change the names of the painters and of their creations a bit, as to have everything put under a "canine" perspective, and as if these artists were dogs or other animals originally. Each painting then develops its own little story, all taking place in this imaginary animal, magical, impossible little world.
Bella has also appeared with some other human friends, such as her "Papi" Mark, and our friend Karla Smith, and they are shown here... "Portrait of Lady Collys" by Fido van der Bullyen and based on the real "Lady Knollys", by Steven van der Meulen. Bella's Dad is the dog... The "Comtesse de La Bellerie", by Charles Spaniel Wowwain and based on "La Comtesse de La Mettrie" by Charles Albert Walhain, 1910. Finally, "The Two Friends" by Frederic Sousletoit, this one based on a portrait of two ladies, by Frederic Soulacroix. The humans are always the pets, of course!