Necessity, the mother of invention and Bob T. Panda

Posted in More Stories, Spotlight, Visual Art

Whidbey Life Magazine contributor
Sept. 15, 2013

Call it a mid-career detour.

Anne Belov, renowned painter of lush still-life and landscape, had a change in genre around the time that the economy took a nose dive in 2008.  So she did what any self-respecting artist would do, she started a cartoon about pandas.

That’s right.  Pandas.  She’d loved them as a child, visiting the Nixon pandas at the National Zoo.  But, it was leafing through The Atlantic sometime in 2007 and reading about the Panda Research Center in China that got her truly inspired.

arrangement in Black, white, and gray 72 res (432x372)

Anne Belov’s “Arrangement in Black, White and Gray,” oil on paper, is an homage to James Abbott McNeill Whistler’s painting titled “Whistler’s Mother.” (All photos courtesy of the artist)

She started drawing a panda named Bob; Bob T. Panda that is.  He’s a nice guy, who thinks well of people, but he’s not the brightest bulb in the box.  And, he functions as straight man in a comic peopled by other pandas and a very bright, put-upon cat, named Mehitabel.   The strip is rich with social satire.

“It started out as a fun way of helping my mental health as I watched the fine art market tank,” Belov told this reporter recently, while sitting in her bright and airy island studio.

“But, what it really did was create this other avenue to be creative.  It also drew me into writing, which I’m really enjoying.”

What started as an interesting side project has taken on a life of its own.  As Belov became more obsessed with all things panda, she learned more and more about their current state of affairs in the world.  Bob T. Panda became a mouthpiece of sorts to educate readers about how pandas live outside of a Disney film.

She started a blog called “The Panda Chronicles” in which Bob and his friends deal with current affairs and tick off Mehitabel.  Bob then got his own Facebook page (Belov still doesn’t have her own).  It turns out there are a LOT of “pandafiles” out there, paying attention to Bob’s every move.  It was time to write a book.  Or two.

Anne Belov wheel-of-pandas-front-only-cover-flattened-100-res-5-221 (491x500)

“The Panda Chronicles Book 1: Your Brain on Pandas” was soon followed by “The Panda Chronicles Book 2: Wheel of Pandas.”  “Book 3: Nobody Expects the Panda Kindergarten” is due out this October.  Belov is one busy panda wrangler!

But, she had her doubts at first.

“I definitely had moments when I thought, ‘What am I doing drawing pandas?  I should be painting instead!’ But, really what I was doing was building new pathways,” Belov said.

“I really feel like anything you do that taps into your creativity, no matter what direction, feeds your creativity. I like to call it cross-training. When I’m drawing pandas and writing the strip I’m flexing different muscles and when I come back to paint, I’m less constricted.”

Though pandas are a huge part of Belov’s current work, her lifelong love of painting has not wavered.

Where you'll find me

Anne Belov’s “Where You’ll Find Me,” oil on linen.

“As a painter, I am always trying to get better.  As a mid-career artist, I see my most serious paintings coming in these next 30 years. Getting better at this stage is measured in very small increments, but I am always improving and always learning.”

And, Bob?

Belov smiles. “Bob has lots of potential!”

And, in this market, it’s always good to diversify.

Check out these links to see more of Belov’s work:

Penny Webb is a writer, a musician, a garden designer, and a mom.  She is currently harvesting tomatoes, working on her memoir, and enjoying the having the kids back to school. 




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