Tuesday, January 31, 2006

taking the edge off

I am a fan of the afternoon siesta. Living in Greece for a year was all I needed to imprint the idea permanenty on my brain, so this idea, in my opinion, is long overdue. A challenge to you office workers: bring up this idea at your next staff meeting, as a requested addition to your standard benefits package.

But I am not a fan of the wristwatch, preferring to be one of those tedious people who's always asking others for the time and arriving everywhere five minutes late. This is definitely the watch for me, though I don't suggest you try and bring this one up at the aforementioned staff meeting.

Must go now. I'm about half an hour late for my afternoon nap.

Monday, January 30, 2006

main street gallery

It's taken me a few days to recover from my trip to Victoria. My desire to catch up with everyone I hadn't seen or talked to since the last time I was there is what did me in. When I boarded the ferry home to the mainland ("the continent") on Thursday night my throat was sore from talking for two days straight.

Wednesday morning dawned bright and hopeful. I arrived at Tsawwassen ferry terminal just as the sun peeked over the horizon. I had time before boarding the ferry to pop into the terminal waiting area for coffee, and got this great shot of the early morning sun coming through the windows:

By the time the ferry had docked at Swartz Bay on Vancouver Island the weather had started to shift. Sidney is only a five-minute drive from the terminal, so after I dropped off my work I went for a short walk before the rain arrived and before heading into Victoria.

By Thursday evening the weather had turned really nasty -- cold and pouring with rain -- so the turnout for the show's reception was lower than expected. One of the four artists, Nicholas Bott, is a highly successful painter with a strong following, but even that didn't draw the crowds on an unpleasant Thursday night in January.

The opening was fun anyway, lots to see and eat and drink ... and excellent company of course! :)

artist John McConnell and Sandra Baynton, owner of Main Street Gallery, discussing John's work

Sandra Baynton, artist Pieter Molenaar and friend in front of Nicholas Bott's paintings

my uncle, David (on the right), and his partner Tom

yours truly

Sunday, January 29, 2006

the year of the dog revisited

cartoon by Olson

Speaking of the year of the dog, I just saw this cartoon in the local rag and it gave me a good laugh. Since Canada elected its first Conservative government in many moons last week, the pundits have been saying that the increasingly frosty relations between Canada and the United States will soon be patched up. Here's proof. Good boy, Harper. But how do we keep him off the furniture?

gung hay fat choy

Happy New Year! Today is the first day of the lunar new year, 4074 in the Chinese calendar, and the year of the dog. I have only ever had two dogs, and I still have them, a geriatric mutt named Zoe, and her perpetually adolescent nemesis, an Australian Shepherd named Zappa.

As a child I would have done almost anything to have a dog, but my parents were against the idea, so the minute I was in a position to have a dog I did, though I lived such a transient life during the years after I left home that it definitely didn't happen immediately. I adopted Zoe from a shelter where I worked as a volunteer 15 years ago. And now, after ACL surgery on both her knees, just getting up the stairs is a major challenge for her and I realize that she won't be with us for much longer. Zappa came to us in 1999, and with his perpetual high energy, turned out to be the perfect kids' dog and running companion. I adopted him through a rescue group with whom I worked myself for a couple of years, fostering and adopting out abandoned Australian Shepherds. Zappa was an escape artist, which is how he eventually ended up in rescue. He still likes to go on reconnaissance missions when the opportunity presents itself, which it almost never does, fortunately, though I have had calls from as far away as the local pub. One beer too many and he blew his cover I figure.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

the process

I'm almost there. I put the varnish on the final painting yesterday morning and framed the final drawing last night. I'd hoped to be able to pull off one more painting before the show, but no luck. While working on the last painting I thought I'd photograph it at various stages as I'd never done that with any of my landscapes.

I begin a painting with sketches and/or photos from my files, and draw the basic shapes quickly onto the blank canvas. Then I lay the underpainting down thinly. This is an important part of my process, though not always as successful as I'd like. I usually want the underpainting to be darker than the final work as I want its presence to be 'felt' and that's easier to achieve when painting light on dark. Though a lot of the process is intuitive, I do try and choose complementary colours (a la the colour wheel) to lie under the surface colours, to give it a bit of 'zing'. I use red a lot.

When the underpainting is laid down, I do a quick sketch, with a small sable brush, over the top in 'silver' (iridescent white with a little black). This means that when you see the painting at an oblique angle, you get a bit of shimmer around some of the edges of the shapes (impossible to show in these images). That's also why I use 1.5" deep gallery-wrapped canvas and continue the image around the sides: it creates the illusion that the painting occupies a three-dimensional space.

Once that's done I start work on the 'real painting'. I have no set order of process, though I often choose the more difficult parts first for practical reasons; if I can't nail them, then I can cut my losses and run! In this case I chose to do the top half of the painting first (trees and sky). You can see the underpainting peeking out around the trees.

At this point I got so involved with the painting that I completely forgot to take a next photo, and then one after that, so we jump ahead to the final product. After doing the bottom half of the canvas I went through the "this is such crap" phase where I repaint parts, sometimes two or three times (though with each layer I lose surface integrity so try and keep that to a minimum). For example, check out how the sky has changed between the second and final photos.

I am always awed by landscape painters whose work just flies off their brushes, nary an error to correct nor a hair follicle to yank from skull. One day maybe...

Sunday, January 22, 2006

strange bedfellows

I love this story. There are a few world leaders who might want to take notes.

Friday, January 20, 2006

the business trip

Okay, so my brand of business trip is more like a holiday than business: no endlessly boring presentations and meetings, no holing up in dark hotel rooms to hammer out some drivel on my laptop, no boozing the night away because I'm too exhausted to do anything else. In this case I have to get on the ferry on a Wednesday morning, hang paintings on a Wednesday afternoon, then spend the next 24 hours sans famille but avec camera, prowling the streets of Victoria looking for photo ops and meeting old friends for coffee. Then, before heading home Thursday night, I get to spend three or four hours drinking wine and chatting up art enthusiasts in a beautiful gallery. Selling an actual painting is just icing on the cake. I can hardly wait for my 'business trip' next week!

I went to university in Victoria and let's face it, if you have to go somewhere in Canada in January, pray that it's Victoria. A couple of days ago I emailed a friend I've kept in touch with, in spite of both our nomadic ways, from my very first days at UVic, begging for a place to stay. Another friend from that time tells me a story of when we first knew Brian. He was the guru of the photography club and one day, while hanging out at the darkrooms, an earnest young woman we didn't know started asking some very pointed questions about our charismatic friend. Shelley says that I just levelled this jaded look at her and interjected, deadpan, "He's married." (He was, too, but I think it was me who scared her off.)

Brian and his family have just moved so I asked him for directions to their new abode. Here are his instructions:


No, this isn't turning into another cats blog. I'm hoping to actually do a drawing based on this photo I took years ago and had lurking in my files (why did I scan it so small I wonder?) for Illustration Friday this week, but meantime, I had just enough time this morning to have some fun with Photoshop. And since the topic is cats I couldn't do just one now, could I? Here's the original:

Thursday, January 19, 2006

the home stretch

Since I'm on a quotations kick, I thought I'd post this favourite:

The 6 phases of a project

1. Unbridled Enthusiasm
2. Disillusionment
3. Panic
4. Search for the guilty
5. Punishment of the innocent
6. Praise to the non-participants

I should be in the home stretch of exhibition prep but I have two paintings going, neither of which is out of the woods yet (so to speak) and two drawings left to produce. I'm way beyond #3, seem to have skipped #4 and am busy abusing anyone who comes within earshot. And what am I doing? BLOGGING AGAIN.

If you don't hear from me for a couple of days, I'll be backtracking to #4 and reinforcing #5. Maybe I'll get some painting in, too.

thoughts on product design

Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep.
~ Scott Adams

And without creativity, where would our world of product design, and therefore commerce, be today? Here are some new additions to that world:
Table in a box
An artist is a dreamer consenting to dream of the actual world.
~ George Santayana

Muslim Barbie
Good design begins with honesty, asks tough questions, comes from collaboration and from trusting your intuition.
~ Freeman Thomas

Cleanliness is next to Godliness
The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance.
~ Aristotle

Cooking in the sink
The secret of all effective originality in advertising is not the creation of new and tricky words and pictures, but one of putting familiar words and pictures into new relationships.
~ Leo Burnett

Post-apocalyptic fashion
Great designers seldom make great advertising men, because they get overcome by the beauty of the picture - and forget that merchandise must be sold.
~James Randolph Adams

Wednesday, January 18, 2006


It's been interesting watching events play out over at the Best of Blogs website. I decided early on that I wasn't going to overdo the whoring for votes thing, not only for the BoB sake of dignity (me? ha!), but also because it's not a huge part of the final judging. I wasn't even going to put a BoB button on my blog sidebar BoB 'til today when it was pointed out that unless you read a few posts back, the casual observer would never even know I'm up for an award. I caved. But I BoB refuse to add VOTE FOR ME BECAUSE I'M A BLOG GODDESS, even if I really want to... BoB

Another reason for BoB my reticence is that here in British Columbia we're just about electioned out. On Monday we vote again, after only BoB 18 months, for our federal government. In the intervening period we have also voted provincially and at the municipal level. And let's BoB face it, if this recent federal campaign is any indication, electioneering brings out the worst in BoB people. I just looked through some of the comments on the BoB voting page today and the complaints seem unnecessary BoB to me, especially from people who haven't kept up with the info posts. The organizers and judges at BoB are volunteers, it's only the second year of the 'event', and they're dealing with new polling software. And if they BoB read this, I love you to death and I'll give you my first-born male child.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

caffeine art

Artists are hardly strangers to substance abuse. Probably the most famous recent example is Jean-Michel Basquiat's brilliant rise and fall, accompanied by his closest friend and foe, heroin. Like all recent arts legends worth their celebrity salt, he checked out at the age of 27 (1988).

So off I go to the studio. Do I choose a stimulant or a depressant today? Do I want to achieve that oh-so-tastefully cool, slightly off-kilter but carefully-conceived look of marijuana (note to self: lock the fridge first if I want to get anything done) or the brilliantly dynamic energy of a benzedrine masterpiece? Wait! Let me check my notes first. There are even pictures, designs created by spiders, to help me make my aesthetic decisions:

The spider on marijuana drifted off before finishing the job. The spider on benzedrine, an upper, worked energetically but without much planning. The spider dosed with chloral hydrate, a sedative, soon fell asleep. But the spider dosed with caffeine was by far the most disoriented and proved incapable of creating even a single organized cell. Its web showed no sign of the "hub and spokes" pattern fundamental to conventional web design.

Second note to self: throw coffee maker in dumpster.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

I'm a poetry blog, too!

A lass with accounts in the red
Blogged 'til her children were dead
Then muffled and slurred
Came a sound rarely heard
"Get a life!" said the voice in her head

Saturday, January 14, 2006


Can inspiration be forced? I just took a(nother) look through the BoB best photo/art/poetry blogs section and I feel very humbled by the competition, figuring I need to pull one of those "I have something to write about and must do it now" types of posts out of my hat because they always turn out to be the best ones. But inspiration, like my new year's resolution, fails me utterly. It's like the paintings I'm trying to produce for this show. Last summer, when preparing for various things simultaneously, I couldn't seem to stop the ideas from coming. I couldn't get them out of me and onto canvas (or at least in note form for later exploitation) fast enough. In the fall it was words on my blog. Right now my greatest inspiration is to lie down and have a nap.

I think I need to play outside with my camera more as that always creates a flood of ideas. But (a) I can't take the time off right now because I should be painting and (b) speaking of floods, it's been raining for 27 days straight here on the wet coast (record: 28). It's a Catch-22 with no help at all from the weather gods.

So I might as well go back to checking out the voting stats at BoB (and if you haven't voted yet I will find you and treat you to the same kind of attention as the first guy in the above painting). I'm getting my butt kicked by four other blogs. My tendency to be a little OCD usually helps when I'm doing something creative; right now it has me sitting at my pc, compulsively surfing the same old sites. Won't someone please put me out of my misery?

Friday, January 13, 2006

e is for ... evening

OK, so my choice for Illustration Friday is not very imaginative. I should've challenged myself with something like ethereal, exponential or even empty. But time is tight and this is the latest painting for the upcoming landscape show. I'm trying to stick to a local winter theme. This is called West Coast Winter Twilight, and depicts the wild west coast of Vancouver Island.

The BoBs are here. To support your favourite blog in any of 20 categories, vote here. I've discovered some really good stuff during my casual perusal of the past few days. When I have more time I want to take a closer look. I also discovered artforum.com today. There are other arts news pages on the web but this one is better than most.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

winter sports (and other threats)

In appreciation of my blogging friends, who are all going to vote for me when BoB brings down the flag, I've chosen (as a subtle bribe) a few very important products that you won't be able to live without. No need to thank me, but cheques always welcome (after you vote).

For ChittyChittyBangBang becase of your way wid de wimmen-folk, Bjorn-Franke is for you.

Andy: Since it's a tough slog cycling into London and back home in winter, check this out.

Kyknoord: Cape Town in summer, stuck in traffic, must be a total bummer, so why not just bypass those traffic jams?

Merlinprincesse: You're not the only one who works an office job, but you must be getting a bit fed up with being snowed in all winter in Quebec City, so here's some indoor recreation for you.

This one is for all of us who are Olympics junkies, and can barely peel ourselves away from the TV, even to perform the most rudimentary of functions designed to keep body and soul together, once the games begin next month. Pass the nachos and the gas mask.

artwork by Adam

Tuesday, January 10, 2006


A painting is never finished -- it simply stops in interesting places.
Paul Gardner

When I think I've finally managed to get beyond the point where the only options are to completely rework the painting or tear it off the stretcher frame (I did one of those recently and it felt so good), then the next question is when to stop. For example, I repainted the sky on this one three times. When does professionalism become anal-retentive obsession?

Then again, when does taking care of daily business become an elaborate avoidance activity just because the painting on the easel is in serious trouble? I hate ironing and I tackled a whole basketful last night. The painting on the easel isn't out of the woods yet, but we have a closetful of crisply-pressed shirts now. (And I've made three blog entries in two days...)

Monday, January 09, 2006

small scenes

These drawings are not in the series I'm currently working on, but I thought I'd post an example of how I've chosen to display the small scenes. I love these little shadow-box frames.

best of blogs

This morning I discovered that not only had Kyknoord, friend and blogger par excellence, nominated me for a Best of Blogs awards in the best art/photography/poetry section, but that I'd actually made the 10 finalists from the 80 nominations. Wow. I'm dumbfounded. This time last year I didn't even know what a blog was. After a quick browse I can see that the competition is pretty stiff. My Topography has a huge fanbase (I'm one) so I'm thrilled that I got this far. Now I wish I'd gotten off me arse and done more with my banner/layout. Thank you, Kyknoord; any suggestions on how best to bribe the judges?

This drawing is the latest of the mini landscapes for the upcoming four-person landscape show in Victoria at Main Street Gallery. In two weeks I will have produced 5 or 6 paintings in various sizes (12" x 12" up to 24" x 24") and 10 of these small drawings. I'm trying to stick to a local winter scenes theme. I've done three paintings and five drawings, so I'm halfway there. Inspiration is sporadic, results even less predictable, so I'll be pacing the floor up till the last minute. I always was a last-minute crammer for exams.

Saturday, January 07, 2006


The sea is a theme that recurs often in my work, so it was easy to find something for Illustration Friday this week. I'm fascinated with the shape of fish -- living or dead. It's something about their economy yet endless variation.

This is from a series I painted called Planes of Being. Besides the sea, I also used creatures of the land and the air as subject matter.

But now, back to the easel. I have a deadline on my calendar and panic in my heart. Nothing fishy about what I'm painting right now ... unfortunately.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

alberta's centennial quarter

I admit that I haven't been looking for it, though I knew it was in circulation, so when I was paying for something today and spotted it almost by mistake I suddenly felt so proud of Michelle. (And have I mentioned that she builds a mean shipping crate, too?)

click on coin for more info

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

art therapy

Lately several blogfriends (Brian, Caroline and Andy) have touched on the idea of working with your hands as a kind of therapy. While thinking about it and discussing it, it occurred to me that the kinds of brain function required to make something, be it a gourmet meal, a bookcase, a garden or whatever, are very different from the more abstract functions of reading, working at an office job, web-surfing, even working out personal problems. (Making visual art is great because it engages both the tangible and the abstract functions.)

The act of tactile work, where every action you take is a kind of practical problem-solving activity, seems to unblock those pathways of more abstract reasoning and emotion. At least, that's what I've discovered as a painter and even when doing the more mundane tasks related to prepping for and finishing a painting. I love my camera and I have endless fun creating photo manipulations, but in the end it gives me more satisfaction to hold something I created in my hands. Meantime, the act of painting has focussed a section of my brain in such a way that I'm able to solve all my -- and the world's -- problems as well. Of course when the painting goes badly I want to embed it in the nearest wall and can't get my mind off the negative cycle of obsession that it creates. But that's another couch session. Coincidentally, Rudy recently sent me a link to this article on how art therapy benefits cancer patients.

Being Rudy, he also has these items for the appearance-conscious. Only the hippest need apply:

...t-shirts for the compulsive doodler

...something every man should have

...I'm still not sure what this is

...and now, accessorize!