Sunday, December 28, 2008

A Gift That Lasts

Harsh words, gentle words, careful or careless, just a few short words can have a lasting impact. A lifetime loop, some words repeat in my head, over and over again, never forgotten, cropping up again and again with the least little trigger. Just a few short words can have lasting impact.
And it was just such a moment that jumps into my head just about every time I draw a tree, any tree anywhere, I hear Ed telling me, gently, 'trees are not symmetrical'.
Ed was an artist (maybe is, we lost touch). I don't recall his last name, as he was always Ed, as in 'Bob & Ed', to me. Bob and Ed owned the cottage next to my parents cottage, and I liked them pretty much. After all, Ed was an Artist, which was pretty darned cool, and an Architect too, even cooler, and neither of them ever complained to my parents about us raiding their blue-berry patch, and Bob was a really good cook, and their very long driveway was great fun to ski down in winter. My dad, like any good dad, thought I was the next Van Gogh, so he arranged to have Ed look over my art and give me a critique. I have no idea of my age at the time, but I do recall taking great pains to draw my very best ever rendition of a pine tree in preparation for my very first ever professional critique. With this accomplished, I took my paper in hand and shyly, all by myself, walked across the driveway and crept up their porch. I remember waiting very quietly behind their door before I got up the nerve to knock. I remember very formally being invited in for my 'critique' wherein he perused my drawing with a practiced eye for some excruciatingly long and respectful moments--then he very very carefully told me that while this tree was pretty good, or some other such neutral to nice terminology, I needed to keep in mind that trees are not symmetrical. Even if at first they appear to be, there are always subtle variations. While I never again imposed upon him for his free professional advice, that lesson repeats itself in my head each and every time I render a tree onto paper.
Thank you Ed, wherever you are. Lesson well learned, I hope.

Image: Graphite on 5" x 7" acid free sketch paper. This is another bed sketch, yes, rendered from start to finish whilst curled up beneath a nice crinkly feather duvet. This is the first time I tried the impressed line technique. This involves using a blunt round ended object, such as a wooden stylus to indent the paper in such a way that application of pencils will reveal the indents as white line (easier done than said). I used the handle of a tea spoon. There are much better tools for this, but finding one would have required abandoning the warmth of the duvet not to mention the spillage of two heat-seeking felines. It seemed simpler to reach for the spoon. The scene is a part of Eldred King Forest Tract, York Regional Forest, a view from an open field into a stand of pale poplars growing against a backdrop of planted pines. I've seen it many times, taken a series of really bad snapshots that never do it justice and often try to memorize with my eyes. I think I've finally got it. Again, Thank You Ed.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008


This is our Christmas Tree. It came from Canadian Tire, on sale for $11.00. That's not seen as it's still fresh and thirsty. When I was a little girl, I remember crawling under the big (they are huge when you are three) spruce tree and looking up at all those gorgeous lights and ornaments. I believe this is a memory shared by many who celebrate Christmas. The choice of tree-spruce, decorated with blown-glass ornaments was a tradition carried over from my parents native Germany. When they were growing up, trees were lit by candles. My mother still had a set, tiny aluminum candle holders that clipped horizontally on the branch of the tree with equally diminutive white candles. My mother would also fondly reminisce of the times (yes, plural) when her mother's tree would catch fire and get thrown through the living room window.
I'm using LED's. I choose warm white in some effort to recreate the soft glow of a tree lit by candles alone, a sight I've never myself seen and probably never will as I have no desire to toss a burning tree through a window. I do, however, have the candle clips stored carefully away. Some day I may get brave, and light a few for a few nerve-wracking minutes--a thing my mother did for me a handful of times in my life.
Also gathering dust is a sixty year old plaster nativity set, also from Germany. My reasons for setting these aside is somewhat more complex. I was raised a catholic, and as child was devout (I actually sent myself to Sunday school) but too many questions and contradictions remained unanswered. I say this not to argue religion but to explain why I leave an heirloom gathering dust, when attached to it are the most beautiful memories. Sometime in early December, my father would take me on a drive North. This was directly North of my childhood home (Pickering) and not just coincidentally much closer to place I live now. He'd stop by the side of the road and we would nip in to the woods to gather green moss. This became green grass and bedding for the nativity stable, a creche built by my father with finger width logs of birch. My mother would then assemble all together, and attach lights, (not candles!) under the 'roof' of the barn. There was always extra attention given to the proper illumination of the infant and the angel as if it was some fantastic theatre. The adoring cow and mule where my favourites, but not by far, as there was so much else to look at. I also was completely fascinated by the three kings, done up in great detail and representing three races of humanity. Every figurine was sculpted and painted with the kind of talent and detail no longer available, each figurine a work of art. When I think back to this nativity scene, one of the major themes was one of acceptance. The animals given a place of honour, women respected, children adored, the human race in harmony. I hope on Christmas day that I can hold this message honestly in my heart.
So for those who've wondered, you can wish me a Merry Christmas, Happy Hannukah, Joyful Eid, or Winter Soltice and I will be more than happy. In fact, anything but the banality of Season's Greetings will do.
Have a wonderful Yuletide All!

And in keeping with this being an art blog; the cardinal is acrylic paint on chicken egg. It is twenty years old.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Two Artful (I hope) Nudes

Okay, the honest answer, is that I've been working on my linocuts & my etsy store and have nothing new to post. I'm in the middle of a few projects but a gigantic snowfall set me back some. I have my priorities, and one of them included the sheer novelty of skiing down the road (yes, I do mean that literally) to deliver mail to the box and 'walk' my dog. This was quite fun as road conditions where absolutely perfect for x-country skiing, albeit not so good for driving. I'm not sure if the sight of me gliding joyously along brought smiles or grimaces to peoples faces. I was having so much fun but it certainly put a punctuation mark on the poor driving conditions. I had my come-uppance on the return trip when I ended up skiing behind a snowplow/sander (they're equipped to do both at once). The snow was thick enough that I could continue skiing but I had to slow up and watch out for bare spots. Then, as I rounded the west side of Musselman's Lake I came to understand the true meaning of 'wind-chill factor'. I dress lightly for outdoor exercise as I figure I do more than enough sweating throughout the summer time, so I avoid the condition as much as possible in the winter. I hadn't bothered with a hat or scarf and on my way out this was only a minor inconvenience. But the wind was whipping in from a north-east and it's bite was bitter and full of icy teeth. After 2 minutes of skiing left cheek to the wind I became seriously worried about frost-bite. The pain ramped up to a level ten complete with vocalizations and facial distortions (nursing students will know what I mean). I finally put both ski poles in my right hand and held my left hand up against my cheek to complete the trip without mishap.
By the time I got back, of course I had a driveway full of snow. The ski tracks from the porch, through the gate and out to the road looked mighty cute but they had to go to make room for a homecoming husband (they let him leave work early too!). Snow shovelling took me an hour, and then there were desperate birds to feed, and then of course more skiing to do (how could I resist all that snow!). Artistically, Friday was not my most productive day.

I'm saving up the Christmas Tree pics & stories for December 24th, of course. So, here are two practices with oil pastel. In February I'll be joining a Life Drawing Club at the Latcham Gallery in Stouffville. This means I'll get to sketch/draw/paint a real nude person (1 per week) without any snotty art teacher breathing down my neck saying 'make it bigger' (in college 18"x24" was the minimum working size). These nudes are on small scraps (approx. 6"x8")of questionable coloured paper (left over from my college days, brand unknown) and the models are from an artists photo reference book. I used a black conte pencil, some yellow coloured pencil (the woman) and oil pastels. I'm considering using the oil pastel for the life drawing club as coloured pencil is too time-consuming for live work. If you want to discuss opinions on nudity, do check out Jennifer's longish post in the comments on Poseidon's Daughter. Some interesting things said there. I'm pretty well spent on the topic as I brought it up in an Etsy forum and the discussion was something like 10 pages long. People have a lot to say regarding such little bits. That said, would love to here more opinions, I'm just talked out.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Poseidon's Daughter WIP

Just a WIP today. This is a carving for a new ACEO and she's almost there. I've only inked her in red office stamping ink onto office paper, so I still need to ink her up in proper printers ink with a roller to see whether the carving is done or needs tweaking. The corners sticking out are register marks in case I want to do a second colour or image overlay (probably not, but leaving the option open). This is done with 'softoleum'-- I went shopping and now I know for certain. It is perfect for stamping and hand-pulled printing. The sketches are two of many that I abandoned altogether. Hoping nobody is offended by some minor female anatomy. I think not but you never know these days.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

My First Fish

I've been doing numerous fish motifs of late, and so thought to go back to the beginning. Unfortunately, I couldn't find the crayola crayon plein air pickerel portrait circa 1975 so I had to whip up something entirely new for this entry. I sure miss the newsprint pickerel image, but I tore the house upside down and couldn't find it. In my minds eye it was far superior to anything I've done since. I was only about ten years old, and I can still see every detail, all the green gold scales in place, and it 's tortured fishy eye staring up at me. You see, I did the portrait on the boat, with a freshly caught, live, and hoping to live longer fish. The memory is oddly crisp.
It was my first and last fishing trip with my Dad. It was boring! I had begged, wheedled and whined to be allowed on board, and finally had my way. My parents boat was a large aluminum rowboat with an eggshell blue interior. The outboard motor was Johnson Seahorse, 12 horsepower. This left me with plenty of imaginative fodder as I would sit up front and visualize 12 foaming amphibious equines frothing and straining at their traces. In my mind I wrestled and guided their power, holding invisible reins (a rough rope). But the fishing trip was not like the evening sunset tours I'd been on before. Then I would sit up front and daydream myself Poseidon's daughter. The relentless drone of the outboard engine, loud as it was, only heightened the experience with its mesmerizing monotony that drowned out the ordinary sounds of summer. The shoreline would power by, ribbons of brown cabins, green trees and pink granite. I would perch up front staring down into the black deeps of Horseshoe Lake seeing endless darkness interspersed with white and yellow lilies and jade green weeds.
But the ride to the fishing hole afforded little time for daydreams. It was less than two minutes before the anchor (a concrete filled javex bottle) was tossed down into the water. It was a hot bright day and the air was still. Nothing moved excepting my young restless self to the great annoyance of the avid fishermen (my father and uncle). My attempt to alleviate the tedium with conversation was immediately shushed. When I squirmed in my seat I was told to be still. However, I was well armed with a block of newsprint paper and box of crayons. The first fish caught was my subject--alive and destined for dinner. I can't quite remember if I was thinking, as I drew, of how soon this life would be cut short. I do remember carefully attempting to capture every ribbon of colour and glitter of scale, knowing how brief the opportunity was. Supposedly children have no real understanding of the finality of death, but I don't recall having any illusions of a piscine heaven awaiting the gasping pickerel fish. I was all too aware that it was here today and gone forever tomorrow. Whatever I failed to capture in crayon would be reduced to scales and scraps and fillets by nightfall and gone from the world forever.
The irony of my lost artwork does not escape me either.

Image: watercolour, oil pastel & coloured pencil on 10" x 6" Strathmore bristol.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Thin Ice; Part II

The firefighters were kind enough to send me some photos that better illustrate the procedure. As these were taken from the ice, I couldn't have gotten such photos even if I had my camera at the time. If you didn't understand my description of the procedure, these pics should help. On the last picture, you'll see the 'rescuers' in position to haul backwards and pull the 'victim' into the boat.

Many thanks to Whitchurch Stouffville Fire Department for the pictures, and for all their service to the community.

And, a chance to answer Doug's request for a mini-tutorial of the salty wash, specifically the 'thin ice' picture.

An Informal Tutorial for Thin Ice for Dougie:
I used Strathmore 300 Series Bristol, soaked, stretched and dried. I made up a wash of paynes grey ready, then rewet the paper lightly with a damp sponge. I used a large fan brush and worked the paint in very fast. I always feel like I'm racing time and usually losing when I do a wash. As soon as the paint hit the paper, I lost interest in the plan (it was supposed to be a patterned background for a print-making project) and just watched the way the paint spread. I added a light wash of cadmium red, and then started flicking it in with a toothbrush. It still didn't look much like ice, so I mixed a very dark paynes grey and put this in with a lovely brand-new #8 squirrel hair brush. Never take your spouse shopping on the day you buy such things, as he nearly lost his eyeballs on the shop floor. It was worth every one of the 4000 pennies I paid for it. This brush, when wet turns to a hair point yet holds plenty of pigment, so I'm not sure how much credit should be given to it. It certainly dropped paint into the wet paper beautifully. I just thought 'rotten ice' and kept going. Sprinkle on LOTS of salt, and I also strategically place epsom salt crystal down in some spots. Then walk away, cross your fingers and hope it doesn't turn to fog.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Thin Ice

For those of you who don't already know. I live three houses plus one general store up from a small 'kettle' lake called Musselman's Lake (or Musselman Lake--the 's' remains undecided). It's not as rural as you might think; the houses, renovated cottages, are close and crowded, in the summer the traffic is bad, and if you teleported the traffic to another planet, you could drive to downtown Toronto in less than 35 minutes (this never happens). The town of Stouffville (my official address) likes to bill itself as "country close to the city" but it is being rapidly swallowed up by the suburbs of Markham, which is itself a suburb of Toronto. Yes, we do have a Walmart. That said, we do live just a few steps away from a lake wherein fish and ducks and geese and sometimes people (not me) swim.
Swimming season is over--the lake is slowly freezing over. A few days ago the soft ice held lovely patterns that absolutely fascinated me. My camera said, 'nothing here' (actual I got a 'manual focus' message) but I snapped a picture anyway. Assuming I had filmed nothing but a vast white expanse, I had to try to reproduce it as a watercolour. Originally this was intended to be a background for some printing, but as soon as the pigments hit the paper I was so mesmerized by its spread and flow that I got completely carried away. The result you see here, but it lacked both composition and story. While there's not much I can do about the composition, the story made its appearance in the form of Stouffville's finest coming out to perform cold water rescue maneuvers.
I'd already been planning to write a post titled 'thin ice' to go along with my latest salty watercolour wash, so the sheer coincidence was amazing. Normally I do my walks in a public forest but my husband just happened to want to stroll around the lake instead. Of course, being familiar territory, I left my camera behind.
So here's what we saw. Two firetrucks idling on the side of the street across from Musselman's Lake only public beach. Six guys on the shore. One guy in a special waterproof float suit walks out onto the ice. There was less than 50 metres of ice before it thinned into open water, but he walked and he walked, and jumped up and down and he walked some more and nothing at all happened. I'm assuming everyone's expecting it to break at some point. Finally, when he reached the absolute edge of the ice, he threw his hands up in the air in despair and sat down on the edge and slipped into the water, swimming pool style. (On a second try, he did a nice splashy jump). Two guys, also aquatically dressed, step into what looks like an inflatable kayak but it has a hole in front and back that allows them to hold the contraption at waist level. And they walked and they walked all the way up to the thin edge of the ice and it didn't crack under them either. They had to push the kayak into the water just like you would in summer time off a fine sand beach and paddled over to 'rescue' their buddy. This seemed to consist of gently running the guy over with their kayak until his head was in the hole (and if anyone doesn't get this sequence, I'll try to do a cartoon) and then the forward man grabs the 'victim' by the shoulder and hauls backwards to pull him in (with lots of encouraging yells) and then the remainder of the crew waiting on land hauls them all back across the ice with a tow line. This was repeated for plenty of practice; splashing and laughter rang across the lake as we walked away. When my walk was finished I grabbed my camera and returned just in time to see them stowing their gear into the trucks. One kind gentleman offered to send me some photos when I told him about forgetting my camera. If they do, and if I get their express permission, I'll post them here. In the meantime, you'll have to make do with my 'missed the boat' photos.
Moral of the story should be don't walk out on thin ice but that was perversely untrue this time around, so it'll have to be never leave your camera behind.

Image: watercolour on 11" x 14" strathmore bristol. Salt in the wash. Paynes gray & cadmium red. Photo of the swirly ice at the bottom.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Sleeping Beauty

When I was a child I read the tale of a princess laid to slumber, to be awakened by a kiss. Now that I'm older, I know the magic to be true. Under the snow, the forest sleeps, waiting for the summer sun.

Image: 11" x 14" Strathmore 300 series bristol, watercolour, coloured pencil. Yet another salty wash. One pass, prussian blue, paynes gray, and some viridian sprinkled (literally) in. I think I used a toothbrush. Alcohol too (and, no, I don't mean I was sipping a martini). This is another tortured piece of bristol. Soaked, stretch, scraped (ps. if you try this at home, do not swipe with a cloth if you want a smooth finish) and, after laying down the wash, sandpaper, not kidding. After that, it was just a matter of remembering what I saw a few days ago and picking out the details with pencil crayon. This took much longer than I expected. Much time spent closing my eyes. Much time spent staring out the window, much time spent squinching up my eyes trying to figure out where the branches and trees should be, etc.. It was night, so no photo reference! It was one of those beautiful nights with thick heavy snow weighing down every horizontal surface that you want to remember forever.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Trout Run

This is not the first iteration. I've been fascinated by the yearly trout run since I first noticed them. They gather late in the autumn, in a clear cold creek that runs through the Hollidge Tract. The water rises barely above the knees but even on the hottest summer days it remains chill. Sometime after Thanksgiving, if you lean over the culvert, you are sure to see them holding their place in the fast running water. Your shadow and footsteps will frighten them into dark places; you need to be stealthy to see them. You need to observe. The river bottom is clean rough sand and rounded pebbles and stones. The trout blend in. It takes time to recognize what you see, but once you do, welcome to another world. With a little foresight, you'll bring binoculars and you see they are beautiful. Their fins are fox red marked with white blazes and black lines. Their backs are dark and contain the patterns of the stones they glide across. These are brook trout.
I'm not sure what exactly it is that holds me in such fascination. Perhaps it is their yearly return in time with the rhythm of the season. Or maybe its the way they act and react in unison, all of one mind, and yet each is led by its own thoughts and desires. But what I think fascinates me most of all is that to them I am but a quivering shadow, and though they are but metres away, they are worlds apart.

Image: ACEO, 2.5" x 3.5" Strathmore 300 series bristol, watercolour, printers ink, hand-pulled print. This is not the first the first version. The first version is a letterbox slumbering in the woods (google letterboxing if you really want to know). The second version was the same scene, done on holiday after seeing brook trout in Chickanishing Creek. That one was done in crayola marker and sent as a postcard to a friend. I keep doing the same scene over again in a variety of ways. I don't think I'll stop. Here I'm showing you the full sheet of paper. It's the first time I've soaked and stretched bristol. It wasn't happy with the process. It pilled. It streaked. I layered two salty washes of watercolour on top. The first being cadmium yellow and cadmium red. The second being mostly prussian blue, with just about anything else flicked in. Basically this was a kitchen sink process, as I just did a bunch of things to the paper. Also, literally, I did this over the kitchen sink. My wet work is usually done in the basement, but it was sunny and I didn't want to miss a single ray of it, so put my board across the sink and went at it. I almost didn't want to print on the result. I've decided I like using bristol very much for watercolour. The pills dissappeared when dry, and the paper is in good shape. Yes it complains when wet, but it gets over it. It holds patterns very nicely.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Don't Eat These..

My best guess as to the identity of these shrivelled and cob-web bedecked fungi is Sphagnum-bog Galerina (galerina tibicystis) [cortinariaceae, Agaricales]
. While they were well past their prime, they match the description in colour, size, spore-print (all that rusty stuff on the cobwebs and generally all over), and location (the middle of a lush patch of sphagnum).
However, such mushrooms are incredibly difficult to positively identify. Mycologists (those who study fungi) have a name for them. LBM's. If that brings to mind some obscure but deadly military application you're on the right track. LBM is short for Little Brown Mushroom. There are lots of them. Some of the deadliest mushrooms are LBM's; also a few of the hallucinogens (so called magic mushrooms) fall into this category. There are even a few edible LBMs. In all honesty, I haven't a clue what it actually is/was excepting that it is definitely an LBM. That said, I've enjoyed it's aesthetic possibilities thoroughly, but I won't be tasting such things anytime soon (okay, never, I hope). I'll take the expert advice and leave the LBMs in the ground. It's fun to guess on paper, but better left off the plate.

Image: Coloured Pencil on 10" x 7" Strathmore Bristol. This one was dense and a bit of a struggle. Okay, a lot of a struggle. Last Friday, I was ready to give up on it, then I went for a walk and thought, more Blue! Electric Blue (that's a specific Prismacolor pencil). It's brilliant but extremely translucent and it's great for burnishing darks. I had to go into the background with tape to lighten the mess I'd made, which destroys the tooth of the paper, but I determined to finish it. Flawed or not, I'm glad I pursued this thing in the end. Someday, I may even gain control of my obsessively squiggly lines.

Tip of the Day: You don't learn a thing by giving up.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Back to Back Stickleback

I have become, finally, a proud owner of art. Not my own art, and let's not quibble about definitions here, but other peoples art. Maybe this surprises you, or not, but I'm not in the market to be a buyer, nor do I expect to be. I don't even hang my own art, avoiding the expense of matting and framing. I'm that cheap, or lets say frugal (sounds better). But on Thursday I went to an ATC Trading Event at the local gallery (Latcham
Gallery in Stouffville). For those not yet in the know, ATC stands for Art Trading Card and by definition are sized 2.5 x 3.5 inches. We trade them (if you sell them, and I have, they are ACEO's, another story). I should feel especially priveleged that my small town has a gallery of its own--the curator told me so. I tend to agree with her, especially being admissions are free. See what I mean by cheap, erm....frugal.
It was, for me, a pretty nervy thing to do, putting my art out there, in front of real people who might actually think my art sucks. The internet doesn't count, because I won't see you grimace. But I did it, and then stepped back into the shadows to do a pretty good imitation of being a turtle while the trading commenced. I had back-up (hi Cyd), but she abandoned me for the bathroom (and yes I am that insecure that it felt that way) but it worked out well in the end. People asked me to trade with them. Oh wow! The fish prints went over quite well, and some other things.
I was afraid there would be dickering, like you can't have that card unless I get this one, etc. but it was basically you pick yours, I pick mine, this is fun and then on to the next person. So now I have 13 original art cards. I'm so proud to have art to hang that I bought myself a cork board for their display and gently pinned some of my favourites (to be changed and rearranged at anytime). I've pinned around the cards, not into the cards. My only disappointment is that I didn't get any contact information. As I couldn't get permission to post their artwork, I smudged the actual artwork as I'm a stickler for copyright rules.
For those of you interested in printmaking, the trio of stamped impressions shows the progression an almost finished stamp. I test it out, and see how much more carving I need to do. You can always carve more, but you can never put back, so making test prints along the way is super important. I got this one finished with only 4 tests, the 4th being final. I've used material whose name escapes me. People call it "the soft stuff", possibly 'softoleum'. I'm not sure as I buy it by feel--as in I walk over to the printmaking section, pull out the materials, decide which piece feels good and buy it. It's gritty like linoleum but thick and carves like butter. It's heavy and feels good in the hands. I love this stuff and would gladly carve nothing else. I've scanned the block too so you can see how I get carried away in the negative spaces. This can be a problem (I'm struggling with a coloured pencil piece due to this impulse) but I just love doing those swirly lines even if they end up invisible in the final production. For the actual ATC's, I did salty watercolour washes over a failed painting to use as background. It felt very good to reclaim the paper (also, fits in with being phenomenally cheap, erm...frugal). I used black & gold water-based printers ink and a small roller. I rolled the ink onto a piece of acrylic, and then rolled the ink onto the stamp. I cut the ATC's out with a knife when all was dry.
The stickleback is a small fish that inhabits all sorts of lakes, streams and ponds. There are a multitude of species and researchers love to study their genetics. This carving doesn't represent any particular one as it is rather stylized. They are, however, that spiny and their eyes are that enormous.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Brilliant Blogger Award

Thank you so much Michelle Hendrey for this award (and the other one that I failed to pick up, so sorry, as I really really appreciated getting it). You are such a great artist that an award from you is an immense honour. And thank you for making this award obligation free, so that I can freely pass it on.
This is my FIRST time to pick-up an award, so please forgive any rookie mistakes.
In no particular order, I would like to thank and pass this award to:
Chrissy Marie: she runs a fun and busy blog, and has always made me feel welcome there. You can see all her beautiful cards, watercolours and more at her blog. Her positive energy just sparkles across the internet. (ps. thanks, and apologies for not picking up the blog award you gave me: the sentiment was hugely appreciated!)
Jennifer Rose: who keeps my blog feeling much loved with a comment about everything. She does great coloured pencil work (and more) and blogs about her life as a Canadian in Scotland.
Visioneer Windows: (who will probably remain silent on the matter) for creating and maintaining a blog that is always intensely thought-provoking in words and pictures.
Cyd: a fellow blogger who gets to make comments in person over coffee and donuts. She does crafty/knitty things, and we get to see each others works in real time. I am privileged to get to touch and feel the things she's blogging about.
This award is obligation free: so enjoy and pass it on only if you wish. Thank you Brilliant Bloggers!

Sunday, November 9, 2008

November Evening -- Hollidge Tract

Autumn, when days dwindle, and night grows. Nowhere is this more apparent than a sunset walk through the woods. On a summers eve, the hot sun still pierces the canopy from high above. But daily, angles sharpen, careening into the horizon, tumbling into Autumn, and racing towards Winter.
It is the dark time of the year before the snow falls to light the way. Rain clouds spill across the landscape darkening the day. Even on clear days, my walks will end in darkness as the sun sinks ever earlier into the west.
But there is poetry in the fast dimming light. Amber sparkles through the edges of autumn leaves, rays of ruby pierce the shadowy lace of barren trees, a sliver moon of alabaster peaks through a pearl pink sky. And finally, sun sunken into the depths of the west, the aqua gleam of the near night sky brims full with the portent of starlight, and the boles of the trees glow with slow and secret life.

Image: ACEO's, 2.5" x 3.5" each, coloured pencil on 140lb watercolour paper. And nope, I won't be parting with these for love or money. Hopefully, I will get around to doing 4 larger pieces (8x10 or so), based on these minis.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

It's a Girl!

Just an update on Swan #787: sorry no pics today. I'm posting from the local library today taking full advantage of their high speed internet access.

I just got a surprise phone-call: it was from the guy who tagged the swan and he gave me the following info.
#787 was tagged at the Stouffville Reservoir (about 15km south of the lake) in June 2003. Its a GIRL! Apparently she's sticking close to home. She was hatched in the wild, mated but failed to hatch anything that year. So, congratulations #787 on your 5 strapping teenagers and your handsome mate.
For those of you who wonder why swans are getting tagged in the first place: large tags are visible to the general public, which means that busy-bodies like me get on-line, google "swan tagging ontario" and find reporting forms and help the researchers track their movements and activities. Nifty, eh? So if you see a tagged anything, and can read it, take some notes and report. Someone will thank you.

And more from the swan-guy. If you see trumpeter swans in Ontario, tagged or not, readable or not, they would very much like you to report your siting. They would like to know the location, date, the number of adult swans (white) and the number of signets (beige) or new babies, and the number of tagged (even unreadable tags) versus untagged. All of this information helps them gather information and estimate population expansion and range.
You can report or get more information at The Wye Marsh Centre.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Swan #787

It isn't often that we hear good news about the environment. If you're paying attention, most of the world is undergoing large-scale man-made disaster. Swan #787 is an exception. Trumpeter Swans are making a comeback in its eastern range. My own Eastern region field guide doesn't even list the Trumpeter Swan, but they really are here. I had the pleasure of becoming acquainted with this magnificent creature while walking my dog Dynamo around Musselmans Lake. Lest you think I live in some natural paradise, let me describe the scene. The road is narrow and winding, the traffic is scary, the houses are close and crowded about every scrap of land. There is one parkette with lake access and every other inch of shoreline belongs to someone and gets regularly mown and trampled. It was just such a lawn where I came across Swan #787. I didn't know it at the time as I lack perfect 20/20 vision. Squinting as hard as could, I couldn't make out much beyond a blur of yellow and black plastic attached to one wing. Still, I knew this had to be important information. I knew I couldn't pursue the swans with speed, and, considering I had a dog in tow, I knew stealth was not an option. I tried patience instead. I walked at a leisurely pace along the shoreline ahead of their chosen path, and found a spot on steep embankment where I could sit and wait for them to float by. Dynamo was gloriously co-operative and flopped onto the grass in a casual pose. Patience was rewarded by curiosity from these large graceful avians as Swan #787 floated in giving me a picture perfect view of the entire family. I got some lovely pictures, a beautiful experience, and after having made an official on-line report I have now had a small part to play in the research and tracking of the Trumpeter Swan. Not to mention, I am now on a first name basis with a beautiful swan. I hope to see Swan #787 again.

Image: ACEO 2.5 x 3.5 inch watercolour, watercolour, gouache. This is a good size for a quick illustration while I'm trying to get other things done.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Bed Sketch: #1

I love it when artists let it all hang out and show me their roughs, so I thought I'd present another of mine. I happen to like sketching in bed, usually after indulging in a good book. Sometimes, by the time I finish the next compelling chapter I'm just too sleepy, but other times I manage a page of sketching for better or worse. I often use computer paper for the roughest of sketches (you know, the obsolete kind with the punctured tear-away edges). I love the freedom of knowing that it costs me nothing (it was donated). It's not archival, but it doesn't need to be, as long as the pencil sticks. My right hand is in the picture--it was a terrible poser, as it kept moving every time I tried to draw! The left hand is always the more co-operative one. I'm wearing cut-off socks on my wrist--that's to keep my hands warm while I try to draw. Sometimes a cat obliges me, and sits on my hand, which is very warming, but it's difficult to get much done with a cat sitting on your arm. Now you may well wonder why it's so cold in the bedroom, so I'll pre-empt that question and tell you. My husband wears t-shirts in winter (no kidding) so he likes it that way. I like a challenge, and love the feeling of being buried beneath cats and blankets and cranking the thermostat down to 15C for the cold months is one way to accomplish this . Somehow it just feels right, even if I do wear socks on my hands. There--now you know.

Image: computer paper, pencil, mouse-play with digital colours. Click on image if you can't read the captions.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Jewels of Autumn

My obsession, it is beginning to seem, is fungi. Fungi, mushrooms, whatever you wish to call them, the sprouting of their fruiting bodies feeds my endless fascination. Edible, poisonous, bitter, and bland, all of them ephemeral gems of the woodlands, the sight of them is a visual treasure regardless of practical uses.

I was walking in the eastern segment of the La Cloche Silhouette Trail of Killarney Provincial Park. There is hemlock wood in a dell nestled between a bald topped granite hill and deeply shaded cliff. It is buttressed by stately hemlock overarching the sky, and always greenly lit. It is difficult to believe in science, and easy to belief in fairies in this space. Seeing the forest floor glowing with large bulbous lilac coloured mushrooms seems like confirmation of every woodland myth ever spoken round the campfire. I knew as soon as I saw them, that I had to capture some of their magic. The camera was inadequate, but my trusty coloured pencils paved the way. While this is not exactly a field guide rendition, they are, for the record, Pungent Cort, Cortinarius Traganus, neither edible nor poisonous, and a little bit stinky. And yes, they really are lilac coloured.

Image: 13" x 6.5" on 11x14 Strathmore Bristol, coloured pencil. This scan cuts off the left & right edges, including my initials, hence the watermark. See my real life mundane name--maybe for the 1st time???

Friday, October 24, 2008

My Beloved Pencil Crayons

My pencil crayons are back, or I came back to the pencil crayon. They never went away, they waited faithfully, everyday, perched upright in their glass jars at my table, never fading, always perky while I took side-trips and forays into painting and inking. Well I'm back, and they welcomed me back without the slightest signs of resentment, their colours as creamy, glowing and vibrant as ever. Why did I ever stay away.
So, today, I'll present my very first work in progress WIP. Since I'm using a photo reference, I thought it only fair to present that. I took it on the very last day of my holiday. I'd seen them the day before, but stupid me didn't have my camera that day, so I had to go scrambling back and hope for the best. The lighting had changed, and the fungi dried a bit, but not to worry, I just needed a reference.
So this is my WIP. It's 11x14 Strathmore Bristol, nice hard shiny paper. I love this stuff--it's crispy and holds the line well. This time around, I actually bothered to sketch in lightly with pencil first. You need to be careful, as pencils inscribe the paper in a way that is impossible to cover with a coloured pencil. Secondly, I got my magenta (very vibrant hot magenta) and sketched some lines. This step is important, as those brilliant edges need to be laid down first. You can't just add them in later. After that, start scribbling in the darks. I don't do photo-realism, so I'm deliberately heavy handed at the beginning. I want sketch lines that last right through to the end. Of course, with all that white paper, it's a scary proposition. You just never know what will end up plopped down on the page.
And lastly, the space where it all happens. This is my studio. It is also my living room window. I work on the dining room table and make a big mess, but since we never entertain, that's okay. I can't stand the thought of holing myself up in the basement (where we have a decent sized spare bedroom) or even in the upstairs spare bedroom. I want the big wide view to the west, the birds at the feeder (and pesky squirrels) and I want to watch the world go by when I can't think of what to do next.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

ACEO's--What I've been up to

Snow fell two days ago, and pockets still remain today. I can't say exactly why, but the very first snow fall always feels like a portent of magic. Imagine the woods being shushed to sleeping by snow softly falling.

I took a billion million pictures--actually, my camera is quite limited, so it was just a few. I didn't want to miss the opportunity. Sorry no artwork for the fantastic phenomenon of fresh snow falling on autumn leaves, but I've busy doing ACEO's. When I started them, I imagined brushing them off at a rate 1/2 hour per piece. Na Uh... Some of them take me hours, while some of them are fully realized in much less. The black unicorn presented here took me hours, however, I have to admit part of the time was spent on learning and fixing. The original watercolour wash was far too dull in colour and I stubbornly insisted on winning the war. This morning I finally admitted defeat and put on an all new layer of brighter zestier gouache. I'm happy, but what a colossal pain! I hope you don't mind my foray's into fantasy art.
For those of you who are nature nuts, I'll present some of my snow photos too.
The dog in the photo is Dynamo, of course, my 6 year old german shepherd. She loves the woods and playing frisbee. She was pretty po'd that I interrupted her games to take these shots! The setting is Hollidge Tract, York Regional Forest. I love the patterns on the path. Eyes down is not always a bad thing.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

In A Far Country

To Read Text: click on image to enlarge

Don't say I didn't warn you that this blog may take a few sharp left turns.

This is a little like hanging my underwear out to dry.

Firstly, thank you to any blogger (and you know who you are) brave enough to present their rough sketches to the world. Here's a few of mine.
Secondly, it was a humdinger of a dream that I had, the kind you get (if you're lucky) every six months or so. Okay, if you're prone to nightmares, I guess that would be unlucky. I believe the technical term is vivid dream (actually listed as a side-effect for some pharmaceuticals--no, I'm not taking any, legal or otherwise). These are the sorts of dreams that scroll out like a movie on the big screen, but with full surround sound, 3-d perspectives, sensations and sound. Upon waking, the details are easily remembered. If I knew how to get more of these (sans pharma's!) I would certainly try--it's much more fun than lucid dreaming (wherein the dreamer controls the dream) as I don't know what happens next.

Images: 5"x7" sketch paper, graphite, and Tombow pen. This is the first time I really gave the Tombow a good workout. If you've never seen one, it's a dual-tipped marker, one side is a fine point, the other is a brush-shaped foam tip. I'm impressed--I did all those darks without it showing any sign of drying. And I did this sitting up in bed with the sketchpad held at an angle, propped up by a lap-cat. Sadly, the ink is not waterproof, so there's no chance of colouring up images later with watercolours. It was fun hand-writing the text (to read it, you'll have to click on the image to make it larger) spelling errors and all (see 'apocalypse'!)

Thursday, October 9, 2008

The Firebird

So one day I came upon a gathering of people within the heart of the forest. Each one of them had their eyes fixed worshipfully upwards. Judging by their absolute rapture, I wondered if they spied a winged unicorn perched in that tree, or a three-toed griffin at the very least.
Curious, I asked.
A woodpecker, they answered in an awestruck whisper appropriate for the cathedral. Pileated, I thought, it must be a pileated, that most magnificent of forest birds, red-crested, tuxedo-clad and and massive. Hairy, its smaller and more common cousin it turned out to be. Disappointment was only momentary as I realized how wonderful it is to have seen one so often I was no longer surprised.
***This is a true story***

Image: ACEO 2.5 x 3.5 watercolour, gouache, metallics, ink on 200lb paper

Sunday, October 5, 2008

The Brain Tree

Sometimes, rarely, my brain feels like a colossal tree, ancient and gnarled with branches that reach out into the far distant edges of the universe and roots that probe the depths of time. These are good days.
Mostly, however, my brain feels like a closet, small and dark with not much going on inside. I hate those days, which are often too many, when the brain is occupied with dusty clutter of daily life--unpleasant people, tight budgets, not enough money, too many calories, car trouble,noisy neighbours, stock market fiasco!, bad smells--did I tell you my dog got skunked? And we spent all evening scrubbing her up and down with a ghastly mix of dish soap, hydrogen peroxide and vinegar? And made her sleep all night in her crate even though she made pathetic little moaning noises?
And she got skunked whilst visiting, so the backseat of our car is equally skunked, and with the windows rolled up its enough to make your eyes water (even after scrubbing the back seat with aforementioned chemical stew). And after riding in that car you smell bad enough to make the grocery clerks eyes crinkle up. Eeeew.
Right now, my brain is a very smelly closet. Hopefully inspirations will waft by soon.
The image is a painting about my brain on a good day. And was done on one of my better days.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

My First Spam...and other mundanities

It finally happened. I got spam (spams?). Heretofore, posts will be moderated. Have no fears, have no worries. I LOVE comments. Makes me feel less alone in the universe, and unless your address is something akin to "Free Daily BlahBlahBlah" you'll get published. I knew it would happen inevitably, but I chose not to moderate until that day. Moderating is a bit of a pain. It delays things. I'm on dial-up, and don't access my computer daily (it takes about 5 minutes just to boot the bloody thing) so if your lovely comment doesn't show up in a day or two it just means that a) I'm away, b) my computer self-combusted, c) I forgot to renew my annual 'free-net' dial-up membership which actually costs $95cdn, or d) anything else ranging from asteroids to stomach flu.
While I'm on the subject of random mundanities, please let me apologize for my slowness in reading your blogs. Basically, I save my blog reading for any Saturday I can haul my butt into the local library where I have high-speed access for free--there I cram my surfing into the space of two hours. I sometimes suspect that I am the only blogger in the entire nettiverse that hobbles along with dial-up, so I just thought I'd get that confessional off my chest.
And last, but not least: announcing a change, or relaxation of format. I have since January adhered to a format that each post bears it's own illustration and posts fall, at least vaguely, into the genre of creative autobiography. This served my purposes well as it committed me to complete projects (some major, some minor) in both visual art and writing. Unfortunately, it also made it difficult to post more than weekly, which is fine, but sometimes feels a bit like strangulation. Things may be a bit more casual from now on. Maybe a photo that I just can't resist showing off (like the fluted helvella), maybe a whine and rant (like this post), maybe artwork that has nothing whatsoever to do with my life on this planet (which may have you speculating as to what other planet does she inhabit).
That said, hope I haven't bored you death, and no, there will be no forthcoming illustration of spam.
Happy blogging.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Fluted Helvella

This one was not photo-shopped, not even a little. Actually, I've been snapping mushrooms by the dozens lately. While they may be willing to pose endlessly for a still life, they do have a tendency to wilt, shrivel and shed worms and other invertebrate vermin all over the dining room table. Photos can make a good substitute. In this case, it was one snap in five that turned out to be a happy accident--three accidents actually.
1. The lens fogged up (its one of those days that are so dark you think maybe the sun forgot to rise).
2. I think I jiggled the camera (theres a bit of a ghost effect going on).
3. The black background leads me to believe the flash went off.
I didn't mean any of this to happen, but I sure am thrilled with the effect.

Image: digital photograph taken with a now stone-aged Fujifilm FinePix Camera (all of 2 megapixels).

By the light of the moon...

The last of my holiday series; these from Killarney Provincial Park.
Firstly, moonlight. Getting up to pee at 5am is no big thrill at home, but on a camping trip it becomes a major endeavor. Finding my clothes, leashing the dog, unzipping the tent and then stumbling through the pitchy darkness. It can, if not raining, have its side-benefits. Blazing stars, moonlight and soft pink dawn (okay, that was 6am). Having some watercolours with me allowed me to capture the moments my camera couldn't (at least not my camera).
Secondly, The Crack (and Jack Pine): okay, the place name is not pretty, and you can snigger at it (I did). The Crack is a rugged climb up the hills of Killarney that involves scrambling up and through a rocky canyon of white ortho-quarzite. The rocks of the sheen of marble, and subtle colour tints of mauve and pink and grey. The view from the top is breath-taking and much photographed (by me and million others) but what catches me I is a single jack-pine that twists in the uppermost crevice. Here are three iterations, but there will be more. The image is burnt into the back of my mind.
Thirdly; George Lake & Killarney Lake. From our campsite, we could see George Lake from behind a screen of trees. This was a view to the west and when the sun went down, the lake got all yellow and sparkly.
We found a great view of the Killarney mountains from the portage between Killarney Lake and Kakakise Lake (try saying the latter without a snigger!). I took photos, but I like my plein air aceo much better. It was sunny and gorgeous, but very cold, and my fingers were popsicles by the time I was done. The Killarney mountain was done entirely with watercolour pencil and brushed in later at the campsite.
Sadly, that's it for camping season. Hope you enjoyed the mini-tour.

Images: 2.5 x 3.5 200lb watercolour paper, watercolours, watercolour pencil, ink, pencil crayon, crayon, ah heck, mixed-media is a category for a reason.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Holiday Series 2008

1. Hwy 17, it's a long long ride (from 8:30am to 5:30pm) to Lake Superior from my home, much time spent gazing out the window as the changing landscape slides on by. You never know what you'll see on Hwy 17, as the landscape changes from rocky pine covered shield lands to a swath of open prairie flanked by forest. Once I looked up and saw bison, another time cowboys riding by along side the highway (not kidding!). I thought I was dreaming, but it was real. Then the hills of Sault Ste Marie loom up and you're almost there.
2. Lake Superior is about far horizons and big skies. The cloud forms are a landscape in themselves.
3.& 4. Gargantua Harbour. 1k of sand beach, 2k of cobbles, endless forest to the east, infinite horizon to the west. The sky can change in minutes. As I painted #3, billowing purple clouds slid across the hills, a wind came up and plein air painting was over for the rest of the week.
5. Moonrise and ominous clouds obscured the sky over Gargantua Harbour. Too windy for painting.
6. Big waves! Really big waves! Humongous waves smashing on rocks. These were fantastic. Once we got back to the sand beach, we went swimming. As they moved into the shallows, the waves climbed ever higher and towered over our heads. I'm not sure I can call it swimming; more accurately reffered to as 'getting smashed around by Lake Superior'. Taking a wave full frontal was like getting punched in the gut. One learns to turn sideways if a biggie is coming. Some of them are just so monstrous you could only duck and cover (unless you want to be turned into a human pretzel). The backwash was so strong that we stayed out of the deeps afraid we'd be swept out to sea. The waves were too big and unpredictable for body surfing. I tried, and thought I was going to be bent in half. Curling up was safer, but I still got sent into mind-boggling spins. It was scary, it was fun, not to mention chilly.
7. More waves smashing on rocks. View from Rhyolite Cove looking north. The rocks we have always sat on while lunching were drenched with surf so we had to sit higher and change our view point. Not always a bad thing.

Images: 2.5" x 3.5" 200lb watercolour paper, ink & watercolours

Friday, August 29, 2008

A Nice Place to Play Frisbee

Perception depends on the viewer.
I see a confusing convergence of pathways, and I check the shadows for direction. My dog sees a nice place to play frisbee. She comes bounding up and gives my toy pouch a meaningful glare; does some frog leaps in place to ensure I get the point. I oblige and the games begin. I admire the benign pedatory display of chase, snatch and shake, and begin to take in the backdrop of gold speckled meadow nested within the forest. I'd been marching at a steadfast pace for an hour, slightly lost and pressed for time. Now, settled into the moment by the prompting of a dog I notice the late afternoon light and its strong lazy shadows, the flat blue of the sky and the pale glitter of a lone aspen.

Leap, snatch and shake--my dog sees a nice place to play frisbee--I finally see the beauty of the trees.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Everything under the sun...

Everything under the sun has been done. 6 1/2 billion people inhabit this world; how many millions have painted a sunflower? And why should I bother--Van Gogh did it better.
But this is my sunflower, grown in my garden, seeds laid by hand. It raised its pale fist to the sun under my watchful eye.
If I didn't paint it, who would?

Image: gouache on 7"x10" 140lb watercolour paper

Saturday, August 16, 2008

The Lost Art of Mushrooming

We used to eat these--I think. My field guide informs me that it is a Straight-branched Coral (Ramaria Stricta) and poisonous. A long long time ago, when I was very small, I used to follow my dad through the woods. He'd have a big wooden strawberry basket in hand. He was the finder, I just followed. Anything branching and strange was fair game for the pot, as he would turn over leaves and find edible treasure. The corals were the best, fried crispy or slipped into stew and I can still recall their distinctive taste, sharp and spicy with a metallic tang. According to my Dad, they were all edible, and according to my palate, they were all yummy. My husband still recalls the incredible stews that my family introduced him to. Although he swears he hates mushrooms, the coral fungus stew was a notable exception. According to my current field guide, most of them are inedible, and the straight-branched coral (depicted here) is poisonous. Without my fathers presence, I'm less brave than I was and completely unwilling to experiment. Even then we knew there were discrepancies between the North American Field Guides and old European knowledge, much of which was passed down from fathers to their children. Lost now, is everything my father knew, and I can't retrieve it. Mushrooming brings back my fondest memories of my father, and leaves me missing him the most.

Image: gouache on 140lb watercolour paper. Upper left is the Common Fibre Vase (thelephora terrestris) and lower is the Straight-branched Coral (Ramaria Stricta). BTW, I painted the fibre vase because it's interesting and pretty. It's tiny and has a texture of shoe leather. No one would eat this.


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