Thursday, July 31, 2008

drawing demo

Two weeks from Saturday I will be at Effusion Gallery in Invermere for the opening of a three-person exhibition based on the seasons. From 2 until 5 that day I will be doing a drawing demo, but since the gallery is tucked into the Rockies in a small resort town a couple of hours west of Calgary, chances are that anyone who passes by this blog will find the commute just a little unamanageable! With that in mind I thought I'd document the technical progress of my latest mixed-media drawing here for thems that's curious.

I've been using acid-free 19" x 25" Strathmore 400 Series 160gsm black paper for this series, which means I have to cut away two strips from each sheet to get the 14" x 14" size I need. At least it leaves me with a nice 11" x 19" piece for later use.

The first thing I do is use a white Crayola pencil to mark out the 10" x 10" image size. I make thumbnails in my sketchbook first so I can 'assemble' the different elements in a way that works, then I divide the 10" square into the basic sections I need to work in.

Next I do a basic white outline of the main elements. This composition features the rowan tree in winter (January 21 - February 17), shown in the main body, and the leaves/berries in the small window above it. The green dragon (or, in this case, rat with wings) is one of the two related creature symbols and one of the associated gods is St Brigid, so I include the St Brigid's cross (made from rushes), a favourite symbol of mine ever since my friend Molly sent me an actual St Brigid's cross last winter. I totally forgot an element that I always include, though -- can you figure out what it is?

Using Prismacolor pencils and some gel pens for highlights I draw the main pictorial elements. My tonal plan for this, being winter, is mainly white/silver monochrome but the red berries of the rowan tree and the green dragon are important and complementary spots of colour. I usually include a patterned section but am having real trouble coming up with any ideas for this drawing and at this point am still thinking about it.

Starting to fill in the background, I choose a white Crayola pencil (these cheap but useful pencils are much less opaque than a Prismacolor) to add tone to the area behind the tree, a silver Sharpie for a textured background behind the dragons and one of my favourite drawing tools, a silver Pilot Super Color Extra Fine permanent ink pen to add the background to the St Brigid's cross panels. The spiral frame around the berries and leaves is done with a Gelly Roll medium point silver gel pen.

To finish, I use a white Prismacolor pencil to set off the berries and leaves. Check out the difference in opacity between this white pencil and the Crayola! And I finally decided that the patterned area would be a network of bare tree branches. I use both types of white pencils to create the branches and decide on a muted gold background. Since I can no longer get a replacement for my beloved pale gold Gel Works Metallic marker I decide to use a gold Prismacolor pencil first, then layer silver Prismacolor over top to get the muted gold tone I want. I think the effect works great! The finishing touches include a silver border, using my Pilot pen, and I sign it with the Prismacolor white. In the lower left hand corner I include the Celtic rune for the drawing's theme (Luis).

Final stage: the frame! This 20.5" x 20.5" x 2" black wooden frame with glass comes with a white mat and I use acid-free tape to attach the drawing to the mat.

I'm in the home stretch ~ only three drawings to go! As I finish them I add them to my website here.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

indian summer vine

So, I reached an impasse. There are 13 months in the Celtic lunar tree calendar: three for each season and ... lucky number 13? The months are not divided neatly along seasonal lines, and I'd been using a little creative license with that anyway, but still ~ what do I do with the extra? In the end I decided that Vine (Muin), from September 2nd - September 29th, neatly fit into its own category, 'Indian Summer'. OK, so now I'm crossing cultures like I mix metaphors, but there was nothing traditionally (or should I say 'remotely') Celtic about the way I was creating these images anyway, and both cultures are connected by their roots in the natural world, so I decided it worked just fine. Nine down, four to go. I'm starting to miss my paintbrushes.

The Vine is the symbol of sensuality and emotions. Its symbol, the white swan, represents the radiant divinity of the Gods who are said to go to their underground forts during the Autumn Equinox. To the Celts, the Autumn Equinox is a time when the light will eventually give up its hold to the darkness, but for a brief moment all is in balance. The lizard and planet Venus are associated symbols.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

en plein air

I drew these from life (7" x 9" image using Prismacolor pencils on 9" x 12" 400-Series Strathmore 160 gsm black paper) while at Cowichan Lake. The best scenes to paint en plein air were on the islands, but hauling my stuff out there more of a challenge than it was worth at the time. Next time I'll aspire more to Tom Thompson than Monet, whose plein air adventures were so tame that other painters (e.g. Sargent and Renoir, below) could paint him painting.

I'm having a little trouble getting good images of these. Scanning them, as there's no reflected light, 'deadens' the colour, but as you can see I had some reflection problems while photographing them. I need to try photographing them again in flatter lighting conditions.

Sunday, July 20, 2008


We're back from most of a week in paradise. After five days of canooodling, sleeping, reading, barbecuing, sleeping, kayaking, skateboarding (not me), sleeping, swimming, running, mini golf, drawing, sleeping and playing guitar it's actually kind of a drag to be back ... but at least I have the photographic evidence and a ton of inspiration for future artwork.

Caycuse (a native name meaning scraping the barnacles off the bottom of the canoe) is a tiny settlement (permanent residents: 12) and former logging camp (high population mark: 400 in the '50s) in a remote spot on the south side of Cowichan Lake about 20 km west of Lake Cowichan (figure that out) on Vancouver Island. This was our second time renting the (very comfortable) cottage from a former colleague of Greg's.

It's completely private and has a great 'party dock'. This was where we parked our new baby and pulled the old kayaks out from under the house for fun and shenanigans.

Our first long-distance expedition in the boats was to one of the Picnic Islands. We discovered the hard way that a strong wind picks up mid-afternoon, making the trip both challenging and more than a little
hair-raising. This is how it looked on the much calmer leeside of the island where we stopped to catch our breath:

A couple of days later we packed a picnic lunch and headed in the other direction:

We did re-connect with civilization one day as we went into town to get supplies. We suddenly felt an irresistable urge to play a round of mini golf and found this place. The course was great: shabbily overgrown but totally charming and a bargain at $3 per person. Greg confirmed his dominance as alpha male by beating us all -- but it was close...

The total character who owned the place is working on a parade float. I don't even want to know what it all means...

Heading home to Caycuse along the busy working logging road was a terrifying experience. Imagine giant trucks bearing down on you at 80 km/h on a 1 1/2-lane wide dirt road loaded down with massive cedar trees, creating so much dust that you're blinded the minute they (thankfully) pass. One actually didn't see us until the last moment and had to swerve to avoid us. We stopped to photograph some of the breathtaking views. (This is Emily Carr country.)

Odds and Ends, c. 1937

There's always lots of wildlife in the area and the mornings are outrageously beautiful and tranquil. One morning a group of three adult Mergansers treated me to the most amazing display of fishing. They'd dive really deep, often in unison, disappear for ages, then pop up miles away. One of them caught a massive fish bigger than its head and struggled with it for quite awhile before swallowing. When it finally did, its whole head and neck were distorted trying to get the thing down. Less than 30 seconds later it was diving for more!

Time to get back to work (sigh). More photos here.

Saturday, July 12, 2008


From an email to a friend this morning:

As for us, it’s off to Cowichan Lake tomorrow so I’ll be doing an uber shopping today. The garden is as immaculate as it ever gets (though I forgot to get frames for my three tomato plants so they’ve pretty much taken over the front bed) so I’m prepped otherwise. I was looking at the lawn after Carl mowed it yesterday, wondering why people pull out all the stops to keep theirs green at this time of year. Ours is a uniform yellow now, as it should be, and I like it that way. If it’s not growing there’s no maintenance! And what a huge waste of water to keep it growing. We have 1/3 acre and it would be a losing battle anyway.

I have an artist friend in Baltimore who I fell out with a couple of years ago (we don’t talk politics or religion any more :) but re-established contact with earlier this year and he sent me a package yesterday of 36 new Prismacolor pencils, a Maoist worker’s cap and one of his watercolours. It was like Christmas. He’s a big guy with a large, white beard and recently, while shopping, a little girl waved to him and said “Hi Santa!” so I’m thinking he really IS Santa. (Who knew he spent his summers in Maryland?) Anyway, this is a tiny drawing, 3” x 3”, and my first attempt to play with my new pencils after it took five songs on my MP3 player to sharpen them all. I wanted to do something more traditional. I drew it in failing light, while watching my 300 millionth rerun of Law and Order, so didn’t notice I’d ‘missed a few spots’ until I scanned it. I’m taking my pencils with me and hoping to do a few plein air drawings while holidaying on the lake.

Will there be picnics and ice cream while we're there? Here's hoping:

Ice Scream
artist unknown

Friday, July 11, 2008

small sketches

solemn tree
autumn lakeside
tree view
woods edge
More trees! I did these mini sketches (4" x 4") yesterday so I could send them to Effusion Gallery, who have been doing a nice job of selling my small framed drawings since they opened six weeks ago. It's always interesting to me to see how others' opinions/perceptions differ from my own. I have both a definite favourite and 'unfavourite' amongst these and would love to hear if any of these appeal more than the others and why. It will help me decide which ones to send.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

life class

Here's the scenario: You discover an author whose work you love, then find out her latest (2007) novel is full of themes that are tailor made for you (art, war/history, London, love, social alienation and change) and wait for it to appear at the library. Actually reading it turns out to be somewhat anti-climactic, though. I'm still not sure why Life Class ("Barker uses three artists' lives to bear witness to the brutality of the trenches") was a bit of a disappointment for me, so I had a look at a few reviews ~ which were uniformly positive. The one that best describes the book for me, though, is this one, neatly summed up in these words: " is rendered with the quick hand of a sketch rather than the textured layering of an oil painting." I was looking for a Guernica I guess, something full scale and meaty. I definitely recommend it, though, as I believe my expectations were a little unrealistic.


I have some links from Rudy stashed away for summer browsing. Enjoy.

Painted Billboards from Pakistan:

Painted Trucks also from Pakistan:

Rice Paddy Art from Japan:

"Artlog is part social network, part gallery directory, and part portfolio display case"

Historical photos from the Smithsonian:

Photographing Light:

Really big drawings:

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

summer oak

I'm back and functioning. Serious virus problems with my laptop on the weekend have kept me away for days but I'm up and running again thanks to Greg's hard work.
OAK (Duir) June 10 - July 7
The principal sacred tree of the Druids, oak trees symbolize the turning of the year. During this time of year the Druids would carve a circle in to the tree for protection against lightning. In this tree I drew a Golden Circle in the trunk of the tree. Associated symbols: the white horse and the planet Jupiter.

Friday, July 04, 2008

spring willow

WILLOW (Saille) April 15 - May 12
The willow tree is associated with death, so I find it interesting that it is a spring tree in the Celtic tree calendar. Not only that, mythology states that two sea serpent eggs, which contained the sun and the earth, were hidden in the boughs of the willow tree until they hatched, thus bringing forth earthly life. The moon and the cat are associated symbols.

new baby

Isn't she pretty in all her mustard yellow glory? I could become addicted to Craig's List. Let's hope our karma holds out long enough for decent weather this weekend.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

winter ash

ASH (Nion) February 18 - March 17
In Celtic mythology the ash is known as the tree of enchantment; it is said that the Welsh magician Gwydion fashioned his wands from ash wood. The Celts believed that they came from the Great Deep or the undersea land of Tethys. It is this reason that the Ash is associated with the sea (the seahorse and planet Neptune are associated symbols).

I played 'shuttlecock' on july 1st

Here is the multi-talented
Ellen's take on my Canada Day activities. (Just pretend the tennis ball is a badminton birdie.)