Saturday, June 28, 2008

in the maoment

Greg had yesterday off and we had a (Chinese?) laundry list of errands to do downtown. One of them was to find a replacement for our well-loved Chinese teapot in its own basket that I broke last month, so we parked in front of an opium den in Chinatown and went for lunch first. OK, so maybe I've been reading too many spy novels, but after we did eat (not here!) we hit the streets. Eventually we found this place, Bamboo Village, on Pender Street.

It was the most surprising little shop, it seemed to go on for miles and was crammed with the most amazing stuff, plus it had my teapot. At this point I hadn't yet discovered that I'd brought my camera with me so took a few cell phone photos (which actually seemed to suit the slightly seedy charm of the place) of the Maochendise. There were a few tempting items, like Mao t-shirts and messenger bags, but it was the stuff behind glass in the antiques section that particularly attracted me. The statues were inviting but what really rang my chimes were the Mao alarm clocks. I already know what I want for Christmas this year.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

autumn ivy

I apologise for the boringness of these posts but I'm on a roll. I'm learning so much from each drawing and this one has been a particular revelation as I decided to use coloured pencils this time. The results are both more subtle and more decorative. I introduced them in large part because of Jean-Luc's suggestion after I whined to him about the limited, Disneyesque palette provided by gel pens, which are designed more for the scrapbooking crowd. (Yes, 'scrapbooking crowd', that was an invitation to abuse me ... please.)

The de rigeur stats department:

IVY (Gort) September 30 - October 27
Being evergreen, the ivy represents the perennial, mystical and mysterious aspects of the human psyche, hence the veiled moon and the butterfly (symbol of the faerie faith).

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

spring alder

I've now done one drawing for each season. This drawing honours the alder (Fearn, March 18 - April 14), which is associated with courage; the symbols of the hawk and the planet Mars are the supporting cast. The period of the vernal equinox is an extremely important period in the Celtic year and "it is still considered a crime to cut down a sacred alder tree and he who does is considered the cause of any trouble in the village".

I'm learning a lot about balancing the elements and the importance of composition when using this kind of even symmetry. It's a lot trickier than it looks!

PS I've been rated. Not sure if this is a good thing or not!

Monday, June 23, 2008

autumn reed

Here's another of the Celtic tree calendar drawings. This one is the reed (Ngetal) and its place in the calendar year is October 28 - November 24. The reed represents the mysteries of death. The associated heavenly body is Pluto and the animal is the white hound, which represents the dogs that guard the lunar mysteries.

I could kick myself because there are runes associated with each of these months (thanks, Caroline) but I didn't discover them until after I'd done the first two drawings, so haven't figured out how to incorporate them. If I was painting in acrylic I'd just find a good spot to paint them in, but it's not so easy with these drawings. I'm still thinkiing about it.

Saturday, June 21, 2008


This is Kiki, a dog with more character in her big toe than most have in their whole bodies. (Do dogs have big toes?)

Whenever I use blue for underpainting it photographs weird like this: a shocking electric blue instead of the subtle hue it really is. Don't know why that happens.

UPDATE: Here's what Kiki looks like actually anchored in space. I did a light glaze using raw umber to add the shadow, then had to wipe some of it away as I'd overdone it. Since Kiki is owned by a woman in her eighties (and after reading Ellen's comment) I thought a slight leaning towards realism might be the way to go.

PS Speaking of dog's toes, there's more on the discovered feet here.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008


No way! Read this.

Any fans of lolcat out there? Me, too. Did you know that there's an equivalent for the butt sniffer crowd, too? Yes way. Check out

Finally Merlinprincesse, that wonderful Quebecoise blogger who I've known since I started blogging and who visited me with Meishile almost two years ago, posted some photos of her visit including our 120 year old piano.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

lynda barry

At this moment I’m sitting in the waiting room of the orthodontist, trying to sort through some of the great ideas I just heard on Q. (It's better than fretting over how I’m going to pony up the cash to pay for the work on Adam’s teeth.) As a big fan of Jian Ghomeshi’s daily CBC Radio 1 show I catch it whenever I can. It’s all about my favourite things: arts, culture and entertainment. In fact, if I could spend every hour of the day painting, watching films, writing, reading good books and playing/listening to music I might become healthy enough to actually unplug this IV (laptop). All accompanied by excellent coffee (or a glass of vino depending on time of day), dark chocolate and Clive Owen of course.

But back to Q. (Check out QTV on YouTube for some recent clips of the show.) Today Jian interviewed Lynda Barry, a comic artist who I first became aware of in the early ‘80s thanks to The Georgia Straight. Barry has just written a sort of creative memoir: “Her new book, What It Is (Drawn and Quarterly), thoughtfully guides and invigorates adults who make stuff.”

Her ideas on creativity are fascinating and based on some surprising research. Apparently the brain functions children use in ‘deep play’ are identical to those adults use when involved in creative pursuits. Both require intense focus and create a level of anxiety. The brain functions we use for entertainment, like watching TV, are quite different, so even though we may be entertained by play, calling it an entertainment activity is misleading. Not only that, she states that this particular kind of creative engagement is necessary for mental health in both kids and adults. I can attest to that one and I have heard so many bloggers say that when they really get going on a good post, blogging becomes so much more to them than an outlet for blowing off steam, communicating or entertaining themselves. Is that also why I have so much more fun when drawing or painting my more abstract/symbolic work? There’s no question that this is way more like play for me (what she calls the unthinkable – or the work created when allowed to be spontaneous) than when I’m doing, say, a landscape or pet portrait and the devil of conventional acceptance is sitting on my shoulder, calling the shots. She explains that this self-consciousness and critical judgement is the biggest killer of creativity.

The painter, writer and nationally syndicated cartoonist, who created the pitch-perfect strip Ernie Pook’s Comeek, believes there are two questions we ask ourselves that take the joy and ease out of art making: Is this good? and Does this suck?

For more of Barry’s philosophy go here. As for me, I have to reread this post now and ask myself, "Is this good or does it suck?" before deciding whether or not to hit ‘publish’.

the reverse graffiti project

For certain types of artists, the drive to be unique and original, to break new ground, is irresistable. These people are not the ones choosing package vacations where they can paint in watercolour en plein air in the exact same spots where Monet sat at his easel. Moose the Artist is no Monet, but then Monet could never be Moose the Artist. More on the Reverse Graffiti Project here.

And since we're discussing unusual art mediums, guess what? Another foot has been found! The first four were right feet (mentioned in this post), but this one's a left foot, found on nearby Westham Island yesterday. I'm still no closer to figuring out what to do with this information but I'm sure someone will be able to run with it (yikes).

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

still waiting for spring

The first ten days of June have been the coldest, wettest EVER here on the wet coast. Meanwhile, back east you're frying eggs on the sidewalk. I hate you.

The upside to weather that sucks: creativity increases. Being stuck inside with only a pack of gum and a natty sense of style can be a positive. Not to mention the way creatures who like the wet thrive. Out for a little run this morning I almost ran over a huge beaver, apparently taking a coffee break in the middle of the trail. Life's a playground when there's a puddle every ten metres.

Monday, June 09, 2008

hazel tree

Summer Hazel ~ from the Celtic tree calendar, including symbols of the salmon and the planet Mercury

This one was more troublesome than the first, especially when my pen started to run out of ink!

Thursday, June 05, 2008

making the rules

Regarding rules and structure when planning future paintings or series of paintings, I've always liked a phrase Robert Genn often uses, "I play better tennis because there's a court". While reflecting on this post I started planning a series of work and decided to approach it a little differently this time by breaking it into 'need to please' categories. That meant deciding (a) who this work would be for and (b) what they want. Hopefully this would dictate how I would deliver it.

On my indispensable post-it note pad, where all my ideas start (and then end up in the weirdest places), I decided that the work 'needs to please' (a) the gallery who would present it, (b) the (so-called) buying public and (c) me. Memememe. I'm no fool and I knew that, in the end, I am the neediest of the hungry mouths, in spite of my pragmatic approach. So as not to overburden the process I limited myself to two criteria for each.

This is what I came up with:
(a) The gallery wants my distinctive drawings-on-black and the theme of the show is 'seasons'. There was more but I needed to be a rules Nazi and not completely limit myself.
(b) People want accessible subject matter and I see a real move towards a desire for simplicity these days.
(c) I don't want to do landscapes. Landscapes are the eternal thorn in my side as everyone appears to like them but I only like to create them occasionally. I wanted to stick with my always-strong desire to use symbolism and spirituality. I also wanted to use natural

After setting myself limits it was surprisingly easy to proceed. I stumbled upon the Celtic lunar tree calendar and decided to impose my style on each of the 'tree months' with their associated symbolism to do symmetrically simple drawings. Here is the first month, the Birch tree, which includes the white stag and the sun:

Framed in a large, simple shadow box frame, the result is about 21" x 21" x 2".

"Robert Graves' interpretation of an ancient poem,
The Song of Amergin, appears to be the basis for this calendar". He relies more on the poetic than the archaeological ~ w
hich suits me just fine!

the boys in the band

jazz band detail
carl plays guitar with ensemble
It's that time of year again: band concerts, final exams, Australian football wrap-up parties, etc. Last night's concert was so much fun, but with what suddenly seems like a really limited camera, and me sitting way up in the nosebleed seats (it's the best view), the quality of the photos at maximum zoom with a hand-held camera and no flash is not the best, so I felt compelled to photoshop them.

The jazz band portion of the concert was the best. Carl (15) and Adam (13) are the trombone section in the 12-piece band and they are so obviously brothers it's scary. The guitar ensemble got to occupy the stage (see how the lights enhance Carl's red hair) while the other bands got the gym floor. Being trombonists in the back row, getting photos of them when they were playing in the concert band was not as easy.

OK, the mom section of this program is over for the day.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

baby crow

Birdland II ~ 4" x 4"

Ellen very generously offered to give me her extra scanner when our
old desktop computer gave up the ghost. The scanner I was using still worked, but without our old computer (the ancient scanner's printer port was from a different millennium) there was nothing to plug it into! I got the new scanner up and running today and what a difference! Now I need a digital SLR. Anyone willing to help...?

To help make it worth her while I have been doing a couple of small drawings (more below) based on my Primal Landscape paintings to frame and give to her. Now, Ellen has something special going on with crows so it was weird that while I was doing this drawing a fledgling somehow ended up on our back lawn. Carl was mowing the grass when he discovered it. Greg put the baby up in the cherry tree so Carl could finish the grass but the parents were beside themselves, screaming and divebombing Carl, so he gave up to let them deal with their not-yet-able-to-fly young'un. I love crows. For a great video on their intelligence check this out, as recommended to me by Hayden.

I finished the drawing by making the birds in the tree into crows, with the baby on the ground below. Then I remembered that this week's Illustration Friday theme is 'baby'. It's just one synchronicity after another.
epoch II
bloom II