Friday, October 31, 2008

happy halloween


I'd pretty much abandoned Illustration Friday due to 'scheduling issues' but I thought my latest mini drawing might fit today's theme. The tree is vacant of leaves. Is that too much of a stretch..?

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

on the flip side

Last week I found myself half listening to a radio program about a man named Jamie Livingston who took a Polaroid photo every day of his life starting March 31, 1979 until October 25, 1997, the day he died. I started to get interested as the interview was ending and jotted down the URL. I have been visiting both Chris Higgins' blog entry and the actual website (erected by Hugh Crawford) of photos ever since. It's a strikingly simple creative project that has yielded amazingly profound results, particularly towards the end of Jamie's life. Take a look. (And for those of you who, like me, love the quirky character of Polaroid photos it's especially interesting.)

And here are a few weird gems from the world of art, courtesy of the amazing web browser of Rudy:

Monday, October 27, 2008

what was I thinking?

This is Jesse, a six month old Lab pup who is our responsibility to train and socialize until he's old enough to enter service dog training with PADS. We've had him for about 10 days now and it's been ... um ... a challenge. Our introduction to puppy raising came when we had Tazo and Romeo staying with us on different weekends. But like those ads for Big Macs, the real deal is always a little less glossy and impressive than the advertisement (i.e. Romeo and Tazo). Jesse started out in a different puppy-raising home, but they had to withdraw from the program so we suspected he'd be a challenge. But he is certainly a delight as well. What's more fun than a puppy? And now I have a houseful of adolescent boys! But what was I thinking? I've been having serious issues with time management this year so why not add a puppy who needs constant watching (lest we spend next month's grocery budget on replacement shoes) to the mix?

Speaking of adolescent boys, 16 years ago today was the longest day of my life. At 7:32 pm I finally met this big lug. We were both fine, if a little beaten up. And now he has the audacity to have his own life. The nerve.

And because adolescent boys are today's theme, here's this year's jack-o-lantern. I couldn't resist after I saw
this. And with a few days still before the big day check out this and this from Rudy.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

diary of a house portrait

I am working on a pair of house portraits for Jo-Anne, a cellist and cello teacher in Oakville, Ontario. As they are houses I've never seen I have been relying on photographs and daily input from Jo-Anne. It's been an interesting journey, and not without a 'challenge' or two! I think the main problem is me, i.e. I hadn't actually touched a paintbrush (just lots of drawing media) in nearly four months and it took awhile for me to warm up. Doing these portraits is almost like trying to impose both the house's personality and my painting style on a jigsaw puzzle. Here's how it played out (click to enlarge or go here):

I started with complementary-coloured underpainting and began blocking in the foreground green areas.

Since I work 'backwards' the front 1/3 of the painting came first.

After consulting with Jo-Anne I painted the garage differently from its current incarnation and then started to work in some details and a few more foliage areas.

I discovered the hard way that using phthalo green as the background to pale cream-coloured bricks does NOT work.
The net result makes it look like a light green house.

So I did a warm glaze over the entire brickwork using alizarin crimson, which is a strong but transparent pigment. It wasn't quite enough, though, so I ended up having to do two glazes.

Then I re-painted the bricks, one at a time, and tried to reduce the space between them. Unfortunately the colour turned out darker than the actual house.

So I added yet another coat of light, cream-coloured paint to a few of the bricks, which lightened things up considerably.

The portrait is 16" x 20" x 1.5" on gallery-wrapped

the old man still has it

I don't often pay for big ticket concerts (previous concert: $15), but when I heard Neil Young was coming, after having spent all of last spring obsessively re-listening to his music, I knew I had to go. And it was so worth it. Many of his lyrics suddenly seem to apply again and there was a guy in front of me who kept shouting, "Neil! Tell us what to do! We need a real leader!" I particularly love his anthems with the long guitar solos, and he did play 'Cowgirl in the Sand' and 'Cortez the Killer' but I would've loved to have heard 'Like A Hurricane' so searched around on YouTube for a good version (though it's not very recent) to post here.

By the way, there was a guy painting on large canvases at the back of the stage (talk about a dream job!) and I hear he was also doing the same thing in Calgary. Does anyone know who he is and what it's all about?

Friday, October 17, 2008

slow day in the 'burbs

I've become a little obsessed with attracting birds to my backyard. I started with a niger feeder, which the chickadees love (and so do the juncos, who pick up what the chickadees drop), and graduated to a peanut feeder. The squirrels have fattened up nicely on the peanut feeder, though it has also attracted a couple of stunning Northern Flickers. In an effort to lower my seed bill and give the birds a fair chance we made a squirrel baffle with the bottom of a 4L milk jug. Like crows, squirrels thrive for a reason:

Since then we've lengthened the hanging line! Next we got one of those kits for building a glass-sided feeder with a little roof over top. Talk about being a victim of its own success: yesterday I counted seven Steller’s Jays, one flicker and two squirrels duking it over squatting rights. When the crows got interested it was all over except for the crying (like Tuesday’s election). I had to rescue the feeder after they’d totally emptied it and knocked it out of the tree. The cat was thrilled by the show, though.

But enough endless excitement from the 'burbs. Wouldn't you rather check out what happens when bad cakes happen to good people?

Or maybe you'd prefer to become a walking Chia Pet (or take home a Chia Thug)?

drawing on the walls

Christopher Griffin is one of my favourite painters. His work has the primal quality of cave paintings and includes many of
the natural symbols and images that I find irresistable in their rawness, simplicity and strength.

This past week, while refocusing on doing house
portraiture in my own studio, I have discovered that Griffin has been doing real house art to his historical home/studio in Ottawa. "Using a bone from an emu-like bird called a casuary, Mr. Griffin began scratching images similar to those that might be found on a cave wall: caribou, fish, birds, flowers, the sun" into the partly-set concrete on the exterior walls of his major house reno. Check out the whole article here.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

happy thanksgiving

Friday, October 10, 2008

young men in uniform

We had our first frost this morning. I was out walking with a dashing young Romeo on the beautifully sunny but cold (3C) trail where I used to take my constitutional with my last handsome escort. We used to run together there, but since his untimely death I have learned all about moderation and run at least as much on a treadmill as on the trail to keep from re-injuring myself. Seems I have a much harder time doing anything in moderation when I'm on that trail.

Romeo is about 85 lbs and a bit of a party boy. He will soon begin his real training for service dog work with Pacific Assistance Dogs. We're just 'puppy sitting' this weekend since his regular puppy-raising family is out of town for Thanksgiving. Tomorrow we plan to wow 'em in the nursing home (and wow my dad with a bucket of KFC) when we bring Romeo with us, all dressed up in his working togs, to visit. On Sunday he gets a day off as the noisy crowds descend on us instead for turkey and pumpkin pie.

A couple of weekends ago we puppysat 16 week old Tazo, shown here in uniform and armed with a flip flop or two. One day soon we may have a pup of our own to raise for a career in the service. More about pre-training here.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

it's a wrap

Summer Medley

I just finished the final drawing (and had a hell of a time photographing it in the gloomy rain -- have I mentioned I need a new camera...?) in the Celtic tree calendar series. The 13
main drawings went to Effusion Gallery this summer, then I did a commission of four additional ones, based more generally on each season. There's no question that I have had a lot of fun taking this detour from painting, and I think that, for the most part, they gradually improved though, strangely enough, my favourite is still the first one. I wanted to keep them simple but they had other ideas and got more decorative and complex and colourful as I explored different ideas. Who am I to argue with the forces of inertia?

What is your favourite book store in the whole, wide world? Mine is an unpretentious hole-in-the-wall on Broadway at Granville in Vancouver (across from Chapters) called Oscar's Art Books, a gold mine of art, design, architecture, erotica, typography and photography books. I got 'lost' in there on Monday, managing to spend enough money to earn a free fabric carry bag. Yikes. Where do I sign up for a 12-step program?

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

margaret atwood weighs in

Spring Medley

I usually avoid politics here, though I
have been known to have an opinion or two! But when several people forwarded me the same article and it relates to the arts and arts funding I can't resist. Last Thursday the Globe and Mail published an article written by Margaret Atwood, the grand dame of letters. I was thinking of just linking to the article, but with impending elections on both sides of the 49th I think I'll publish the whole thing (and link it back appropriately).

Before you vote, here's a thought re. this current conservative-ideology-dominated continent's political climate and the resulting financial 'crisis' in the US: Wall Street bonuses amount to more than the entire world is paying in aid to Africa. Puts it all in a little perspective, doesn't it? (Not to mention a re-examination of the word 'crisis'!)

From Thursday's Globe and Mail
September 24, 2008 at 11:00 PM EDT

What sort of country do we want to live in? What sort of country do we already live in? What do we like? Who are we?

At present, we are a very creative country. For decades, we've been punching above our weight on the world stage - in writing, in popular music and in many other fields. Canada was once a cultural void on the world map, now it's a force. In addition, the arts are a large segment of our economy: The Conference Board estimates Canada's cultural sector generated $46-billion, or 3.8 per cent of Canada's GDP, in 2007. And, according to the Canada Council, in 2003-2004, the sector accounted for an “estimated 600,000 jobs (roughly the same as agriculture, forestry, fishing, mining, oil & gas and utilities combined).”

But we've just been sent a signal by Prime Minister Stephen Harper that he gives not a toss for these facts. Tuesday, he told us that some group called “ordinary people” didn't care about something called “the arts.” His idea of “the arts” is a bunch of rich people gathering at galas whining about their grants. Well, I can count the number of moderately rich writers who live in Canada on the fingers of one hand: I'm one of them, and I'm no Warren Buffett. I don't whine about my grants because I don't get any grants. I whine about other grants - grants for young people, that may help them to turn into me, and thus pay to the federal and provincial governments the kinds of taxes I pay, and cover off the salaries of such as Mr. Harper. In fact, less than 10 per cent of writers actually make a living by their writing, however modest that living may be. They have other jobs. But people write, and want to write, and pack into creative writing classes, because they love this activity – not because they think they'll be millionaires.

Every single one of those people is an “ordinary person.” Mr. Harper's idea of an ordinary person is that of an envious hater without a scrap of artistic talent or creativity or curiosity, and no appreciation for anything that's attractive or beautiful. My idea of an ordinary person is quite different. Human beings are creative by nature. For millenniums we have been putting our creativity into our cultures - cultures with unique languages, architecture, religious ceremonies, dances, music, furnishings, textiles, clothing and special cuisines. “Ordinary people” pack into the cheap seats at concerts and fill theatres where operas are brought to them live. The total attendance for “the arts” in Canada in fact exceeds that for sports events. “The arts” are not a “niche interest.” They are part of being human.

Moreover, “ordinary people” are participants. They form book clubs and join classes of all kinds - painting, dancing, drawing, pottery, photography - for the sheer joy of it. They sing in choirs, church and other, and play in marching bands. Kids start garage bands and make their own videos and web art, and put their music on the Net, and draw their own graphic novels. “Ordinary people” have other outlets for their creativity, as well: Knitting and quilting have made comebacks; gardening is taken very seriously; the home woodworking shop is active. Add origami, costume design, egg decorating, flower arranging, and on and on ... Canadians, it seems, like making things, and they like appreciating things that are made.

They show their appreciation by contributing. Canadians of all ages volunteer in vast numbers for local and city museums, for their art galleries and for countless cultural festivals - I think immediately of the Chinese New Year and the Caribana festival in Toronto, but there are so many others. Literary festivals have sprung up all over the country - volunteers set them up and provide the food, and “ordinary people” will drag their lawn chairs into a field - as in Nova Scotia's Read by the Sea - in order to listen to writers both local and national read and discuss their work. Mr. Harper has signalled that as far as he is concerned, those millions of hours of volunteer activity are a waste of time. He holds them in contempt.

I suggest that considering the huge amount of energy we spend on creative activity, to be creative is “ordinary.” It is an age-long and normal human characteristic: All children are born creative. It's the lack of any appreciation of these activities that is not ordinary. Mr. Harper has demonstrated that he has no knowledge of, or respect for, the capacities and interests of “ordinary people.” He's the “niche interest.” Not us.

It's been suggested that Mr. Harper's disdain for the arts is not merely a result of ignorance or a tin ear - that it is “ideologically motivated.” Now, I wonder what could be meant by that? Mr. Harper has said quite rightly that people understand we ought to keep within a budget. But his own contribution to that budget has been to heave the Liberal-generated surplus overboard so we have nothing left for a rainy day, and now, in addition, he wants to jeopardize those 600,000 arts jobs and those billions of dollars they generate for Canadians. What's the idea here? That arts jobs should not exist because artists are naughty and might not vote for Mr. Harper? That Canadians ought not to make money from the wicked arts, but only from virtuous oil? That artists don't all live in one constituency, so who cares? Or is it that the majority of those arts jobs are located in Ontario and Quebec, and Mr. Harper is peeved at those provinces, and wants to increase his ongoing gutting of Ontario - $20-billion a year of Ontario taxpayers' money going out, a dribble grudgingly allowed back in - and spank Quebec for being so disobedient as not to appreciate his magnificence? He likes punishing, so maybe the arts-squashing is part of that: Whack the Heartland.

Or is it even worse? Every budding dictatorship begins by muzzling the artists, because they're a mouthy lot and they don't line up and salute very easily. Of course, you can always get some tame artists to design the uniforms and flags and the documentary about you, and so forth - the only kind of art you might need - but individual voices must be silenced, because there shall be only One Voice: Our Master's Voice. Maybe that's why Mr. Harper began by shutting down funding for our artists abroad. He didn't like the competition for media space.

The Conservative caucus has already learned that lesson. Rumour has it that Mr. Harper's idea of what sort of art you should hang on your wall was signalled by his removal of all pictures of previous Conservative prime ministers from their lobby room - including John A. and Dief the Chief - and their replacement by pictures of none other than Mr. Harper himself. History, it seems, is to begin with him. In communist countries, this used to be called the Cult of Personality. Mr. Harper is a guy who - rumour has it, again - tried to disband the student union in high school and then tried the same thing in college. Destiny is calling him, the way it called Qin Shi Huang, the Chinese emperor who burnt all records of the rulers before himself. It's an impulse that's been repeated many times since, the list is very long. Tear it down and level it flat, is the common motto. Then build a big statue of yourself. Now that would be Art!

Adapted from the 2008 Hurtig Lecture, to be delivered in Edmonton on Oct. 1