Calendar Dogs & Co. 2020 is the second charity calendar project I did for The Humane Society of Berks County. It's coming to a close and on September 7, 2019, from 1-3, Oley Valley Feed, Inc. will be hosting our celebration party. It's a small party, but it's the close of a lot of collaboration with pet owners, sponsoring businesses, searching out special offers from vendors, well, you get the idea. I spent a great deal of time and energy last year focusing on locations, which needed special permissions and in some cases, fees. This year I focused more on the animals and themes beginning with January.
January marks the Chinese zodiac for 2020, the year of the rat. What you may or may not have realized is that the Chinese zodiac rotates with a group of animals and the rat being up once again had its own set of values. It was set to be a white rat with the element of metal and possibly water. It is predicted to be a strong and prosperous year. Struggling with how to theme this into an art work, I dug deeper into China's history and discovered Zheng He. Zheng He was one of China's admirals most noted for his explorations. He had commanded a fleet of Chinese treasure junks and sailed on numerous voyages. It was very interesting to read about this character and I thought a great inspiration to theme January being it was a white rat with good fortune. Rats are also believed to be clever also befitting the character of Zhen He. Thus began the search for a way to incorporate all of the elements needed for this session and do it without spending a lot of money and keep it somewhat real.
I searched what seemed like hundreds of images of Chinese junks especially treasure junks. I searched for models and saw prices of $65 and up into the hundreds. Finally I came across what looked like a treasure junk 3-D puzzle priced in an acceptable range after shipping. When It came, I gave Chuck the task of assembly. He needed help with the sails and between the two of us, we had a Chinese treasure junk. I carefully thought about the metal element needed and thought a miniature sword, but then thought how would I get the rat in the right position to perhaps put the sword digitally in it's paws. It seemed like I was, once again, going down a rocky path of stumbling stones. Chuck had the great idea of an old pirate doubloon he had that was made of metal. It was perfect! Then I had to figure out what to do about a background.
I thought about Blue Marsh Lake, but it wasn't fitting right. I thought of making it artsy by using a black background and then placing all of the elements behind the rat, but I didn't want black; I wanted ocean. At the very last minute, I discovered a backdrop I thought I had sold. The funny thing was that I was wishing I still had it as it was perfect for my vision and it was! Next was to schedule the session.
Kim Miller, Puddin Heartland 1st. and rescuer of pigs plus some other critters, was planning on getting a couple of white rescue rats as pets. She had gotten them just in time for the session. We had plans for using Kim's pigs for the July themed session of Pigasaurus' so we did both sessions that same evening; timing was essential. We had photographed the pigs first and then set up for the rat(s). I wasn't sure how I was going to accomplish putting the rat with the treasure junk so I tried photographing everything separately figuring on PS as my tool to finish my vision, but then I thought, just put the junk with the rat on the drop and see what happens. Magic happened! I loved how the rats enjoyed interacting with the junk. I no longer needed to cut, resize, and paste the rat to fit on the junk. What I saw was a rat playing with a toy boat and that was what was important. Afterwards, all the image needed was a little brush work and the playground of boat and backdrop became an ocean and the rat became Zhen He with his treasure junk.
P.S. I must admit that I wasn't keen on working with a rat. Having grown up in a mining region where rats come up out of the mines and many homes were built over mines, I grew up with a healthy fear of rats. After working with Kim and her pets, I have to admit that these lil guys were actually sweet and cute. Here are a few extra images I had taken.