Illinois couple make books from their dog photos

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- You might not see any dog-people around east central Illinois, but these furry creatures have come alive in a second book by Champaign County residents.

"Happy Tails: The Call of Nature" features photographs of "dog-people" Earl and Pearl Barker, who are usually composed of the bodies of authors Cindy and Kirby Pringle and the faces of their pets.

The couple owns Dogtown Artworks, and Kirby is a longtime feature writer at The News-Gazette.

The expressive faces in their newest books are those of their white boxer, Buster, and their boxer mix, Barney. The book follows Earl and Pearl's first adventure, an alphabet book called "Happy Tails: Earl and Pearl on the Farm."

Much like the way the Pringles create their art, their characters are caught in a mix of a dog's life and the human world. The book's vivid, playful photos and punny text capture their escapades with laptops, ice cream cones and even a trip to the beauty parlor.

Pearl, who has Barney's face and paws, struggles with her addiction to technology. She can't live without her iPaw and BoneFone cell phone; she's a regular tech-hound. Earl, who has Buster's face and paws, is fed up and decides to do something about it.

The book chronicles their adventure. The photography took the Pringles around Illinois, from places like Garden of the Gods in the Shawnee National Forest, to Urbana's Crystal Lake Park, to Lake Shelbyville and a unique ice cream stand in Mattoon.

They went as far as New Mexico to take photos for the book, according to Cindy Pringle. They both worked on the photography, she said, while Kirby wrote and Cindy completed most of the computer manipulations that turned photos of themselves and their dogs into Earl and Pearl.

They finished "The Call of Nature" in about a year, Cindy Pringle said, which was pretty quick.

"The photos can be quite time-consuming," she said. The Pringles, when both are featured in an image, use a remote-controlled camera on a tripod. They also take photos of each other, depending on who is doing the modeling. Then they photograph their dogs, usually at home, with any props they might need.

In the book, the characters wear curly wigs, bandanas, sunglasses, a "fur-net" for cooking and various hats. The dogs' expressions match the scenes, from catching Frisbees in their mouths to gazing hungrily at hamburgers.

Cindy Pringle said the key is taking tons of pictures and making sure the lighting in both photos matches.

"Most of the time, we have the photo in mind, and we're just looking for a certain expression," Kirby Pringle said.

Several local events and exhibits will keep the Pringles busy promoting Earl and Pearl's newest adventure, and they're hoping to make it a full-time business venture, Kirby Pringle said.

They show their work at art fairs around Illinois, where attendees often ask for photos of other types of dogs, he said. He and his wife are hoping to come up with templates to make other peoples' dogs into old-fashioned dog-people at an affordable price.

"That's an avenue we're exploring right now," Kirby Pringle said. Until then, it's just the Pringles and their dogs, taking "The Call of Nature" around the area.

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