Clifford Paints Drummond Island



They say an artist is not an artist unless he is producing art. Clifford had not painted in about a month, and that was mostly signing books. The heat is setting into lower Michigan and it’s hard to be inspired. Mostly he just wants to stand around in the shade. Who can blame him?

I thought maybe he was getting a little tired of painting abstract watercolors. Artists often feel the need to expand. Maybe he would like to try something more representational. He had done a couple of portraits, including one of David Letterman (a loose interpretation). But how about a landscape? He could start off with something that wouldn’t be too complicated.

We selected a subject matter near and dear to both of us: Drummond Island. I got it started with a basic outline on a sturdy stretched canvas, painting the Saint Mary’s River an intuitive shade of blue. I blocked the shape of Drummond in with green.

Clifford was standing outside under the shade tree, swatting flies. I came out with his sponge, the canvas and acrylic paints in a little dish. I laid the canvas down in the grass so he could get a look at what I had done.

“I know you’ve never been on a plane or in space. So you don’t maybe understand that this is Drummond. But if I tell you it’s Drummond, now you know. And I got the outline done for you, because I know you’re new at this representational art. So I am just gonna let you go ahead and do your thing, okay?” 

I lay the sponge down on the canvas and told him to go ahead. He hesitated and then took a swipe with his nose.

Drummond became decorated with violet, bright red and yellow. I was trying to make a video at the same time, and he just kept bonking the phone with his nose. You could almost hear him. “Put that thing away!”

I realized then that he likes me to get right in there with him. When we do our paintings at the schools, I am always picking up the sponge when he throws it on the floor, or tapping it to encourage him to keep on going.


Jeesh. I always thought of art as more of a solitary type thing.

He stepped on the canvas a couple of times, which fortunately didn’t hurt it. As usual, he got paint all over his nose. When the work was finished I noticed that the purple is reserved for the shores and water line, and the yellow for the village and areas with more traffic. Our spots, Bailey’s Lake, Warner’s Cove, Huron Bay, our heart of hearts, is bright red.

I’m sure it’s all a coincidence.


It’s getting time for us to migrate. In the morning, he hollers at me to let him out in the yard while I water flowers and weed veggies. When it gets hot he moves back into the barn. The other horses stay out in the field. But he doesn’t like the heat.

I often wonder if horses become snowbirds like people do. If so, then mine certainly are. Traveling five hours north every spring, to return in the fall, over 24 years’ time has to just feel like normal life to them now. At least, as normal as life can be, on an island, with a horse who paints.



About Nancy J. Bailey

Artist, author, bad karaoke singer. Woodsy ragamuffin. Mom of a horse named Clifford who plays fetch and paints with watercolors. He visits libraries and schools with me, to promote literacy and making the world a better place. Yes, he is house trained, no, he doesn't live in my house! I have written three books about Clifford. But my newest book, THE NORTH SIDE OF DOWN, is co-written by my awesome sister Amanda, who has Down syndrome. Her unexpected one-liner wisecracks can always make me laugh. If you make me laugh, you've made my day!
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