Similarly, the illustrations for Flo & Wendell begin with photographs that Wegman shoots of the dogs in his NY C studio. He’ll begin with a simple image of a puppy’s head juxtaposed against a large, blank, white page. The germ of the idea for these new books was born out of a moment of experimentation.
“I started to make this hilarious character out of Flo’s baby photo when she was eight weeks old, when she looked like a sad, little naughty eight-year-old child, and it was so funny. And I think if I hadn’t been doing that with the postcards, I wouldn’t have thought of doing that with these paintings. So I knew that this character could be developed, and I made some more characters. And then I thought, well, maybe this should be about this little girl. And what if she had a younger brother? Interestingly, the younger puppies I photographed— younger than eight weeks—they look older. So I would turn the ‘older’ ones into parents.”
Most often, Wegman sits down to work without a specific idea of what will come together on the page. “I almost never lie awake at night thinking about what I’m going to paint or write. Usually [it happens] just in the act of doing it. That’s why I have to keep busy, because if I’m not, I don’t think of anything!”
Once he’s chosen a color with which to start, his brush touches the page, and a playful scene quickly emerges. He smiles while he paints, chuckling to himself at the silliness and bravado of these pups who have come alive through deft strokes of his brush. This lighthearted, lively tone is evident on every page of Flo & Wendell, both in the illustrations and in the text.
As Wegman works, the dogs hear a curious rustling outside and wake with a start. Sixteen legs go racing through the studio, then the rec room, through the living room, and out onto the porch. There is barking—lots of it—and then a dashing-about to see what might be lurking in the surrounding woods. With a stern word, Wegman calms the pack and the dogs slip back inside. Topper and Flo trot around, wondering what might happen next, while Candy and Bobbin resume their naps.
Peace restored, Wegman cuts a path to the kitchen, where Burgin has spread out for review galleys of the early-reader counting books to be released in the spring. Burgin keeps Wegman’s projects organized and on schedule, and he values her strong editorial eye. The two work easily and productively together, and the artist clearly adores his wife of 18 years. “I’m lucky she didn’t go for tall, dark and handsome types,” he says with a wry smile.
As the sun finally begins to break through the clouds, Burgin decides that it’s a perfect time to wind down from the workday with a late afternoon bike ride. In a flash, she and Wegman are cruising down the gravel path, the four dogs running ahead like the most intrepid woodland scouts. By the time night falls, the family has gathered for dinner, each dog choosing a lap to rest a heavy head upon. It’s the perfect time for telling stories and catching up on the day’s events.
Just beyond the veranda, a moose and her calf stand in a sliver of moonlight, licking salt from the gravel road. Unnoticed by the dogs inside, the two take their time meandering past the house and up the road, while laughter pours out of the kitchen and into the night, mixing with the calls of the lake’s resident loons.
If there is such a thing as a perfect day in the country, this must be it.
When Randy Rubin, co-founder of Crypton, launched the company’s line of pet products back in 2004, one name topped her list of potential collaborators … William Wegman. The laconic artist, renown for his photographic portraits of Weimaraners has had phenomenal success in a variety of mediums—photography, video, painting, children’s books but fabric design would be a new challenge.