Wednesday, January 30, 2008

winter art

When I saw this little etching at Merlinprincesse's Etsy shop I had to have it. But wait! If you like it, there are more, each of a slightly different colour and character. Just scroll down. Helene, who I met a year ago last summer, is from Quebec City so she knows what a real Canadian winter is. Maybe not as harsh as an Arctic winter, like in the etching, but definitely harsher than the one we wet coast wimps, complaining bitterly over the snowfall of the last few days, have to suffer.

I just received notification that Imagekind is offering free shipping on orders over $15 until February 7th (promo code: LOVE2008). Maybe a Valentine's Day print for a loved one? According to the people of the plains and plateau the elk is the traditional symbol for love. You can order it framed or unframed here, mounted on a 6" cradled panel here or even as a card here. The 8" x 8" original is for sale at artstream; just email Susan for details.

You may now return to your regularly-scheduled programme.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

plastic bag art

Bloggers who write earnest posts celebrating their political correctness or lecturing on what car to buy, where not to shop, etc., can be communicating an important message, but it's usually preaching to the choir. Just read the comments. I seriously doubt that my neighbours across the street who still refuse to recycle are going to read these posts. (That means they'd also have to learn to read, har de har.) What I do love to come across, however, are great ideas that put idealism into action.

The above video comes from a site that I stumbled across by accident (see, there are benefits to being a web whore). Yes, that's Daryl Hannah (I had no idea she was such an environmentalist) and the whole site is worth exploring. This particular episode of her video blog caught my attention as I love the idea of making art from recycled non-biodegradable material. I am always looking for ways to reduce our plastic consumption and reuse what we have, but this is the best I've seen. After all, I no longer need plastic bags to scoop dog poop. :(

Another great idea was recently published on the Storque. If I had a clue how to sew I'd be giving this a whirl. This shop has some great fused plastic art and stuff.

Now, I seriously risk my reputation by admitting I shop at Superstore. Around here that's like admitting you live south of the Fraser River or drive an American-made vehicle, none of which I do, of course! :) I figure it's worth the risk to my good name, though, to point out these great tote bags made from recycled plastic, just because they're the most practical, attractive .99 bags I've seen for hauling groceries yet.

PS A quick thank you to those who took the time to respond to my last post. I'm glad I wrote it now as it really helped clarify things for me and god knows I could use some clarity.

Friday, January 25, 2008

feedback needed

Warning! Boring business post. I may not be feeling inspired to paint but that doesn't mean I've just been sitting around on my lard arse, eating bonbons. I need feedback. I promised myself that I wouldn't get bogged down with the business of art this year, but it did dawn on me while contemplating this creative bald spot that an experiment I took on in November, when I picked up the scattered and neglected pieces of my Etsy shop, has not played out as I'd hoped.

Like a determined but not-too-bright marketing student I eventually realized that 'branding' was the key to success in such a venue, but I didn't know which way to go with it. So I thought I'd experiment: throw everything at the wall to see what would stick, then take my cues from that. The thing is, I've been tossing a smorgasbord of subject matter, size, medium, style and 'delivery' at my shop and though sales have been fairly steady, they've been across the spectrum with no star players to give me direction.

Truthfully, I just want to hide in my basement and paint, but I need to finance my obsession, so what I want to know is (and this may be just as academic an exercise): if you were alone on a desert island and needed to decorate the walls of your hut, and your only choice was on these three pages, what would you choose?

Tuesday, January 22, 2008


The apathy continues unabated (except for some idle doodling and photoshopping). I'm pretty sure my muse ran off with the tart behind the bar. In that case (and in case anyone else is in need of a little creative distraction), I will hand it over to Rudy:
photographs of secret places (my favourite is the paintings in the CIA headquarters)
more subway art, this time from New York (love the bat!)
some amazing photos of Japan (which kind of looks like the future created by anime)
a computer program that just won a machine intelligence prize (can the Screenplay Fool be far behind?)

Saturday, January 19, 2008


For the first time in ages I feel totally uninspired. The artistic well is dry. The ink pot of inspiration empty. The container of creativity critically crushed. The muse hath retired to the pub and I'm not invited. You know. (It'll come back; I think I just scared it away. Go figure.)

Meanwhile, I still appreciate original and beautiful things and have been lucky enough lately to be the recipient of a few pieces of art-outside-the-box. Awhile back I entered a draw by Ontario textile artist, Melody Madden. I didn't win, but the person who did never claimed her prize, and I was runner-up. I was never so glad to come second in my life. This is a 10" x 8" art quilt mounted on canvas and is truly lovely. I am always awestruck by anyone who can figure out which part of a sewing machine is up, let alone create artwork with it! I love it.
It was my birthday last week and old blogging buddy, Caroline, didn't forget, forwarding me this totally cool digital 'Andrea' collage. A couple of days beforehand I'd visited Toni's blog and she was showing birthday cards she'd made with her calligraphic genius so, tongue-in-cheek, I asked her where mine was and, Toni being Toni, guess what appeared yesterday?
For my birthday I got a book that is both beautiful to look at and full of great ideas, Nick Bantock's Urgent 2nd Class: Creating Curious Collage, Dubious Documents and Other Art from Ephemera. I'd finally had to give my borrowed copy back, dog-eared, to the library so it was very welcome. Like textile art, collage is still something of a tantalizing mystery to me. One of these days I plan to really sink my teeth into it. In the meantime, I'll just spectate ~ and wait for the muse to drink up and stagger home.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

diary of a dog portrait

In spite of the publication of yesterday's article, I haven't actually done a process post in awhile, and since I knew before I started that this painting was going to be well outside my comfort zone, I thought it might be an interesting one to document, warts and all. If you'd like to see the painting morph like magic before your very eyes check out this slide show.

After sketching out the basic outline on my newly-stretched 16" x 20" canvas I loosely blocked in the main shapes with bright colours. I never start with a blank canvas as the underpainting is an important part of the final image in my work. This painting was no exception, even though I knew that I was painting an uncharacteristically traditional painting in both composition and execution and that, in the end, the effect of the underpainting would be minimal.

I began with the darker colours of Zappa's coat, then added a bit of the grass to 'ground' the painting, so to speak. Also, I knew that the grass, the one tedious part of the painting to execute, would come last, and I wanted to feel as if I'd made a bit of headway with it.
I continued painting the dog with the midtones and finished with the white areas. But I ran into serious trouble with his face. Even though it started out correctly proportioned, I forgot to step away from the painting and every 'adjustment' I made took it farther away from my beloved pooch. I was extremely frustrated, especially as painting his face was quite an emotional experience. Then Dinahmow, who never pulls punches and was keeping up with my progress, said just the right thing: "I didn't know he was crossed with a Bull Terrier".
I'd love to say that that was that and I corrected it immediately but no, I had to spend a long time on his face to finally satisfy myself that this was Zappa, if only a pale imitation. And I was relieved that I'd gotten the most difficult part of the painting out of the way relatively early in the process. Hard experience and many wasted tubes of paint and canvas later, I have learned to anticipate problem areas and tackle them first.
As for the background, I started to work the horizon in then realized that I'd misplaced the planter box from the original photo and it was now growing out of his head. See, there's no such thing as a straight line from point A to point B!

It's my painting and I'll cheat if I want to, cheat if I want to, cheat if I want to; You would cheat, too, if it happened to you.

And so I did. While removing the offending element I also lowered the horizon line so it fit the perspective better and wasn't floating above his head. And then came the endless grass. I have no idea where Seurat and his partners-in-pointillism got all their patience.

And there you have it. I thought briefly about attempting to incorporate my more distinctive stylistic elements into this painting, then realized that a straight-ahead portrait, done with as much faithfulness as possible, was really the only choice for such personal subject matter. For me anyway. Besides, animal portraits are way outside my experience and I knew I'd screw it up royally if I tried anything too ambitious. I had to get this right. And you know, I really did find the whole process therapeutic, in spite of the fact that I worked like a woman possessed for more than three days (or maybe because of). Now I think I'll sleep for a week.

Monday, January 14, 2008

a painting in the life of

See what came through my mail slot today? (Click to enlarge and/or read.) 'A Painting in the life of...' is a regular back cover feature of the Federation of Canadian Artists' bi-monthly Art Avenue mag- azine. I was thrilled when FCA president Dianna Ponting contacted me to write an article about my process as I have so much fun photographing my work as it develops. However most of my 'in process' photos (like the ones illustrated here) were taken on the easel in my studio at an oblique angle. D'oh! But Dianna waved her magic wand (aka Photoshop) and made square-facing, perfectly-cropped images. I must learn how to do that!
There was actually one more photo before the final one which was supposed to correspond with step 4, but it seems to have disappeared, making the final explanantion seem not quite right, but that's OK -- I'm pretty sure I'm the only one who'd notice the difference anyway!

Thursday, January 10, 2008

things that make me smile

This mug of Shakespearean insults was a Christmas present for Greg, not me, but since I am the veriest varlet that ever chewed with a tooth he caved in to my demands. It comes from The Unemployed Philosopher's Guild.

My favourite: not so much brain as ear wax

This moveable feast (for the imagination) was seen yesterday at 15th and Willow in Vancouver. I didn't have my camera (because I'm a beetle-headed, flap-eared knave) so had to use my cell phone.

Then there's a little welcome sarcasm from Gaping Void, that mountain of mad flesh.

And finally, some much-needed art therapy. I want the next painting to be as much from my own hands as possible (though I admit I'm afraid to begin for fear of screwing it up because I'm highly fed and lowly taught), so decided to stretch and gesso the canvas myself, something I rarely do these days with the availability of well-priced pre-stretched canvas. I do enjoy doing it, though, and fortunately I had a stretcher from a previous painting already wired for action.

And now, because when words are scarce they are seldom spent in vain, I will bid thee farewell.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

blog friendship

Just a quickie to thank everyone for the very touching support comments on my last post. At first I couldn't sleep or eat but in the past few days that's all I've done! Hav- ing this outlet was really helpful for me but today's the day I get my life back on track. But first, because Heather's written about this very topic (internet friendship) and it was just published in Cahoots, I wanted to share it. The art (Dinah knows my taste well) is from here.
Thanks guys.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

goodbye zappa

I remember the moment I decided I wanted another dog. We were walking, en famille, through Deas Island Park in the summer of 1998 after just having moved into this house with its huge backyard. The boys were only five and three, Zoe was approaching middle age and for the first time ever a second dog was an option. Zoe was kind but serious and dutiful and we needed a dog the boys could play with. That very same day I started doing online research as I knew already that I wanted a medium-sized, intelligent, athletic dog like an Australian Shepherd. I investigated breeders, breeding ethics and rescue groups and it didn't take long to decide that I wanted a rescue dog. There were hardly ever any Aussies available in British Columbia, though, so I started looking just south of the border where plenty of Australian Shepherds end up in rescue as their intensity and high energy levels are often too much for the average dog owner. Over the next few months there were some 'almosts', and then one day I saw Zappa's picture. He was running flat out with an expression of pure joy on his face. Little did I know that over the next nine years I would see him running with that same expression almost every day, including the day before he died. On further investigation I learned he had just been bailed out of a shelter in Wenatchee in central Washington. He'd been incarcerated so many times that the humane society refused to turn him over to his previous owners any more, a known local 'party house' who left him outside 24/7 and fed him only when they remembered. No wonder he became such a good break-out artist. The first time I took him to the local school playground he actually dug an apple core out of the sand and ate it.

We met him in Seattle on January 16, 1999, and it was love at first sight. He was just over a year old, much handsomer in person, and was the happiest dog I'd ever met. He settled in so fast it was like he'd always been here. He was a clown who hadn't yet learned to play (he did!), a child who never grew up, a sheepdog with unerring instinct (I had him tested once) and the best company of any dog I've ever known. He was smart, incredibly goofy, talked all the time in a mumbling voice, and immediately made friends with every person or dog he ever met. At the age of 10 people still asked if he was a puppy. As a sheepdog his prey drive was on high at all times and when he was young he could run faster than any dog in the neighbourhood, Border Collies included. When Greg and I started running he was a perfect and tireless running companion. But he had his 'issues'. For example, he loved the mental challenge when I took him to an agility training class but we never continued after the course ended because he'd get so excited and want to visit all the other dogs between runs that he couldn't calm down and shut up. His tendency to get overexcited in public places never improved so we simply worked around it. For example, he couldn't sit placidly watching a soccer game because he was so desperate to get in there and play, so I learned to circle the field constantly while watching the game. His high energy got him into plenty of scrapes, including a couple of serious paw and foot lacerations that saw him being stitched up under general anaesthetic. And he had some terrible anxieties. The first time Greg took his belt off he flattened himself, awaiting a beating. He never really got over some of his early experiences and as the years passed fireworks, thunder and wind storms only scared him more.

After Zoe died last year Zappa grew up a bit. He'd always had specific family roles, like leaping on the boys' beds in the morning to wake them up, but Zoe was the one in charge, the watchdog. When she grew too deaf to hear the postman any more, he started barking to alert her. When she was gone he stayed silent for a few months, not knowing quite what to do when the mail came, but before long he took up her job and started doing daily mail call. But, unlike Zoe, he was always more like another little boy than a dog as he was involved in every aspect of family life. He was always there, went everywhere in the car and had an opinion on everything (always good).

The last time Zappa was at the vet in October I noticed he'd lost a little weight but was otherwise exactly the same, so didn't fret over it. As a matter of fact he was the same happy, energetic dog until last Friday, when he was suddenly very lethargic. I thought he must've eaten something he shouldn't, being Christmas holidays and all, and the next day he was fine again. When he realized he was going for a run with both me and Greg that morning he couldn't contain his excitement, charging all over the place and barking like an idiot. And the run was great. The next day he was sick again. I'd seen a rat on our deck and there was a hole in the fence so I thought maybe our neighbour had put rat poison out and he'd gotten into it. But he never vomited and, being Sunday, the vet was closed. The next day (New Year's Eve) he was fine again and we went for a long walk in the twilight of a clear winter's day. I got up at 7 o'clock on New Year's Day and discovered that Zappa couldn't move. Frantically, I phoned around until I found a 24-hour-and-holidays emergency clinic and then got Greg out of bed. The half-hour drive in the dawn to Langley was quiet and peaceful and the clinic was empty.

It didn't take long to find out the cause of Zappa's illness: he had advanced cancer and had started bleeding internally. He was almost completely non-responsive by this time so we discussed the options with the vet, none of which were good, and decided that euthanasia was the kindest thing to do. By 8.30 he was gone.

The boys have taken Zappa's death surprisingly well but I feel angry and totally ripped off. For nine years he was my companion, my shadow, an active participant in my life and to lose him with no warning has been devastating. I've always been an animal lover but didn't know before now that an animal could have a greater hold on my heart than all but my kids and husband. I know that, in time, I'll be able to appreciate how lucky we were to have had him as part of our family and how fortunate for all of us that he didn't suffer long at the end, but for now I just miss him. And the squirrels who live in our garden already seem to know he's gone forever and are overrunning the !&*!?%# place.

I have put some of my favourite photos of Zappa in a Flickr folder here. Most have some text but if you'd just like a quick (chronological) slide show go here. I won't be posting or responding for a little while but plan to be back ASAP.